Getting back into teaching after a vagabonding stint

An interesting question I got recently from the Q&A came from a New Jersey teacher named Doug, who wrote:

I am just coming off two of the greatest months of my life spent traveling in Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia. I am not 3-days returned and finding it exceedingly difficult to readjust to my old life here. In about a week and a half, I’ll begin my second year of teaching high school here in NJ. I’ve found that the teacher/student relationship here in the US is much more strained and difficult than it needs to be. I wish I could treat them more as equals and make the environment more fun, however, I find there are so many rules to abide that this is near impossible. Do you have any suggestions on incorporating the relaxed, common-sense rules of the road that I’ve learned into my classroom to make it a different, yet effective, learning environment from what my students ordinarily see?

This is what I told Doug:

I know the feeling you’re going through right now. I call it “re-entry” — that time when you have to readjust to your old (yet strangely new) situation, which used to feel “normal”, but doesn’t anymore.

As for teaching, that will be a challenge of sorts, since the class environment is more structured and hierarchical than life on the road. My father, who taught high school for 20 years, says that the classroom is, by necessity, a two-dimensional learning environment. That is, your students are learning through texts, lectures, videos, etc — and not through real life experience. Because it’s 2D and not 3D like the world in general, it’s harder to pull things off as “equals”. Hence, initially in the year you can’t be too relaxed. Aim for good relations with your kids, but let them know you’re in charge. Once you have the respect and trust of your students — usually after a month or so — the class environment can relax a little and become more fun and reflective of the spontaneity of the road.

It helps, of course, if you have a lot of enthusiasm for what you’re teaching. The kids will catch on and be a part of that enthusiasm. They’ll also respond if you respect them, despite all of their annoying tendencies and imperfections. So set limitations and establish discipline, but respect who they are.

On a final teaching note, my father says it takes 3-5 years to really hit your groove and feel comfortable in regard to your students and your classes. So, like travel, it’s a process that gets easier if you allow yourself to be creative and disciplined, and learn from your mistakes.

Posted by | Comments (1)  | January 23, 2006
Category: Vagabonding Advice

One Response to “Getting back into teaching after a vagabonding stint”

  1. Funchilde Says:

    I loved this post/story!