By Marcus Stein

Reflecting on my years as an English teacher, I’m struck by the unexpected lessons that teaching has gifted me. It wasn’t just about imparting knowledge of Shakespeare and grammar rules; teaching was a journey that transformed me in ways I could have never anticipated. Here are five of those unexpected lessons.

Parent buy-in helps with student buy-in

One of the first surprises in my teaching career was the pivotal role parents play in their children’s education. When I engaged parents through parent-teacher meetings or casual chats at school events, I noticed a tangible shift in their children’s attitudes. It’s as if my efforts to reach out to the parents echoed back in their children’s increased engagement and enthusiasm in class. This connection was a powerful tool in fostering a supportive learning environment.

Listening is a valuable skill

I entered the profession thinking my job was mostly about standing at the front of the classroom, imparting my knowledge to a room of attentive human sponges. But, I soon realized that listening — really listening — to my students was just as crucial. When I listened, I understood their challenges, dreams, and what made them tick. This understanding allowed me to tailor my teaching to their needs and interests, making my classes more effective and enjoyable for everyone.

Coworker relationships actually do matter

The teacher’s lounge was more than a place to chug coffee and gossip. It was where I built relationships that were instrumental to my professional growth and mental wellbeing. Collaborating with fellow teachers, sharing teaching strategies, or just venting about a tough day, these connections provided support and enrichment that were vital to my career (and my sanity!).

Be prepared to teach subjects you don’t teach

Teaching isn’t confined to the subjects we’re assigned. Often, I found myself teaching life skills, ethics, and even basics from other academic subjects. Whether it was a discussion on ethical dilemmas from a piece of literature or helping with a basic math problem, my role as a teacher stretched beyond the English curriculum. This versatility made my job more challenging, but it also helped build trust and rapport with students. 

Kids love it when YOU read out loud

Never underestimate the power of reading aloud to your class, no matter their age. It wasn’t just a way to engage with the text; it became a shared experience, a collective journey into the world of imagination. The excitement and attention in their eyes reminded me of the magic that literature holds and why I fell in love with teaching in the first place.

Teaching is a multifaceted profession, filled with unexpected lessons and joys. These lessons have shaped me into not just a better educator but a better listener, collaborator, and lifelong learner. For all the challenges it brings, teaching is a journey I truly enjoyed navigating.