By Sachel S. Bise, Centenary University

I could tell you that I have had four years of experience in the classroom, not including all the volunteering I did throughout high school. But the truth is, I never really got close to experiencing what it was like to be a real teacher until last year when I started working as a substitute teacher. Whenever I was in a practicum experience, the students behaved differently, and I had more control. After all, the cooperating teacher was always present—it’s good to have backup.

I started subbing so I could gain experience in the classroom while making some extra money. I had no idea what I was in for. My first assignment found me in an inclusion class. The co-teacher took charge and I mostly walked around and monitored students. But that changed quickly the next time I went to the high school.

I started subbing so I could gain experience in the classroom while making some extra money. I had no idea what I was in for.

I was assigned to a woodworking class, which was, by far, the most difficult assignment I have ever experienced. It had me rethinking the grade levels I would want to teach. The students were noisy and disruptive, and they would not stay seated or focused, no matter what I tried to do. I was met with responses such as “No one’s taking you seriously” and “Just shut up already.” Somehow, I summoned a certain strength and put my foot down. I started taking away phones, quieting the students and disciplining them when necessary.

For my entire college career, I had it in my head that I wanted to teach high school English because I could teach Shakespeare. Anyone who has met me knows that I love Shakespearean literature. I even went overseas for an expensive program at the University of Oxford to learn more. I spent my 21st birthday in the Bard’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon.

My love of Shakespeare was driving my decision to teach high school, but I could not ignore certain signs that were pulling me in a different direction. Every experience I had subbing in a middle school was nothing but positive. I connected better to those students and always left feeling like I had done something right that day.

My most recent experience as a substitute at the middle school was troubling, but it taught me an important lesson. I had a student write negative things about himself. I called the guidance counselor, so he could speak to someone. I realized how scary and real these issues are in schools and proceeded to engage all classes in a positivity circle—an activity where students gather in a circle and go around saying positive things about themselves and the person next to them. The students realized this exercise made them feel good. It made me realize that I am meant to be teaching at the middle school level.

I’m very new to practicum, which is a whole other ballgame. I am in the high school level, because that was where I thought I should be at the time of my placement. Practicum is rewarding, but it’s also challenging. While I feel like the students do not yet entirely respect me, I know they are taking unique concepts out of my lessons. I design my lessons so that my students have some choice and opportunities to put in a part of themselves.

After grading student responses from one recent lesson, I was amazed by all the wonderful thoughts that arose from it. What a miraculous feeling to have taught something that sparked a new thought. I wrote a positive note on every single paper and tried to motivate the students to continue to think bigger and challenge themselves.

I spend my time trying to gain other types of classroom-like experience. In addition to substitute teaching and my practicum, I am a full time-student and a tutor. I always try to learn more and help children.

With all of my experiences, good and bad, I realize that I am truly meant to be a teacher. I want to be that person who high-fives the students as they walk into the classroom. I want to be that person who makes them want to come to school every day. I want to be that person that makes them see how special each of them is and how important they are to the world.

I want to make a difference.

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