Teaching ability: Natural or Acquired?

Discussion in 'Debate & Marathon Threads Archive' started by Bored of Ed, May 31, 2007.

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  1. Bored of Ed

    Bored of Ed Enthusiast

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    May 31, 2007

    If you don't have time/patience to read the background, please skip to the bold print at the bottom and answer some of my questions.:thanks:

    I've had doubts about going into education even before I made the decision. My natural skills are in more technical areas, but I find teaching more fascinating and fulfilling.

    I had a lot of difficulties in school when I was younger (it's still hard, but I've learned to hold my own with much work) and now I really want to help kids get the most out of their school years. My original ambition was to be a learning disabilities specialist, but now I'm considering other things, such as being a regular classroom teacher, resource room, or the like.

    I also love kids, I have a lot of respect for them as people, and they just amaze me.

    Theoretically, I'm full of good ideas for teaching. I've done all my coursework and I'm pretty sure I'm near the top of my classes, grade-wise. But when it comes to actually working with kids, it just doesn't come naturally to me. According to the teachers I work with (as their aide), I'm doing well, but I don't feel that way. When I'm working with kids one-on-one, it's hard for me to establish a rapport and the lesson feels dead. I haven't had much success in motivating kids or spreading enthusiasm/love of learning (I'll try to get them all gung-ho about something that I think will be really interesting to them, and they'll say "that's so boring." They're only 8!) When I have to work with a kid for one of my college classes, I feel like a failure while the others are giving these dynamic, involved lessons. And according to the formulas, I'm doing things right! My lessons that I model just for my peers go fine and usually get great reviews! I have come to dread my sessions with that student, and she is a great kid, well behaved, cooperative, eager to learn... I'm just really frustrated and I keep feeling like I'm at a dead end, not knowing what to do.

    Some people say, "Well, if you don't have a natural talent for teaching, why do it?" That shocks me; I never thought that way. Where would I be today if I'd dropped everything that doesn't come naturally to me?! But you need so much energy, love, patience, creativity, etc for teaching that maybe this is the one area that you really do need to have that special something in you. I know people who have gone into education with no formal training and taken to it like a duck to water. After only a short experience as an aide, they were hired (by private schools that take people even without certification) and they are better teachers than I am after 2.5 years of full-time college.

    OK, I wrote my whole story in the hopes of getting some advice, but besides for that what I really want to know is this:Can teaching be taught?
    a) Did you always feel a natural inclination or "calling" to teach?
    b) Did your skills of working with students (not specific strategies, but just knowing how to deal with them -- socially, emotionally) come naturally or did you have to work to develop them?

    If you're not a natural:
    c) when did you know you'd found the right field?
    d) When did you start feeling like you could be a success as a teacher?
    e) Does it become natural after some time?
    f) If you're not a born teacher, are you more likely to get burned out/switch carreers more quickly than the naturals? Or do you feel that you get "used up" faster within each year, even if you wouldn't think of leaving?
    g) WHY did you decide to go this far into teaching if it's not naturally your cup of tea?!
     
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  3. ChristyF

    ChristyF Moderator

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    May 31, 2007

    I've told my story on here somewhere before, but no, I had no plans on becoming a teacher, in fact I got this degree because the community college I attended only had 3. I was going to be a park ranger, then the wreck, and to make a looooong story short, once I hit my methods classes, I knew this was where I belonged. I think it's definitely possible to learn to teach. The first thing that popped into my mind when I read your story was, other than school work, do you spend much time with kids? I think the more time you spend with them, the more comfortable you are going to be with them. Sometimes, too, what you are going to do with them in the classroom will be just plain, straight-forward teaching. It can't all be a dog and pony show. That's hard for kids to get. They have grown up in the age of stimulation everywhere they turn, tv, games, computers, etc. They are entertained constantly. That's a lot to compete with when you are teaching plural nouns! :) I say don't make any rash decisions. Give yourself time.
     
