Five months ago, I got a phone call from an acquaintance asking me to temporarily take his place for a few months and run a course for SoftUni Light where I’m going to teach children. I did the same thing I was doing with every new possibility that knocked on my door. I immediately said, “Hi, welcome to my place. You are about to be surprised! I hope you can handle me.” and accepted the position. I went to the interview, where we spoke for about twenty minutes, and the interviewer said: “You are going to be a perfect fit.”
My doubts and concerns regarding the teacher position
I was confused and took it with a grain of salt, thinking they probably needed that course started ASAP and didn’t have much time to search for a candidate. On the other hand, I know my qualities and capabilities, and I also think I’m a better fit than most, but I still doubt myself slightly because I’ve never been in the role of a school teacher before.
I understand the responsibility I’m taking isn’t just in front of the institution but also in front of the kids and their parents. I also promise myself to try and be the best in whatever I’m doing, so I’m bound by that self-contract as well.
What were my main motives for taking this opportunity?
I wanted to become a better teacher overall, perfect my skills, and pass on information entertainingly. I also wanted to improve my verbal skills when communicating with youngsters, be patient when explaining a thing repeatedly, and learn how to get their attention without being boring. I wanted to train myself as a better mentor while helping them learn outside the box.
When I was young, I was not too fond of the school system in general, and I was constantly thinking about how can I improve it at some point. Now I pretty much have this opportunity in front of me, and I am willing to take it. Being on both sides of the coin will give me more insights into how this system runs. This is part of my future plan to present the world with an effective alternative to the current educational system.
What inspired me to start as a young teacher in SoftUni Light?
The freedom I had was just enormous. From the first day, I was told I could re-order my lectures in a way I preferred. I could add or remove topics from the initial plan on the go and based on how my students perform. I could have my own evaluation system forming their school grades. I was allowed to educate in a creative approach and without being bound to dogmatic methods. I could pretty much do whatever I want, come up with new strategies, and adapt them on our way.
This was an experiment, and money was never part of my motivation to start working there. At this point, I prefer not to look at it as a job but as a way to refine my skills. Further, increase my personal goals in the long run. Of course, if I continue working there, I’ll start paying more attention to the payout.
The innovations I came up with, some experiments and where they failed
I slowly started developing an interactive way to present the information to the children while getting to know my duties. I also made different types of tests with open answers where they can try and express themselves, explaining concepts we’ve learned in their own words.
I allowed them to do whatever they wanted in class, provided they kept up with the material and followed the lesson. This included listening to music, playing games, whispering without distracting the other students and others. Тhis worked very well because some of them could juggle between tasks and understood the material quite quickly. Some just abused it but not without consequences. Let’s say I hardened the rules a bit and started to inspect if they listened, asking them random questions randomly. (This wasn’t that big of a problem because most of the questions came from themselves.) It really helped. I also made a quick test they can fill up after every class, so I make sure they follow what’s going on.
I asked them if they prefer having homework after every class or putting everything they’ve learned during the course to test in one big final project. Guess what they chose? Nobody likes homework. That was almost about to fail because their time management was so wrong. Don’t worry. I expected that, so I made sure we were a few lectures ahead and had more time to discuss and finish those projects. I also wanted to see which ones were going to procrastinate and whether they could complete the project just one day before the imaginary deadline. Of course, I never told them the deadline was way ahead of time. Instead, I didn’t want them to fail. I just put them to the test and saw the outcome.
I found a way to increase their motivation from the beginning by offering them one year of free VPS for the top 2 projects in their class. SoftUni had nothing to do with that. It was my idea because I know how hard every startup is. I have eight till now, and in the beginning, it’s pushing water uphill before you convince your first clients you are that good and worthy. I intentionally gave them 365 days to motivate them to accomplish some results in the meantime and appreciate it more.
Let the children judge the teacher.
Yep, that’s right. You want to be a better teacher. You think I’m out of my damn mind letting the children judge me, right? Wrong! It’s all about the criteria. I made the criteria for that crystal clear too, and as reasonable as possible. So they can anonymously rate me as a teacher from 1 – 10 stars at the end of the course, judging individually every single one of those five and here are the results:
- How fair is the teacher’s judgment?
- How much effort do they think I put in for them?
- How understandable and helpful is my explanation process
- How much do they like my experimental, innovative methods
- How happy are they with the course overall
I didn’t even try to make them like me for a second. I made decisions on the go and strictly depending on the situation. They had the option to write open feedback after giving me a grade again anonymously.
My advice for anyone that’s about to teach young children is
You have to find the balance. Being too friendly will result in children losing the correct perception of your figure. You can be warm, of course, but it’s hard to be their friend because they can hardly distinguish work ethic from friendship and understand that your judgment has to be independent of feelings but based on the results they produce.
Be honest. I admit this was hard. Not because I generally am not super straightforward, but because kids have their feelings. That’s why you should be absolutely clear with the point you’re trying to make when your critique is hurting their ego so that they understand you wish them the best. The next step is to let them know your judgment is based on specific standards. Making those standards crystal clear from the beginning helps a lot!
Do NOT fucking underestimate them! They are younger than you, so they don’t have the experience you have, but they are full of ideas and potential. On top of that, most of them adopted being lazy because the environment around us in this technological progress makes it easy to find simple solutions to our complex problems.
Challenge them! Outsmart them and then beat them in every game they are good at! After that, let them win a few. I know this is a significant investment, but you can try. This will definitely help increase the bond between you and them, and they’ll get your trust because you show you are good (or if you are not, at least trying) at something very familiar to them. This shows them you can learn fast.
Learn to say NO! You better be dead serious about it. Learn to lead by example.
Most importantly, have fun! =) If you aren’t having fun and just doing it for money, take a short break and come back to school when you feel like doing it for at least two other things. Most teachers can’t afford it, but I can because this isn’t my full-time job. If the children notice that you are tired, bored, and not interested, how can you expect them to pay attention and be passionate about anything you are doing? You can’t. No one likes gloomy people. This is a challenging game but still a game where you and your students are on the same team. The faster you realize it, the better the results will be. Make the feel like one. Make them understand why it’s good to help and respect each other.
“Thank you” is the best gift you can receive from your students. I’m glad I could help and teach them so much more outside the borders of the curriculum. Now the choice to know and spread the knowledge is in their hands and yours. Thank you!