Professional Development Opinion

Myth Debunking: My Top Early Career Teaching Myths

By Starr Sackstein — June 23, 2016 3 min read
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This is me, back in my earlier career. So serious - studious and lover of the written word.

Often I tell my students that brainstorming is the best way to slay the dragon that is writer’s block; so here I am, doing just that.

As I set out to write Teaching Mythology Exposed, I hoped I would potentially help preservice and early career teachers make better choices than I did when I first started teaching. Although my intentions were always good, I worked hard and struggled to no avail at times and found myself discouraged and questioning my career move.

Those early years were vital in the process to becoming the teacher/person I am now, but I wouldn’t wish those sleepless nights or tear-filled lunchless preps on anyone. For the first several months of my first year, I spent 5th period, sobbing in a colleague’s classroom, wondering what the hell I was thinking.

Not having any pre-service experience, I had little idea of what to expect from teaching aside from what my own learning experience as a student. I never student taught, only observed and was ill-prepared for what lay before me.

Since I was an avid reader and writer as a student and was close with my teachers, I spent most of my formative years tracked in honors classes and believed that teaching was just like learning - I mean, how different could it be?

I spent years observing my teachers teach as a student, I knew what worked for me as a learner - so why wouldn’t I know what to do when I stood before my own classes?

Myth #1: All students will learn like I learned. This is one myth that didn’t take long to realize held no weight. Every child is different and very few are as intrinsically motivated as I was; I was going to have to get creative.

Myth #2: It’s important for all students to like me to teach well. In that first year, after I stopped crying every day, I worked very hard to be liked by my kids. I shared way too much information and often sacrificed real teaching time for anything that would engage students. In a lot of ways, I’d still be willing to sacrifice “teaching” time or go off the grid, if I believed a learning experience could happen authentically. However, now it would be deliberate, back then it was a happy accident.

Myth #3: I can prepare myself for every situation that could occur inside my classroom, thereby arming myself for the unknown. This was another one that I learned the hard way. Yes, we can know our content and we can write procedural lesson plans that break down the period into every minute, but that won’t account for any number of things that can actually happen. Teacher must be flexible if they want to be successful.

Myth #4: Working in an affluent school district would be easier than teaching in the inner city. Since I grew up on Long Island around incredible affluence, challenged by a rigorous educational experience, I thought for sure, it has to be the best place to teach. I loved the inner city and my students, but when the school went SURR and I was told that I would be teaching scripted lessons, it was time for me to move on, heading for greener pastures. Turns out , teaching in the suburbs has its own challenges that I couldn’t have seen coming. Finding the right fit is essential in any teaching situation and knowing when you’ve found it is equally as important.

Myth #5: All parents are supportive of student learning. What I learned quickly in the suburbs is that parents and administrators have their own agendas; teaching isn’t a part of that agenda, necessarily. If you don’t play the game, you won’t get the support. I was once called the “tree-hugging hippie” on a parent bulletin board in my district, asking “what will she do next, take the kids on a protest?” All this because I challenged them to think for themselves and forced them to question things they never thought to question.

As the early years began to build, I learned that some of these myths were universal. I made many mistakes because of the false assumption that certain things were different than they actually were. Fortunately, I didn’t give up (even though I thought I might... several times), I pushed on and found myself where I am now.

Every choice I have made in my career has happened for a reason. Every person who I’ve encountered has influenced and better informed my educational experience pushing me to achieve more inside and outside of my classroom. It’s in this way, that I could truly model the love of learning (even with its setbacks) for my students.

So what were some of your early career misconceptions and what did you learn to be the truth? Please share

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