  4. Bored of Ed

    Bored of Ed Enthusiast

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    May 31, 2007

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    As an aide, I spend plenty of time with lots of kids and I love them to pieces. I have always felt pretty comfortable with kids in general; it's when we get one-on-one that I feel a little slowdown. (I've tutored in the past -- if the kid has the right personality, it works. If I have to make all the overtures and keep things flowing, it doesn't.)
    That's why I've shifted my focus to maybe being a classroom teacher, whereas before I entered the field I visualized myself as a private consultant. (as a student, I never did well in a big class setting, and I still have concerns about it as a teacher)

    But although I feel comfortable with the kids, I run into major problems when I try to teach them. Each time, I end up feeling helpless. I chose teaching because I want to help the kids, but maybe I don't have what they need. I'm just not sure.

    In my year as an aide, I have come very far in my disciplinary abilities and my relationship with the kids -- but I don't think I've taught them a single thing. I've said things worth learning, but I don't think anyone caught it. (today I had a bit of a teaching moment, so I guess I can't fully honestly say that anymore -- but it was unusual. We were on a trip, waiting on a line for ages, and the kids were all wondering how something they saw worked. I explained it to about 15 of them; I think 3 listened and understood...success?)

    I've been asked to teach kids what they missed when they were absent, for instance, and although I explained it very clearly and used the right methods, it just didn't work. (Once I gave a kid some help that worked... only to find out afterwards that she was in middle of making up a test she'd missed and was supposed to do it on her own!)
     
  5. ChristyF

    ChristyF Moderator

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    May 31, 2007

    You know, it may be the age of kids you are working with. I would have some serous trouble working with kids that young. Also, the more teaching experience you get, the more comfortable you will get. From all of your posts that I have read, I think you truly have what it takes. Don't give up on yourself.
     
  6. eduk8r

    eduk8r Enthusiast

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    May 31, 2007

    It just sounds like you want to adjust your language so that you're more "where they're at". That's one reason teachers don't speak formally--who would listen to us if we did? :)

    Do not worry about whether or not you're a "natural" teacher. As Christy said, you will learn all about teaching methods and the theories behind them in your teaching courses.

    As to working one-on-one with students, take a minute or two to develop a rapport. Ask how they're doing, say something funny, then listen to them. That will get you going. :)
     
  7. cutNglue

    cutNglue Magnifico

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    May 31, 2007

    I'm a one-on-one person but not much of a group teacher person (I'm having to work on developing that). I also find, as an aide, when I am teaching something my teachers gave me--I don't do as well. When I am at home looking around and come across my own lessons or develop my own for my word study center, I'm alive. Do I always come across? Nope. But more often than not, I have some success that way compared to the other situations. If I teach math, it is like pulling teeth. I have found that I'm good at teaching through games but it usually comes with prep (at home--gasp) and thought. It is work. I don't develop a natural rapport with kids in either direction right away but it does come and I feel satisfied that I'm getting through and that means something to me at the end of the day. I wouldn't have dreamed I would go into this field though.
     
  8. ellen_a

    ellen_a Groupie

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    Can teaching be taught?

    a) Did you always feel a natural inclination or "calling" to teach?

    No. I did not even consider teaching until I was a senior in high school. One of my least favorite parts of college was sitting in classes with all these people who just gushed about how they had always know they wanted to teach, they had lined up their stuffed animals and played teacher at age 3, never even considered another job, etc.

    I decided after a summer of camp experience that I wanted to teach--there are still days when I wonder what would have happened if I had pursued writing as I'd originally intended. College was frustrating to me as well because I wanted to teach self-contained and everyone else wanted general education (primary) or resource/consultant, so very little attention was ever paid to the kind of kids I wanted (or the kind I had a lot of experience with).

    b) Did your skills of working with students (not specific strategies, but just knowing how to deal with them -- socially, emotionally) come naturally or did you have to work to develop them?

