Stepping into teacher’s shoes proves daunting

You’re back in the classroom. You’re thinking about all of the work that has to be done in this class, as well as the several other classes you have.  You sit down and you wonder, “How will I get all of this done?”

You think to yourself how great it would be to be the teacher.  If you were the teacher, you wouldn’t have all of this homework.  You would be established in life and you wouldn’t be wondering how you were going to scramble to get all of this work done.

Do we really know what it’s like to be the teacher, though?  We have all thought about it since we have all been students at one point or another.  But, not many of us can say that we have been on the other side of the classroom.  Not many of us know what goes on in the life of a teacher.

A teacher has many more responsibilities aside from handing out the information and teaching it to the students.  A teacher must act as a guide, someone who can reach out to each individual student in order for each one to grasp the concept.  The reason why most teachers even chose their profession is because they fell in love with seeing a student finally understand a concept that is being taught.

The Rev. Shawn Clerkin can look back to 1986, his first teaching experience, and remember what made him want to choose teaching as a career.

“The first time I stood in front of a classroom as a speech/communication teaching assistant when I was in graduate school, and realized that I got excited when I saw the light bulb go on,” said Clerkin, an associate professor at Gannon University’s School of Communication and the Arts. “I knew that I had found my vocation. Or, at least, one of my vocations!”

When teachers see a student struggling in their class, teachers are struggling with their job.  If the concept doesn’t click with you, then the teacher has the burden to know that he or she is not able to get through to you.  Teachers find this somewhat heartbreaking, making them feel like they are not doing their part in helping you learn.

From the perspective of a teacher’s aide, Gabrielle Martuccio has experienced the feelings of watching a student struggle.  She assists students in chemistry, and is a sophomore undergraduate at Gannon.  She has seen students succeed and as well as close to tears.

“Being behind the teacher’s desk has been an entirely new experience because now I know how it feels to watch a student’s progress,” Martuccio said.  “It’s an amazing feeling when they have that look of excitement when they know they are doing well, but it also really hurts when you try your best but the student still does not understand what is going on.

“You start to feel like there is more you could do, but you just don’t know how else to help them; and in turn you know that you have failed.  The entire purpose of being behind that desk is to help your students progress in their education, not watch them suffer.”

Clerkin, who began teaching at Gannon in 1989, also understands this thought.  “Many of us are trained to be experts in our fields, but few of us are trained to teach…If I have more than 50 percent of a class fail an exam or assignment, I question whether or not I taught it effectively, or if the assessment itself is well-designed.”

Even though teachers are professionals in their fields, they are constantly learning more information every time they step into the classroom.  Teachers not only have to know the material that they expect their students to learn and comprehend, but they also need to learn how to interact with a wide variety of people.  As a student, you only need to know a few teachers’ names and how to interact with them, whereas a teacher needs to know the same about hundreds of students.

Carol Hayes would be willing to tell you many things about what she has learned teaching English in the classroom over the years. What she likes most about teaching is the opportunity to meet students from a range of different backgrounds and interests.

“I get to learn a great deal about life in every semester,” said Hayes, an instructor in the English department.  “I learned quickly, when I first began teaching, that a classroom has the potential to be a dynamic place, where discoveries are made and creativity is fostered. I love the interactive, person-to-person exchanges of ideas.

“For many years, I had been a magazine and newspaper reporter; I focused on accuracy and deadlines, as well as clarity and sparking readers’ interest. I could only hope that readers understood what I had written. This is not the situation when interacting with students. I found that out when I first worked weekends at a community college in Wisconsin, while maintaining another job. I increasingly shifted my focus to teaching.”

This just goes to show that students are not the only ones who learn in the classroom.

Teachers also need to constantly learn how to interact with students who are very different in personality from when they were students themselves.  Douglas King, Ph. D., an associate professor of English at Gannon, has particularly noticed this shift in a student’s personality over the years since he began teaching full-time in 2001.

“Microevolution seems to be gradually and inexorably rewiring the the human brain to a shorter attention span,” he said. “Multimodal teaching is required to keep that attention.

“Less and less can one assume that students absorb information from spoken lan-guage.  So in every  class, I include active learning — students reading aloud, discussing in groups, creating something, and so on — and something audiovisual, in addition to my ‘lecturing.’  One must vary the mode of delivery about every 20 minutes or else attention wanes.”

While most college students in this day and age have grown up around expanding technology and are becoming more accustomed to it, teachers need to become more familiarized with it to keep up to date with what will benefit their students.  Teachers not only learn more about their field of study throughout their working years, but they constantly have to relearn how to interact with students as their minds change from generation to generation.

Even after hearing about how much teachers can really care about their profession, most students probably still wish that their professors would go easy on them.  However, if you want a professor who recognizes the difference between torment and guidance, you should consider taking a class with King.

In King’s opinion, some teachers may still follow an unconsciously sadistic model of torturing students, as they were tortured.

“Pedagogy has long revealed that the ‘gotcha’ mode of assessment — let’s try to expose what students don’t remember — is not helpful to learning,” he said.

Even though this might not be true for every teacher in the world, the professors at Gannon want to see their students succeed.  They want to be the student’s guide, not as a form of punishment but as a way to lead their students to success.

MC Gensheimer, an assistant professor in the School of Communication and the Arts, agreed that she wants to be a part of students’ success.  She says her favorite part of teaching is when the moment comes where a student finally understands something completely.

“I want students to succeed and to change the world for the better,” she said.

After learning about how teachers struggle just as much as their students, some people might feel that their teachers are superhuman — stronger than they ever could be.  However, it’s seeming more and more like your teachers have been in the same seats that you are in.  They are just like any other employee; they love their jobs, but they feel the pain as the day goes by just like anyone else.

“Sometimes, it seems like the hands on the classroom clock just won’t move — we all know the feeling,” Hayes said.  “Pushing past that feeling to engage in reading and discussion is a challenge that is worth it.”

She understands this everyday torment.  However, she still wants her students to realize that even though the days might be long and that we would all much rather be back in bed sleeping, the curiosity that you develop in the classroom will help you grow in life and reach beyond any potential you even thought possible.

If King could tell his students one thing that would help them understand what it is like to be a teacher he would say to always know that we are human and you are human.

“Be honest, ask questions and reach out if you have a question or problem,” King said.  “Our impressions of you can be limited and inaccurate, but if you take the time to talk with a professor, he/she will very likely appreciate it and better understand who you are.”

At the end of the day, when you wish that you would rather be the teacher, remember that your teachers are sort of students themselves.

“I want students to know that without them, I cannot be a professor; I am able to pursue my joy because they come to class, ask questions and learn,” Clerkin said.  “Without a class, I’m just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal!”

Clerkin has realized that no matter how hard the students might have it, their struggle is worth it for their education and to give the teachers a reason to want to teach.  So the next time you want to skip class because you feel that you don’t have the easy route, remember that the teacher is having the same battle inside.

You and your teacher aren’t as different as you think.

Nick Fagen

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