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By Suzanne Munroe (she/her), teacher, Vancouver

1. Move it!

I take my class outside to walk or run laps every morning. Research shows that students who exercise before school retain more of what they learn during the school day. I find that movement in the morning helps sleepy kids wake up and energetic kids calm down. This routine also gives me time to connect with kids before the day gets started. We talk about whatever is upsetting them, share a laugh, or just get to know each other. Relationships are built and student behaviour improves because of this time together.

2. Every cohort is different

I’ve taught the same grade at the same school for several years now, and every group is different. For example, some cohorts need more academic support, while other groups may have more social-emotional challenges.

3. Hidden costs

Almost all teachers I know spend their own money on class materials, especially new teachers and those who teach in low-income neighbourhoods.

4. Equity in public schools is a myth

This was never more apparent to me than when I spoke to a gym teacher who taught at three different public schools in the same district. The school in the low-income neighbourhood had barely any sports equipment, the school in the wealthy postal code had the best equipment, and the school in the middle-class neighbourhood fell in the middle. The fact that parents can donate to their child’s school means lower-income schools go without many things, while public schools in wealthier areas can access more resources. 

5. Parents can be a bigger challenge than kids

Parents have a great influence on their child’s mindset and how their child engages at school.
Having a difficult relationship with a parent can make it more difficult to build a positive rapport with the student. This has certainly been a pattern I’ve noticed when I’ve had challenging relationships in my class. I’ve also noticed this pattern is true in reverse: when the adults in a child’s life work together to set the right tone, the child is better able to thrive.

6. Teaching is not as “safe” as it seems

After working through a pandemic, this seems obvious. However, increasing violence in schools (including elementary schools) means safety in schools was an issue long before COVID-19.1

Being a teacher does not necessarily mean complete financial security either; school strikes could mean suspended pay. Housing prices in BC are spiraling out of control, and there is no guarantee that teacher paychecks will keep up with the cost of living.

7. Every school is a different world, and so is every school district

Before I became a teacher, I assumed that school districts differed merely by community demographics, but I’ve since learned that districts’ views and approaches can be drastically different. When I graduated from UBC, Surrey school trustees had voted to ban any representation of same-sex families from school libraries. At the same time, the Vancouver school district had hired someone to advocate for LGBTQ+ interests.

Just watching how different districts in BC responded to the demands of the pandemic shows how working conditions can differ across districts as well. When I was a new teacher, I didn’t realize that certain things are negotiated at the local level. The local collective agreement affects teachers’ lives in many ways: from the number of staff meetings you need to attend, to the dental benefits you receive, to whether you can spend PD funds on your M.Ed.

8. Teaching is exhausting

Teachers make nearly 1,500 decisions every day. Elementary teachers have 200–300 exchanges with students per hour.2 In fact, research shows that teachers make more decisions minute-to-minute than brain surgeons.3 This explains the decision fatigue and brain fog that follows the teaching day for many of us.

9. Teaching is as rewarding as it is difficult

The time a classroom teacher gets to spend with one group of students and families allows us to build deep and meaningful connections. I worked with kids for ten years before becoming a teacher. While those jobs were meaningful, the connections and relationships I’ve formed as a teacher have been the most rewarding and fulfilling experience of my professional life.

10. Childhood is formative, but it is not the end of the story

A few Christmases ago, I got a pre-paid VISA as a class gift. Having never used one before, I asked a salesperson at my local bookstore if she knew how to use it. While she patiently and confidently explained how the card worked, I got the feeling that I knew her from somewhere. As I walked away, someone called her name and I realized I taught her in Grade 2. I hadn’t seen her since. Then, I had a flashback of a sweet, gentle child with a lisp and learning challenges. I have seen her in the store since, this time training other employees. It still makes me emotional to think of how far she has come.

11. Boundaries are your best friend

Being assertive and persuasive are critical to managing your workload, dealing with demanding parents, and advocating for students.

12. Make time for yourself

Set time aside to rest and renew yourself. With whatever energy you have left over after teaching, try to pursue another passion. If you do, you will be a happier, healthier person, and a better teacher as a result.

13. Community counts

Becoming a part of a school community has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my adult life. Thirteen years ago, I was placed at a school within walking distance of my apartment. I would never have applied to teach that close to home, as I thought physical distance was key to a healthy work/life balance. But it has made my neighbourhood feel like a community in a way that nothing else has.

14. Teaching trends come and go… and come back again

As schools in my district are being seismically upgraded, open classrooms have replaced traditional layouts. Some experienced teachers recall this model from the 1970s failing miserably, but memories are short and given enough time, what is old can feel new again.

15. You will never stop learning

Every school year means new students and families to support. Eventually, curriculum gets updated. Technology evolves. New research comes out on trauma or learning disorders or assessment. School staff turns over; we say goodbye to a cherished colleague and welcome a new one. Whether we like it or not, a teaching life often requires us to adapt and learn. And sometimes this can feel overwhelming.

It’s easy to forget how humbling, challenging, and exciting it is to learn something new. When you find yourself not learning, seek out opportunities to become a student again. When I was in elementary school, one of the Grade 7 teachers chose to participate in the school band so he could learn how to play the clarinet. He didn’t volunteer to teach band; he went to band practice every week to learn from his colleague and performed alongside 10- and 11-year-olds in the school assembly. I have forgotten many things in my 45 years of life, but this memory has endured.

1 www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/elementary-school-violence-1.5278838
2 www.edutopia.org/blog/battling-decision-fatigue-gravity-goldberg-renee-houser
3 www.americansocietytoday.blogspot.com/2011/04/teaching-isnt-as-simple-as-it-appears.html

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Category/Topic: News & Updates