    I wouldn't say I necessarily worked on them consciously, but I think they probably came with time (at least in the general education classroom). Stick me in a room with a kid who is nonverbal or who tries to punch me and I'm comfortable--a room full of "normal" kids who need a phonics lesson makes me cringe. For my practica placements in college, I was often in "normal" classes (some inclusion) and my professors consistently told me I seemed almost rigid. They started agreeing that I might be better in self-contained, but they also started seeing that even though I was rigid, the methods I was using were successful with the general education students.

    If you're not a natural:
    c) when did you know you'd found the right field?

    I still wonder about this, pretty much every day.

    d) When did you start feeling like you could be a success as a teacher?

    I never felt successful until I was actually in my first classroom, towards the end of my first year. I got a very nice review from my administration, I had parents I'd never met requesting placement for their children in my class the next year, I had started getting this reputation, and I just finally felt comfortable going to school every morning.

    BUT, there are still times when I definitely feel uncomfortable again. Tutoring LD inner city kids this year, one of my professors from graduate school observed and told me I should seek out a voice coach because my voice was so harsh she felt my kids would be confused. This was the first time anyone had EVER said this to me, and it threw me--I called my parents and announced I had intentions to drop out of graduate school. I don't think what she said was necessarily correct though--even if my voice is harsh, my kids were rarely confused by it.

    e) Does it become natural after some time?

    I have always said that I don't think teaching is hard--I plan lessons driving in my car, at the last minute, etc. But I'm always careful to clarify that while I do not find my job "difficult" it is still definitely "hard work." A lot of people won't agree with this, its just my opinion.

    People sometimes hear that I get punched at work or have my hair pulled or get spit on, or that I have changed diapers for high schoolers (or three thousand other "horror" stories not fit for printing on this website) and say "Wow, it takes a really special person to do that." But I really don't think it does--I think anyone can be really good at it if they try.

    f) If you're not a born teacher, are you more likely to get burned out/switch carreers more quickly than the naturals? Or do you feel that you get "used up" faster within each year, even if you wouldn't think of leaving?

    I don't think so. Self-contained SPED is a big burn-out field, so I'm not sure it really matters.

    g) WHY did you decide to go this far into teaching if it's not naturally your cup of tea?!

    It kind of pays my bills. I love my kids. I have a new adventure ever day. It gives me an excuse to talk to people on this forum. etc.
     
  9. runsw/scissors

    runsw/scissors Phenom

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    I can't say that I have always felt a natural inclination/ability to teach. I'm some sort of combination. I'll try to answer your questions as well as possible.

    I did not always feel a calling to teach. In fact it wasn't even until I was a senior in HS before I even considered the profession and then only because I had no idea what to do. I HAVE always loved kids. Being the oldest of many had a lot to do with this I'm sure. My freshman year in college I took education courses and English/journalism courses because I was back-and-forth between the two but felt more suited to education. I loved my courses and working in the classrooms.

    Teaching on my own in a classroom DID NOT come naturally. My first year as a full-time teacher was a disaster. After that year I seriously considered leaving the profession, and I did for about 2 years. When I was ready to try again I did the sub thing for a year and then was hired. That first year really taught me a lot even though it was baptism by fire as they say. I had to learn to like kids again and trust myself. Once I was in the classroom I felt like a different person in that I had more confidence in myself. My first group was wonderful. Some parents were a challenge (as always) but I got through and was wiser for it.

    After my "sabatical" teaching and classroom management felt more natural and automatic, but I still went to workshops, read books, talked to other teachers, and continued to learn. I still am. I think teaching is a profession of constant growth. No body is perfect, and things are always changing.

    As for burnout, some years are better than others. It depends of the group of kids (personalities, abilities, chemistry, effort levels) and their parents. Every year is different. This year I was ready to be done mid-April. Years past my limit has been anywhere between early March and not wanting to let them go for the summer. And summer is a necessary break from the kids. I am always doing something to prepare for the next year, but I need the time away from the classroom to refuel. That's why people who claim teachers don't work as much because they have three month vacations sound so completely ignorant. They truely have no idea what they are talking about. And teaching is my "cup of tea" now, but it took a little time to get to this point.
     
