I am mostly a self-taught teacher. Which is to say, with the exception of a teacher certification program I completed part-time during the early 1990s, while working full-time as a college admissions counselor, and, a Master of Education degree in Curriculum, completed full-time over two years from 1994 to 1996, I have learned my craft via on-the-job training, conferences, workshops, and independent reading.
My earliest teacher “training”, a term I use loosely, was a shambles. In a word, it was all but non-existent. Armed only with my liberal arts degree in Spanish from a highly competitive college, I had no idea what being a teacher was in the truest sense of the word. Of course, I had my own experiences as a student to draw from, as well as the memories of the handful of teachers over my K-12 career that I liked and admired. Other than that, I was clueless.
My first teaching job was at a small boarding and day school in Connecticut. Back in the late 1980s, when I graduated from college, many independent schools were hiring the “brightest of the bright” from such colleges. And while some of the more prestigious independent schools had created teacher apprentice programs, which meant that a newly-minted college graduate taught a reduced load, was assigned a reduced extra-curricular activities load, and, was assigned a mentor. In fact, I was contacted for such a position, and, in my young, dumb and foolish haste, I turned it down. I knew that a “real” independent school teaching position, i.e. full-time -four classes, adviser duties, coaching and club activities, and, in my case, dorm duty – meant more money. In retrospect, the teaching apprenticeship would have been in my greater best interest. By the way, my “training” for the aforementioned job consisted of a five-day AP Spanish Literature workshop, and, a weekend retreat for independent school teachers with zero to two years’ experience. Newsflash: I never taught an AP Spanish Literature course during my two-year tenure at the school.
I think that I have spent the majority of my teaching career trying to make up for those early years; I lost a lot of ground. Which is why I think I am not the best collaborative worker today. I work and learn my best when I do it independently, alone, and on my own terms. When I desire to learn or to know something, I research it. Which is perhaps why I demonstrate little patience with colleagues who immediately put their Facebook and Twitter tribes on blast with cries for help, followed by multiple exclamation points, in their posts. Due to the lack of mentoring, coaching and training I received in those early years, I learned, and learned quickly, that I had to pull up my own bootstraps.
I think, at 51, I am just now gaining comfort in reaching out, asking questions, and allowing myself to be vulnerable when I don’t know. Which isn’t easy. In fact, it is so difficult sometimes, I think I am acting out of character when I do ask for help. For reasons that are self-imposed, generational and cultural, revealing my lack of knowledge is anathema to what I was taught an educated and competent person is and should be.
There was much that I lost, both personally and professionally, during those critical first years of my teaching career. Conversely, it is learning that I can draw from to coach, mentor and train new teachers at my school. It allows me to “pay if forward”. After all, is’s each one, teach one, or, even 100.