1. From Dr. Dana Key, Assistant Principal, University Adjunct Professor, and State Department of Education ACCESS teacher:
Take your school career seriously! From the freshman year onward, work hard to become the best reader and writer that you can be. Take advantage of every opportunity to challenge yourself as a learner, take AP classes if available, take online or blended learning classes if available. Use summers to get ahead on your reading and check for the required reading list for all college-bound students. Visit teachers' rooms to see different teaching styles, and remember the great and not so great teachers you have had. You will remember behaviors you want to emulate and those you want to avoid.
In college, grades DO matter. Study and take the challenging courses that will make you a well-rounded content empowered graduate. The practicums are all geared to make sure that teaching is your career choice. Make the most of every moment; try to tutor if your school has a free tutoring lab; it will make you practice your teaching skills. Most of all, teach from your heart and not from the book. Students will not remember what you said or did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
2. From Tina Bausinger, Professor of English:
Building your network really does matter. Coming out of graduate school, teaching jobs are few and the competition is stiff. The importance of the impression you make as a student cannot be overstated. For every job that opens up there are 100 people applying, and most of them are smart and articulate. What makes you different? Why should they waste their time hiring someone who just graduated? Have an answer ready. DO ADJUNCT WORK. It pays terribly, but it shows you can do it, don't mind putting in your time, and you will usually get placed before people they have never seen before. PAD YOUR CV. Publish anywhere you can--the local paper, the school's journal/paper, wherever you get the opportunity. Jump at any chance to present a paper or teach a workshop. These things separate the women from the girls.
3. From Martha Cothron, Middle School Language Arts, Reading and Journalism Teacher:
First, you have to know if teaching is right for you. I see so many people enter the teaching field as their back up plan. The students and the school district don't care if it’s your back up plan. Make sure you want it for real.
Second, make sure you have prepared yourself mentally and financially. Teaching doesn't pay the big bucks. You want to retire some day so make sure to budget and save as much as possible. Mentally working with children can be tough. Working daily with teens has taught me to have a thick skin. They think with their emotions and have no concept of logic. Always know you are the boss and they will follow your lead. Be kind and don't be afraid to let them know you care.
Finally, HAVE FUN!!! Life is short so do what you love. Work hard for your dreams and don't ever take no for an answer. If one door closes go knock on another until you get what you need to be happy, healthy and successful.
4. From Jasara Hines, AP English Literature and Associate Professor, Valencia College: Online Freshman Composition I and II:
Wow! This is a tough one. Honestly, don't do it if you cannot stand kids/young adults. Don't think that a high school class is going to be anything like your LIT 451 class - you know, where all 15 of you sit down with the professor and discuss Frankenstein through a Freudian lens. Don't think that all your kids are going to like reading Jane Eyre because you like it. Know that parents are going to blame you for every horrid grade/missing assignment. Know that when you finally get used to one lesson plan format or standardized test, that the state will change it and you'll have to learn something new. Understand, quickly, that the bad days will probably outweigh the good ones, but that it only takes one student to grow to love reading to make you feel accomplished and appreciated. Understand that students rarely will understand why they have to read classics and why your class is important when they know they want to major in Biology, but that in a few years one of them will send you a letter in the mail thanking you for all you did for them.
5. From Rachel Nenna, 5th Grade ELA/SS Teacher & Online English Adjunct Professor:
Teaching is not for the money, it’s not for the vacations; it’s for the students. We are preparing the new generation to go out in the world and be well-rounded citizens. It is rewarding in a way that is not always recognized. You see the reward in your students, while you go unnoticed and that is okay because it’s not about you, it’s about the students. Yeats says it best: "Education is Not the Filling of a Pail, but the Lighting of a Fire.” We need to light the fires in our students, because without that what do they have?
6. From Kate Miner, English/Language Arts Teacher & Department Coordinator:
Do not expect your students to be English majors. Understand that they don't all share the love of reading and writing and all things literary. If you understand that; if you meet them where THEY are (not where you expect or want them to be); if you are flexible with your time and your resources; and if the curriculum is not always the stuff the kids NEED to know, you'll be just fine. Also, keep granola bars in your desk drawer for the kids who didn't get breakfast (or for when you forget your lunch on the kitchen counter), let students stand up and move around a lot - literature is really, really boring for some (I know, weird, right?), and even honors students can try your patience daily.
7. From Michelle Greco Adjunct Professor and Freelance Copy Editor:
Take an improv class. No, seriously, this is probably one of the best things you can do to prepare yourself to become an English professor. Every day in the classroom is different. Some days your plan will work flawlessly; other days, you won't even like your plan. Be adaptable and willing to adjust. You never know what students will throw your way!