  10. missred4190

    missred4190 Comrade

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    May 31, 2007

    I, too, was an aide for 4 years and have been subbing for 2. I'm in my last 3 courses of college this summer, and i student teach this fall.

    1. I never thought that I would be a teacher, ever. I wanted to be a fashion designer or a journalist. In fact, journalism was my major until I dropped out of college in 1997. I didn't even think that I liked children, but I had never been around them before either. When I had my daughter in Dec 1999, that "feeling" changed. In March 2001, I was desperate for a job and was hired to work in a school cafeteria as a cashier. I was so nervous and worried! I almost didn't take the job, but by that fall I was an aide and loved it! It came so naturally to me--working with children. I was a one-on-one aide, but I got many opportunities to work with whole classes too when the teacher was out. I decided to go back to school and teach.

    2.Everyone who observes me is always quick to say I'm a natural, and I feel that i am. It comes easily to me, I'm very comfortable in both small and large group settings, and students respond so well to me. I can't imagine anything else for myself. I would have to say that the skills also come naturally (for me). There are always areas that I work to improve, but I don't feel that there is an area I'm completely lacking at this point.

    3. I felt that I could be successful after about 1 semester as an aide when I saw how I could impact students' lives and learning through what felt like the simplest and most natural ideas, plans and methods. I just rolled with it, and it worked. I've always had teachers approach me for advice, ideas and strategies, which is weird since I'm not even a teacher yet!

    4. I think that even natural teachers can get burned out, mostly when they have spent so many years in one grade level when there is another that they might be better "designed" for. From what I have seen over the past 6 years, great (but burned out) teachers thrive when moved to another grade level. Sometimes what we think we are meant for might not be. All of my experience has been with K-1, so I've always thought that would be for me. Now I am questioning whether 3-4 might be my calling now that I have been exposed to it more often lately... That's the toughie--finding that "just right" placement.
     
  11. ellen_a

    ellen_a Groupie

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    I had a really hard time in college, struggling with the whole "calling" and "natural" thing. Writing lessons, designing materials, creating games, crafting philosophies--it all came very naturally to me. I felt like I wasn't meant to be a teacher, felt awkward in the classroom, but could create these amazing projects that always wowed my professors. My undergrad GPA over all was high (3.96) but in my major, it was a 4.0. I remember my peers being frustrated because "Ellen doesn't even want to teach and she can still do so well" and I felt just as frustrated in that position.
     
  12. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    Can teaching be taught? I suppose it could be taught, but if you don't have "it" I think it will be difficult. If you don't have "it", though, I wouldn't understand why you would be interested in teaching. So, if someone wants to teach, then surely "it" is buried somewhere deep down and just needs to be dug out. Does that make ANY sense? :)

    a) Did you always feel a natural inclination or "calling" to teach? Always. The whole lining up your animals at age three thing mentioned by Ellen: that was me. I know there are a couple of other careers which would be interesting (anthropologist, archeologist, forensic pathologist), but I never actually considered those.

    b) Did your skills of working with students (not specific strategies, but just knowing how to deal with them -- socially, emotionally) come naturally or did you have to work to develop them? I think I have a natural ability to connect with kids, but some of these qualities certainly become refined with time.

    Best of luck to you!!!
     
  13. Tasha

    Tasha Phenom

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    May 31, 2007

    Can teaching be taught?

    a) Did you always feel a natural inclination or "calling" to teach?

    Yes, I debated between it and other careers, but it was always on my short list.

    b) Did your skills of working with students (not specific strategies, but just knowing how to deal with them -- socially, emotionally) come naturally or did you have to work to develop them?

