Five Expressions of What #TeachingIs

All professionals have jargon related to their work. Teachers are certainly no exception, with edu-speak, buzz words, and the “only-teachers-would-understand” phrases that come up around the ol’ watering hole (read: faculty lounge). Here are a few common phrases that offer a glimpse into what #TeachingIs.

This guest post appears in coordination with Teacher Appreciation Week and #TeachingIs, a social media movement seeking to elevate public perception of the teaching profession. Click here to learn how you can participate.

All professionals have jargon related to their work. Teachers are certainly no exception, with edu-speak, buzz words, and the “only-teachers-would-understand” phrases that come up around the ol’ watering hole (read: faculty lounge). Here are a few common phrases that offer a glimpse into what #TeachingIs.

1. “Aha! Moment”

Ah, the blissful “Aha!” moment. The instant in which a student finally understands or makes a connection, characterized by a widening of the eyes, a broad smile, and the little light-bulb you can almost see shining above his or her head. These moments are what inspired many of us to enter the classroom in the first place–and they are the fuel that keeps us going on days when most of the other 30 light bulbs in the room are turned “off.”

But these moments don’t apply only to students. Earlier this school year, I introduced my class to A Long Walk to Water, a book my husband, a fellow middle school Language Arts teacher, had recommended. After reading independently for the next few days, students excitedly discussed the “lost boy” who braved lions, crocodiles, and rebel fighters in search of sanctuary. The book spread like wild fire. My class set of copies disappeared as more and more students requested to read the book. Then a light-bulb went off in my head. I realized that if you put good books in kids’ hands and give them time to share, they’ll be excited about reading.

2. “Teachable Moment”

Though similar in name, this expression is different from the “Aha!” moment. These moments often happen outside of your planned lesson. Take the time when my teammate responded to a student’s comment that an activity was “so gay,” resulting in one of her favorite class discussions of the year. Other times, teachable moments deal with current events.

I remember the day after President Obama was elected in 2008. Multiple students arrived at school wearing t-shirts, stickers, or buttons promoting their candidate of choice. All the joy or disappointment felt in my students’ homes the night before suddenly collided in my classroom. The space was split by glares and gloating. So I scratched my lesson, printed copies of the speeches both candidates had given, and guided my students to find commonalities between the two. We noted how President Obama and Senator McCain had complimented one another, expressed their appreciation for one another’s support, and spoke with hope for America’s future. This spontaneous moment turned into a memorable lesson that has stayed with me (and, hopefully, my students) ever since.

3. “Trial by Fire”

The first year of teaching is not an easy one, and the phrases used to describe it reflect that. New teachers are “thrown to the wolves” and expected to “sink or swim.” I even heard recently that teaching is one of the only professions that “cannibalizes its young.” At the very least, the first year of teaching is a “trial by fire.”

Figuring out “what to do” each day is definitely one of the greatest obstacles new teachers face. You’ll often see first-year teachers at school until 8:00 p.m., creating lesson plans and trying to meet their students’ needs. And yet there’s so much more on their plates. There are supervision duties in the morning and afternoon, a myriad of committees to join, I.E.P. meetings, and parent conferences. There are countless papers to grade and a website to update. They also need to take time to build relationships with students.

No wonder some beginning teachers feel like they’ve been chewed up and spit out. It takes an impressive amount of grit to start each morning with a smile despite the lingering burns and burdens from the day before.

4. “Beg, Borrow, or Steal”

As a new teacher, I remember longing for the classrooms of veterans–their libraries, supplies, and furniture. (You have to teach in a building a long time to snag the conference table, extra filing cabinet, or the large teacher desk.)

Unfortunately, though, most schools have limited resources– including funds, instructional supplies, time, and volunteers. I recently saw a meme that said, “Teaching is the only profession where people steal things from home to bring to work.”

And this concept doesn’t just apply to scavenging the house for supplies. Most teachers regularly “steal” time from their families to guarantee the best for their students. It may mean hours searching the Internet for resources or completing grants for new technology. Ultimately, teachers have the critical responsibility of preparing students for the rest of their lives, and we’re willing to do “whatever it takes” to make that happen.

5. “All for the Kids”

Amidst all the challenges faced by teachers, both new and seasoned, it can be easy to get caught up in arguments or bitterness and lose focus on what really matters. That’s why this expression is my favorite: teaching always has to come back to the kids. Whether we’re discussing grading policies, schedules, or how to spend instructional funds, we have to stop ourselves and ask, “What’s the best for students? How can we maximize instruction?”

#TeachingIs complicated. It’s “more than words can say,” really. But I can attest that it’s a career that is well worth it.

Cristie Watson, NBCT, is a 6th grade ELA teacher in Efland, NC and a member of the Center for Teaching Quality Collaboratory.

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  • wjtolley

    “It’s not about you”

    “It’s not about you” is something that anyone who works with teenagers needs to remind themselves of every day. Between all of the possible problems at home, the potential tensions with their friends and their own struggles with building their lives and identities, I would say roughly 4% of the misbehavior and attitude teens show, when they show it, actually has to do with us as teachers. 

    Thank Buddha!

    • jjefcoat

      It’s not about you!

      Very wise words.  I think we as high school teachers need to remind ourselves of this frequently.  I have been guilty of taking it personally.  

  • migalam

    We’ve All Been There…

    I think all teachers can relate to this post. We’ve all been through these moments at one point or another. What’s important and that we all remember why we do it…which is for the kids! Reflecting on my first year of teaching is something I always do at the beginning of each school year to remind myself where I started and where I am now. I also try to help the “newbie” teachers when I find them still at school nightly until 8pm. There are so many ideas and things to do at the beginning of a teacher’s first year. My best piece of advice that I give is… “It’s okay to not do it all, focus and enjoy the time with your students.”