According to 2015-16 data from the National Teacher Principal Survey, 44 percent of new teachers leave teaching within five years.
Last month I signed a three-year contract to teach at an international school in Shēnzhèn. Next year will be my fourth year in the classroom.
I teach because I care and I want to see students succeed. Even the most challenging student.
That’s why I see teaching as a social experiment in the evolution of human relationships. Like, for real. I feel like when you teach children, you learn more about social dynamics, behavior and connection than you ever can in a boardroom or office setting.
Check it: Each class is a diverse group of subjects, so you get to watch and learn how they respond to you, the lesson, the energy of the room, and to other students. You quickly learn to adapt and/or shift gears. Kids are honest, unfiltered; haven’t learned the art of subtlety or tact yet. So being around them you learn so much.
Going back overseas
I knew I wanted to return to China within a month of getting back to Texas last year. But for personal reasons, I set a goal to go back within two years. So I continued to teach stateside as a substitute teacher (see last week’s post “Around the world in a year”). And had a quick stint as a writing teacher. That said, I’ve realized that a daily energy check is crucial when you’re in front of a room full of little people.
Over the last year I’ve had students’ at different schools ask me point blank: “Ms. McCray, why do you dress like you’re still in China?” “Do you miss teaching there?” “Will you be here next year?” or the boldest: “You’re not coming back next year are you?” With a smile, I would always give direct indirect answers, but they knew. Working with kids forces you to be honest with yourself.
And here it is a year later... I’m going back to China!
What teaching has taught me
Teaching has taught me not only about social dynamics and the like, but it has increased my ability to generate new project ideas, build my confidence in front of crowds, and increased my patience with myself and others. The creativity and patience that goes into being a teacher is real.
I'm not perfect in the classroom nor do I aim to be; I’ve just realized a diverse student body with different learning levels require diverse teaching strategies and different activities.
Over the years I’ve figured out how to increase student engagement and classroom management through varied methods, to include listening to students and their energy, but also by adding songs, games, flashcards, worksheets, posters, film and video into lessons.
How through reading and writing I can teach (and learn) classroom culture, teamwork, social interaction, group and individual dynamics as well as public speaking skills has been one of the biggest lessons.
This world of teaching has given me the opportunity to share my passion but also to inspire others and to make a real difference.
From the student who told me I was her favorite teacher -- when I was pretty sure she didn't like me at all to that one student who wrote sci-fi stories for me because I said, “I really like your stories and you are a fantastic writer.”
I want that to be part of my legacy as an educator; that I made a difference, and I cared. And that’s really what being a teacher is all about.
Showing students that we believe in them. Because for all we know, we may be the only ones who do.