From Zero to Hero: 5 Tips for Education Majors
Your whole life you’ve been the student.
And you still are—but now, the tables are turning.
As an education major, more and more teaching opportunities present themselves, training you to one day take on the responsibilities of a teacher.
It wasn’t until two semesters ago that I started seeing myself as a teacher. Occasionally, I would teach at PCA for my Teaching Art course; one day, as I was leaving school for the day, one of my students pointed me out to her mom and gleefully piped up, “That’s my art teacher!”
I’ll cherish that memory forever.
Sure, I had been an education major for nearly four years at that point—but with everything I knew I had to learn, the coveted teacher status seemed elusive.
I’m a TA now, and even though I’m assuming the role of a part-time teacher, I’m still learning new things about teaching and education every day. Internship, the capstone of education training at PCC, is an enlightening (if not sometimes disillusioning) experience.
Whether an internship is just around the corner of your college career or still semesters away, you can prepare for your student-to-teacher transition. Here’s how:
1.) Learn the territory.
In many of your education courses, you have the opportunity to observe live classrooms at PCA. While you’re there, pay attention to detail and take mental notes, if not actual written notes. Always ask yourself questions and answer them: Does the gate next to the St. John Chapel swing in or out? How long does it take to walk from your residence hall to the Academy? Where are all the doors to the building? Which hallway is elementary and which is high school? What kinds of technology do the teachers use? What nonverbal signals do they use, and why? Where do teachers stand or not stand while they teach? How do they recover from a mistake?
Knowing these things will help you adjust quickly to the environment when you begin internship; you’ll feel much more at ease, and it will show in your teaching.
But learning the territory isn’t exclusive to PCA. You should learn classroom territory in general.
Go to the teaching labs on the 2nd floor of the AC and get acquainted with them. Learn how to quickly plug and unplug an adapter to the projector cords. Get comfortable walking around the classroom. Learn how to use an overhead projector. Practice multitasking: pretend to teach something (maybe something you read in your Bible that morning) and fill out bathroom passes, write on the chalkboard, set up your technology, etc.
Being a teacher, I’ve observed, is a lot like being a pilot: in addition to knowing how to fly, a pilot must know his aircraft and his instruments; he must be completely at ease in the cockpit. A teacher, likewise, may know how to teach, but he must also know his classroom and his school, and be completely at ease in an academic environment.
2.) Learn to communicate.
When I was a teenager, I couldn’t imagine myself pursuing a career that would involve public speaking: like Moses, my excuse was that I was slow of speech.
But God called me to become a teacher, and now I find myself having to talk all the time.
Fortunately, good communication can be learned; in fact, it’s something that I’m still learning.
I wish I had started developing my communication skills earlier. That’s not to say that I should have taken more speech classes (though they certainly would have helped): all I really should have done was practice effective speaking skills in everyday conversations. I should have practiced “teaching” my friends the things I had been learning in my classes or Bible reading.
Joining a Christian Service earlier in my college career would have helped, too. Though not a requirement, communication is in many Christian Services a tool for ministry: in door-to-door, it’s a tool for friendly interaction with the community; in Bible clubs, it's a tool for teaching; in nursing home visitation, it’s a tool for singing and encouraging.
3.) Keep your lecture notes.
In the education department, classes overlap and build on each other. Information you learn in one class will appear again in another, culminating in your internship.
Keeping your lecture notes (and rereading them from time to time) is your key to success.
Whenever a topic comes up in class that you know you have previous notes on, pull them up and refresh your knowledge. For example, if you’re studying secondary education, your lessons in Adolescent Growth and Development will be much more complete if you review your notes from Ed. Psych alongside. Also, keep your notes from your core teaching classes (the ones you have full teachings in). I’ve lost some of my notes, and as a consequence, I forget basic things like standard grading scales, how to write VSP B quizzes, and such. In a sense, I’m rewriting my notes right now in my inte
4.) Always be learning and studying.
Professional development is required of most employed teachers. They attend conferences and teacher clinics around the country, continuing their studies in being an effective teacher.
Your learning shouldn’t stop after you graduate. So it would be smart to start now, while you’re in “learning mode” as a student, to take the initiative of studying outside of your required assignments.
Study education: pick up a periodical on educational methods and (using your judgment) garner techniques that you’d like to see in your own teachings.
Study the content of your teachings. If you’re an elementary education major, you teach a variety of subjects: math, Bible, science, English, history, penmanship—keep your knowledge of these subjects sharp! If it's fresh and exciting to you, it’ll be fresh and exciting to your students! Likewise with secondary education: continue learning about your chosen fields. My advisory teacher told me that it’s much harder for TAs to correct a content-knowledge issue than a teaching-style issue. So to the best of your abilities, become an expert! The better you understand your topic, the more confidence you’ll have when teaching it, lending you credibility as you teach your students.
Study something new—it doesn’t have to be related to education. Learn a new language or instrument. Stretch your brain; keep it active! Learning something new may even help you sympathize with your students who struggle to grasp new concepts.
5.) Get involved with teaching.
Good teaching comes with practice.
Sure, some people are natural teachers, but most of us are still refining our teaching styles. It’s one thing to know how to teach—and another thing entirely to apply that knowledge to teaching. And the only way to practice applying is by teaching.
Fortunately, we don’t have to look far for opportunities to teach. On campus, you can lead a Bible study or give devotionals in a Christian Service. During your summer and winter breaks, get involved in camps, VBS, and Sunday school.
Someone once told me that a good teacher has ten years of experience behind him. We may not be able to get ten years of experience before we start an internship, but we can definitely take great strides toward improvement just by getting some extra practice outside of our studies.
So get involved teaching children, teenagers, adults, and your fellow college students. Take note of what works and doesn’t work with each age: some toastmaster skills are universal to all ages, while others are age-specific (exercise those Effective Speaker Principles from Speech 101!).
Learn to communicate with your students—and learn to love them.
If you know you’ve been called to teach children or teenagers, but you still aren’t at ease around them or haven’t developed a love for them yet, don’t worry. We love what we invest ourselves in. Try babysitting or volunteering as a teen camp counselor. By developing relationships with young people, you’ll learn to see children and teens as more than just students. You’ll see them as real people with real lives, like you. As you work with them, you may even remember your own childhood, and learn to empathize with them.
Being a teacher is more than just a title or job—it’s a calling, and spiritual gift. And though the years ahead as a new teacher may be daunting, remember that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (II Timothy 1:7). So don’t waver in your confidence of what God has called you to do, but be resolute, and embrace your wonderful transition from student to teacher.