My high school’s school year ends almost a month after my college’s school year, and so the dorms kicked me out before my student teaching was really over. No worries, though; I found a temporary place for the disparity and for the rest of the summer.

I’m rooming with two elementary school teachers, one high school teacher and a nurse. The older of the two elementary teachers — the two of them are mother and daughter — is a first-year teacher, as I hope to be next year, and she says she’s been pretty successful.

I’ve been teaching all my life.

She had been at FoodMaxx, a discount warehouse grocery store, climbing the corporate ladder from the checkout to corporate trainer and beyond for most of the last 30 years. When her store was bought out, she turned to teaching. She’s having a blast, and her students have scored pretty well on tests, for what they’re worth.

I asked her: What’s your secret?

I’m perfectly honest with them when I’m teaching. I will tell them: You will maybe use this once or twice for the rest of your life. You’ll never use this. You’ll need this for the standardized test. You’ll use this every day for the rest of your life. They know I’m perfectly honest with them.

I also use my life experience. I’ve had two kids and a lifetime behind me, and I draw on that during my teaching. They get a kick out of it, and they know to pay attention. They know I’m telling the truth, and they know when what I’m teaching is important.

I, on the other hand, am 21 years old. I have never held a job in retail, fast food, business or industry. I zipped through school and haven’t done anything else with my life, yet. In the classroom, my youth isn’t much of an advantage.

I’m not that energetic, and I don’t watch television enough to share pop culture as a touchstone for teaching, two things that, ostensibly, come easier to younger teachers. In the meantime, there’s a huge gap between my understanding of how school works and my understanding of how life works. Both are important for a teacher, though the latter is more important when teaching.

I’m definitely missing something. Maybe I should come back to teaching after a lifetime, rather than before it.


  1. dkzody

    My mother wanted me to be a teacher but it was not something I thought I could do, especially at 21 or 22. I was not interested in spending any more time in an educational institution, on either side of the desk, so I went to work in industry; first in publishing and then in sales. Only after 13 years of working did I feel ready to try teaching.

    Much of what I learned during those years has been used over and over in my teaching career. I find this especially true in dealing with administrators who, just like my previous bosses, are mostly men. Working with parents and students is much the same as it is with customers, you have to figure out what they want, and then give it to them.

    Because I have worked in the “real” world, I know what employers want, and I push my students to gain those skills they will use daily on the job. Of course, my students only believe me AFTER they have left the classroom and gone on to work. School is definitely not the real world, even though many teachers will protest and say, “it’s the real world for me.”

  2. My problem is that school world has always been my real world. I worry about connecting the reality of school to the reality of work for my students.

    It’ll come with practice. I hope.

  3. Tim

    You’ve never worked retail, fast-food, etc? What did you do during summers in high school and college? Wow!

  4. Tim

    It’s me again. I’m over the shock that you’ve never had to get a part-time job during your summer teen years. I just called my Mom and Dad and said, “eyeingtenure’s parent(s) or legal guardian(s) never made HIM get a part-time job, why did you make me?”.
    Seriously, I don’t disagree with folks that say it has been a benefit to them that they worked in the private sector, military, whatever before entering the world of working in schools.
    Like most Educators, I went straight into teaching after graduating college. I had and still have ZERO interest in working in the private sector. Not even for a day. My wife ued to work for one of those evil insurance companies. Whenever I want a reminder of how evil working for certain corporations is, I’ll ask her. It wasn’t pretty. Former Aetna employees don’t tweak thier former employees slogan to say, “Aetna, I’m glad I left ya!” for nothing.
    We all know the benefits of working for a school district that outweighs private sector jobs. I won’t go into them.
    Frankly, I never wanted to grow up. At least not in the “I’m an adult now, let m

  5. Tim

    OK, my 15 month old hit the submit button. I lost my train of thought. Basically what I was saying was. A big part of me went into teaching because I had zero interest in the briefcase to the office with 2 weeks vacation only, lousy 401K, etc. I have many child like tendencies. OK, maybe even childish, but in a good way. Being a teacher gives you so much more flexibility to be who you are. Sure, some companies let you do that (all those internet companies with foosball tables come to mind), but not like working in schools. Now let me go chase my kid…

  6. We went on road trips most high school summers, we moved between high school and college and I was a camp counselor during college summers.

    I doubt I’ll ever have that 9-to-5 perspective, and I think that, for now, the credibility of my teaching might take a hit from it. At least, that’s what I’m worrying about.

  7. Kathryn

    Just when I start to believe that teaching is a real job, I find out it’s a haven for Peter Pan. Who knew?

    Your 9 to 5 worries are unfounded. The patience, perspective, tolerance that come with age and experience are useful to anyone; you don’t have to go to an office to get them. Meanwhile, you can deliver the kinds of messages your students need to learn, things like: be punctual, dress appropriately, make eye contact, do your best, be polite.

  8. Not much of a haven — the point here is that I feared that a Peter Pan would do poorly in the profession.

    That said, I’m proud to say that I’m well on the way to mastering all of the qualities you list or, depending on who you talk to, most of them.

    If your words are to be trusted, and I trust they are, Real Life Perspective, while valuable, is a quality of tertiary importance compared to classroom management and content knowledge.

  9. Q

    Just got back from my honeymoon so pardon the late response…

    The only thing I learned working in a “real” job was how pointless and annoying it was. I guess I improved my ability to suffer fools, so that was something. Personally, I would say you’re better off traveling, reading widely, and trying a lot of different hobbies. Plenty of real world stuff in there, and it spares you the agony of a corporate career.

  10. Congratulations on your honeymoon, you dog, you.

    Traveling widely doesn’t fit well with a teacher’s schedule. Better, perhaps, than cubicle rat’s schedule, but not quite as good as a lot of other careers out there.

  11. Q

    Thanks for the congrats, the Caribbean is awesome! I even managed to overcome my mild, but very real thalassophobia and go snorkeling. I feel silly saying that, but it was a huge, and immensely rewarding step for me! (and well-aligned with my point about the virtues of travel/new experiences)

    You can always find time for a long weekend trip or two during the summer, if nothing else. Anything that grants a new perspective is well worth pursuing and working in an office is only one minor example. I do regret that most of my travel will be restricted to the (Northern Hemisphere) summer months while I teach, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be rocking the globe as often as I can!

  12. At this point, I am seriously considering a number of options even outside teaching:

    1. Seminary, believe it or not. I think I might do well.

    2. Travel Europe, doing odd jobs here and there to support myself.

    3. Peace Corps, because it’s almost a combination of the two without the commitment of the former or the self-indulgence of the latter.

  1. 1 Priorities « On the Tenure Track

    […] change came from being a columnist for the school newspaper, working as a camp counselor. I had no real-life experience, and that worried […]

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