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My story

My story

by Pamela Jenkins

4 years ago

My teaching experience as a control freak!

As a former 15 year veteran teacher in the Florida public school system , I learned a great deal about myself and I wanted to share some of my experiences.

First of all, I need to tell you that I never planned to become a teacher, it was something that sort of fell into my lap.  As a result of this experience, I can't help but believe in some sense of purpose and destiny. What started out as one thing clearly led me to another and looking back it seems as though my purpose was to become an educator all along. I actually went to school to become a mental health therapist and although I held a masters degree in psychology, a chain of unplanned events led me into the field of education.

It all started when my only son was attending high school and I began volunteering to assist with graduation activities at his school. One thing led to another and through various associations I was able to acquire a position as an educational paraprofessional.

At the time I felt as if I were not ready to start a career as a teacher but instead wanted to test the waters and see what it was like. I didn't think there was a need to take any great risks at that point in my life. Honestly, I don’t think that I was confident enough to be an effective teacher during those years. Knowing what I know now, I can see what a valuable experience it was for me to become a teacher’s aide before taking on all the responsibilities of a full time classroom teacher. I learned a great deal from veteran teachers, which proved to be very beneficial when it came time for me to move forward with my own classroom.

Upon the completion of my second year as a paraprofessional, I  decided to complete the necessary requirements and began my teaching career. The first few years that I taught were very challenging and I felt as if I were in a constant state of survival, just trying to keep my head above water.  

I would describe myself as controlling, extremely guarded and quite strict as a teacher.  I believed that I had to be strict or else I would lose control of my environment and ultimately be humiliated. I always needed to be in control and did everything I could to make sure that I was always treated with respect.  I started out teaching a few freshmen ESE (Exceptional Student Education) courses. If you know anything about this student population, you probably can understand why I felt I had to be strict. I could not let one inch of my guard down with these students or I was chopped liver! 

As you can imagine, I was stressed out most of the time and there were many days when I thought I couldn’t handle much more. On the other hand, being the kind of person that I was, I believed that nothing was going to defeat me no matter what! There are both positive and negative consequences from this type of inner determination. I held the attitude that I was going to keep moving forward or at least die in the process of trying.

Back then, my students referred to me as “mean” and somehow my ego was proud of that title because it meant that they would respect me at all costs. What I later discovered was that most of my students not only did not respect me,  most of them didn’t even like me. I realize that teachers should not concern themselves with being liked, but honestly it really does go a long way in what you will accomplish in your relationship with your students.

I was ashamed to admit that I was harsh at times with my attitude and tone of voice toward my students.  On the other hand, I felt like I was a pretty good teacher because I never once cussed in front of my students and I would never think of calling a student a derogatory name. I had often heard of other teachers doing those things and by gosh, that was not going to be me! Later, I had to own up to the pride of thinking of myself as better than other teachers just because I could control my mouth pretty well.

The real problem was that I never relaxed enough to allow my students to see who I really was as a person. In those early years, I was not very good at creating the kind of environment that I needed to have in my classroom with my students.

As time went on, I realized that I became much less controlling and much more confident as a person.  I began to let my guard down a little more with each passing year as a teacher. After 8 years of teaching mathematics, which was not my favorite subject area, I began teaching psychology as the opportunity presented itself for me to teach in my field of expertise. Needless to say, I found my niche and I was really happy to go to work every day. There is something to be said about doing what you love to do! I ended up teaching 6 more years of high school as well as a few college level psychology courses before I decided that I needed to take my career in a different direction.
Three Valuable Lessons that I Learned              

First, I learned that my experience as a teacher was much more about my relationship with myself than it was about the students that I was teaching. In those first few years, I was operating more out of a place of control, fear and insecurity than I was out of a place of trust and confidence. As I really began to focus on myself and the changes that I could make within, I started to experience better relationships with my students and an overall better teaching/learning environment in the classroom. The experience taught me that change really does start within us as individuals. Our power lies in the things that we can control, not in the things that we can't control.

Secondly, I learned that it became less like a job and more like a smooth sailing experience when I began to teach the subject that I really loved. I think it is unfortunate that there are so many teachers who are not able to teach what it is that they love to teach. Passion plays a huge role in the effectiveness of us as teachers and if you are not passionate about what you’re teaching, everyone suffers. I still have a passion for psychology, and although I am not currently a classroom teacher, I still educate, just in a slightly different manner.

Finally, I learned how important it was for me to remain teachable if I wanted to grow. I never imagined that I would be a teacher, it wasn’t part of my plan. If I were not teachable and flexible to try new things and be open to new experiences, I would have never considered entering the field of education. I was perfectly happy with the thought of having my own mental health practice but when things didn’t go my way, I went with the flow instead of trying to make things happen on my own. Sometimes you just have to seek guidance within and go with what it tells you!