by Morton Jake
When I was in high school, I vividly remember thinking to myself “joining the army and becoming a teacher are two things I never want to do”. Thinking back I didn’t hate teaching, I think I just had a bad impression. Teaching seemed difficult, draining and I felt like it turned your soul sour. At that point I had spent most of my life at school and had growing frustrations with many of my teachers, let's just say I was pretty excited to graduate and get out.
After having graduated University, naturally I was no longer the same person as I was in high school, I had grown and developed a deeper appreciation for teaching. Mostly due to the positive role models that many of my professors were.
I felt a little stuck after University, like I was forever living in my comfort zone. So I decided to leave it in the dust, I decided to do one of the things I remember saying I wouldn’t do, and become an assistant
language teacher (ALT) in Japan. But to be completely honest I think the idea of living in Japan definitely out weighed the idea of actually teaching. I knew the whole experience of teaching was going to be challenging and new to me, but eventually I got excited and greeted it with open arms.
Teaching can be a hard job, but I quickly discovered that one of the reasons why is because you can easily make it so much more difficult for yourself. At the beginning I approached teaching with the stereotypical and damaging image of what I was told teaching should be, especially in Japan. I seemingly overthought every lesson, stressed about every tiny detail and planned everything with a fine tooth comb. I thought I HAD to make endless worksheets, that we HAD to do listening practice and that I HAD to do exactly the same thing as my predecessor assistant language teacher (ALT) did. Many of my early classes bored the hell out of me. All this boring class work, overthinking, over-planning and rushing around drains your soul. It is easy to quickly spiral, becoming stressed out, controlling and bitter towards the students. Just like the teachers that made me so frustrated when I was in high school.
I didn’t want to be always bored and busy at work and I didn’t want to be like those teachers that annoyed me in high school. I wanted to teach more true to myself, so I thought about the values that I wanted to avoid in order to find the ones I wanted to represent. I thought about the overly rigid and structured teaching environments that I despised in high school. I thought about past teachers that would lash out at students for the most insignificant things or if things didn’t go their way. I remembered teachers that were always stressed and controlling in class, teachers that were emotionally cold and took teaching way too seriously, teachers that blindly followed obsolete and stupid school rules and teachers that acted like they deserved my respect just because of their “authority” and not because of their actions.
As a teacher I don't want to represent these things and be this unapologetic, conservative, rigid, cold, tough love, lizard person that high school teaching culture seems to want you to be. It’s an over rated, damaging and culturally romanticised teaching style that from my experience it only ever taught me a few things: to be unexpressive, emotionally cold and to respect meaningless authority. All of which were damaging and took me years to rewire my brain to throw these “values” in the trash.
The teachers I value are the ones that are able to let go of this idea that they need to be this tough love teacher, I value the teachers that are able to create the most comfortable, warm and open classroom environments they can, the teachers that are not scared to do things differently and are able to take a deep breath and just let their classrooms relax. I have learnt so much more from the teachers that I felt I could talk to openly without intimidation and the teachers that allowed me to learn in my way, and not theirs.
There is so much unnecessary pressure and stress that is pushed on to our students. From the rigid and scary uniforms/ dress codes to the endless and seemingly meaningless tests and examinations. I think that if we all just slowed down a little and stopped moving at such a breakneck pace and thought a little more critically. Especially about the things that we are just told we are “supposed” to do, or the teachers that we are told we are “supposed” to be. And maybe we could just take a minute to just really listen to the needs of our students, and cut down on all this unnecessary stress and anxiety I see not just in our students, but also in us teachers.