By Anna Herring
When I first heard about the opportunity to teach in Washington, D.C., I thought that it would be such a great experience. I knew what it was like to teach in Utah, and I had grown up in Arizona watching my parents teach, but I had never experienced anything close to “inner city.” I knew I wanted to teach and to grow through this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
As I prepared to leave for DC, I was warned that it would be a challenging teaching assignment. I expected that it wouldn’t be easy, and that it would be a learning experience. Even so, I didn’t realize how strenuous it would be until I actually began teaching at the beginning of the semester. At the beginning of the year, each day was a new adventure, with new obstacles to face. My teaching became much more effective after getting to know my students. I needed to gain their trust, and they needed to know I cared.
"...for a classroom to truly be successful year-round, the students need to know that the teacher is teaching them in order to help them grow, rather than teaching for pay or for power."
One of the things I’ve learned this semester through teaching in D.C. is how critical it is for me to get to know my students. Any teacher can get to know her students by learning what makes them happy and sad, what motivates them to work harder, and what inspires them. Get to know the students’ concerns, and pray to love them. My student teaching experience has made it evident to me that students respond better to classroom management and instructions when you truly care about them. The saying “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is the key to good teaching. It’s important to learn good techniques for classroom management and engagement, but for a classroom to truly be successful year-round, the students need to know that the teacher is teaching them in order to help them grow, rather than teaching for pay or for power. The students need to feel safe and loved in the classroom before they can approach learning the lesson content with an open mind. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can apply to the classroom: Once the students’ basic needs are met, then they can move on to a period of self-actualization in which they begin learning for themselves.
After teaching here for a semester, it is going to be a struggle to leave. I’ve learned so much, and I’ve become involved in my students’ lives. I’m excited to return to the West and to start teaching in my own classroom, and I will be taking everything I’ve learned with me. However, I know it is not likely that I will see these students again, and that makes it hard to leave. Each day as I get closer to coming home, I try to teach the students as much as I can. I cover the curriculum, but I am also trying to teach the students through my example and through classroom discussions about how to be a better person, how to contribute to society, and how to maintain a positive attitude during trials. I have grown to love my students, and I know them personally, which makes it hard to move on. But I know that the future is bright both for me and for my students, and that many opportunities will come to all of us because of the effort I have put into my teaching while in D.C.
Anna Herring, a senior studying elementary education who is a member of the MSE Student Alumni Board, is student teaching in Washington DC. Follow Anna’s urban student teaching experience during her semester in our nation’s capitol.