I spent the 2018-19 school year as a Special Education Instructional Aide. While not having all the duties of a teacher, I learned a lot about the kind of teacher I want to be. I learned what works for me and what doesn't when it comes to classroom management and building relationships. I've learned more about what my values are when it comes to building my classroom environment.
Going into my first year of being a teacher, I'm incredibly grateful to have the experience of being an instructional aide. I have an expectation of what to come that will likely be dashed due to the sheer number of things that a teacher does, but I'm anticipating that as well. Skills in the classroom aren't the only thing I've learned in the education world, though.
Teaching has taught me more about communication than I ever thought I could learn. Four years of Air Force ROTC taught me what kind of leader I wanted to be, but teaching showed me that the key to being that leader was communication.
When figuring out how the most successful teachers build relationships with students, you must learn how to communicate in a completely different way. You must learn an entirely new level of nonverbal communication because you're attempting to bridge a skill gap based mainly on age, though in the classroom you will find that there is also a gap in ability, culture, language, or a myriad of other factors. In teaching, you come across students of all walks of life. You spend your career learning the life stories of other humans and helping guide them to a path of growth and learning.
We need to communicate with adults the same way we do with students. We need to look at things from their point of view, consider their nonverbal language and behavior, and see the whole picture of what someone is saying. However, we need to drop one factor in our communication.
When communicating with students, you have the authority to guide these people to growth and learning. This authority is not self-imposed but placed by society. You are not their savior, but their tour guide. You are not better than, but experienced.
To educators who are parents, this is a switch when speaking to your child. While your role is similar, it's a different level of authority. You are talking to your child, not your student. Your level of authority is over a broader stretch of aspects when guiding your child, and your involvement is at a different level. You are not teaching them in the same manner, because your relationship is at a closer level.
When communicating with adults, you are not going to be heard if you speak to them with either of these authorities. You are not their teacher or their parent and acting like you are is going to shut most people down. No one wants to feel like they're being spoken down to by someone they haven't placed that authority in. It is not your job to teach grown adults. They need to take on the responsibility of teaching themselves. You can show them the light, but that’s their own growth to take care of.
Teaching has taught me to be more understanding in my communication with others. There are still things about people that I will never understand, even if I can draw a logical conclusion about their thought process. However, for the most part, I have learned to be more conscious about why people respond the way they do.
Communication may be the skill I’ve learned the most about in my short time in education, but it’s far from the only thing I’ve learned. I’ve learned a lot about myself, others, and that we are never done learning or growing in life. We expect to be done when we graduate but learning continues. It simply does so in a different manner.