    Both - some age groups have been a breeze for me and other I have worked at a little more. I would recommend that you explore many more age groups, even those you may not have considered before.

    ~~~~
    I have seen teachers who are naturals or have the traditional characteristics and teachers who rely more on learned skills. Both can be great teachers and they offer something totally different to the kids. Where better than school to show kids that there are different personalities and styles of teaching than school. I think that ideally there is some balance between knowing what to do based on theory and having the instincts to do certain things. There are great teachers everywhere on this continuum. :love:
     
  14. daddy'sgirl

    daddy'sgirl Rookie

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    Bored of Ed,

    Take heart in knowing that you are not alone. I am currently in an ACP and I came home from class tonight w/some of these same questions in my head. It's so ironic that I would log on tonight to read your post. I have taught 1yr previously and it really did not feel natural at all. As I'm nearing the end of my class I'm beginning to have some doubts. I love kids and would hate to get in to a classroom and be more of a hinderance to them than a help. I know that I haven't answered any of your questions, but I just wanted you to know that you are not alone in feeling the way that you do.
     
  15. SoReady2Teach

    SoReady2Teach Comrade

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    Ha, I did all those things! I would even ask teachers for extra papers to give to my "students" and grade them. For me, I just always knew I would be a teacher even though in high school I swore up and down I wouldn't teach. The experience is just different for everyone.
    I understand Bored when you say you feel like you are at a dead end. When I first started coursework I would feel like crap being in the same classroom as people who seemed like saints. Don't be so hard on yourself, sometimes we can be our own worse critic.
     
  16. patti2

    patti2 Cohort

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    May 31, 2007

    Teaching is a lot of hard work even if it comes naturally. Each child is SO different and responds in diff. ways. I work with people who just don't have the knack for it...they go through the motions and that is it. Teaching is sharing knowledge and really not loving only what you teach, but who you teach and vice versa. A great teacher loves both...an "iffy" teacher loves one or the other. Go with what your heart says...if it says to give it a try, then do....if it is calling in a different direction...then listen more closely! :)
     
  17. Bored of Ed

    Bored of Ed Enthusiast

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    Thanks for all the support. I relate to a lot of what you are saying.

    I am looking forward to student teaching and field experience next year to feel around and see if I can find my element working with kids. Those of you who wrote about trying different ages and settings -- thanks, that is a very encouraging thought and practical advice.

    But if after student teaching I discover I might really be in the wrong field... I think I will be deeply depressed. :(

    Still fishing for more success stories of those who felt unendowed at first...

    Actually, I'm realizing now that I did want to be a teacher when I was younger. In high school I considered the whole gamut of professions, leaning towards medicine or computers, but came back to education after all. It's like a hidden dream. It's the ability that I'm still very unsure of, and if I lack that I feel like I'm being denied that dream.
     
  18. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Bored, dear, I think you're confusing abilities and skills. And I think you're overlooking the extent to which success in teaching - the sort of overall comfort level evinced by the likes of Alice, say - comes as a result of practicing and honing skills.

    Tell me: do you play a sport or an instrument?
     
  19. January_Violet

    January_Violet Comrade

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    Teaching is natural for me. It was NOT my calling at all. The profession "calling" is not applicable to me, maybe some but I don't really believe in it. Some can be taught to teach but if there's not some type of common sense available, I don't think one can be successful. I've seen those who really love to be in the classroom but are very ineffective. Then there are those who are like me, who don't really like being in the classroom but very effective (according to test scores and feedback).

    Next year will be my final year. I just don't want to do it any longer.
     
  20. Bored of Ed

    Bored of Ed Enthusiast

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    TG -- nope. No sport, no instrument. Though I've wanted to do both, I am horrible at them: two left feet and practically tone deaf!

    Violet -- :( Sorry. How long were you teaching before you decided to leave?
     
  21. January_Violet

    January_Violet Comrade

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    Jun 1, 2007

    next year will be 11
     
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