Other than that, try to stay in touch with professors you admire. Look at their syllabi. Ask them questions. What was the most crazy request they got in class? What was their best moment in the classroom? What was a time they problem solved while thinking on their feet? Keep this information on file for use when you start teaching on your own.
8. From Tiffany MacBain, Associate Professor:
As much as it pains me to write this, my advice is to find a different career. It's not that being a professor is so bad--there are many good things about the job, including a certain amount of flexibility of schedule and the experience of going to work and learning alongside colleagues and students each day--but the job market is just. so. bad. Odds are that you will labor for 6 years to obtain a PhD in English, all the while earning very little money and going into debt, and when you graduate you will be unable to get a tenure-line job--even if you are a gifted teacher, even if you are a talented writer, even if you are a superstar. If you do get a tenure-line job you will find yourself working long hours but earning far less money than do others with advanced degrees, and you will find that the realities of the profession are out of line with what you imagine the profession to be. I once believed that I would have the leisure to think and to write--that's what professors do, right? Not so much. When I was much younger I even imagined that I would spend some time each day sitting under a tree and reading a book. I'm serious! I thought that. My life bears zero resemblance to the fantasy. The ground under the trees is always a little wet, and there's too much of a glare on my laptop to work outside.
9. From Brett Ashmun, Full Time Graduate Student/Teaching Associate:
In determining whether or not he should become a teacher, I once had a student ask me how much an English teacher makes. I explained to him that I teach for many reasons but money is not one of them. I then recommended that if he was going to decide on becoming a teacher depending on the pay, to find another career. I truly believe that the outcome of obtaining an English degree should be a better life. I don’t mean this from a financial viewpoint. Gaining an English degree is a privilege. It indicates that you appreciate life. You value your fellow human being. You cherish relationships over money. If I was looking to “get ahead,” gain as much wealth as possible, and live a quick-paced life, I would have decided to look into the majority of all other majors available. For me, it is important to slow down. It is important to listen to my breath. It is important to engage in quality conversation. My advice: don’t try to compete with business, engineering, or science majors. That is not you. Don’t try to make as much money as possible. You are the rarity in a fast-paced world. You are the glue that holds society together. Own it.
10. From Debrah Clark, Director/Teen Parent Educator:
I am not an English teacher, but I wanted to be. I started college with dreams due to my experience with my high school English teacher. In college, a professor yelled at me for the content in a persuasive essay. It was a composition class. He said my composition was exemplary, but my content would elicit a response that was too emotional for a reader. He gave me a C. I left his office and changed my major to Sociology. Although I love teaching the subject I teach, there is a gaping hole where English content should be. I find myself purposely seeking interaction with my English content area colleagues. I love assigning readings and papers so that I get to grade as an English teacher would. My advice? Do not allow others to dissuade you from being an English teacher. Do not become a professor who devastates the ambition of an aspiring English teacher. I love what I do, but if I had it to do over again, I would have become an English teacher. Teaching is a gift to your students, their families and yourself. Never lose sight of the privilege and honor it is to be welcomed into the lives of those you teach.
11. From Lorraine Hirakawa, Former English Teacher and Current Assistant Principal:
If you only love your content, and not kids, DON'T do it. Frequently English majors love literature, or grammar, or writing, but they aren't passionate about helping kids. Don't let your NEED to cover content outweigh the real work of helping kids. Be prepared to feel tired and under appreciated, but know that one day, the least likely kid will come back and tell you that you are the reason they made it. That is why you teach.
It's also fun. Kids are fun and funny. They are also frustrating, so are their parents, so are your colleagues, so is your admin, but it's the best job in the world.
12. From Wendy Harriford-Platt, Language Arts Teacher:
You will love and hate it. One year, you will discuss literature with students (maybe five) who cannot get enough of it. The next year you may be bogged down in capitalization rules and the basics of writing. Take small bites. Ramp up to bigger things in logical steps. Think and work smarter, not harder. Embrace reading struggling writers' essays. Enjoy teaching poetry. Love knowing you are laying a foundation for students that they will build upon for the rest of their lives. It makes it worthwhile. My first year of teaching, I was determined to get them to remember and use behoove. 12 years later when students see me, it is the first thing out of their mouths. That's being an English teacher, being as memorable as the language itself.
13. From Robbin Copeland, Professor:
Not everyone can teach, no matter how knowledgeable he or she is in any subject. I began teaching Grammar, and quickly learned the text the students were made to buy was extremely puzzling...so I made up my own weekly Grammar Packages. Then I started teaching Composition 101 and learned that the most difficult task for students is focus...working on this alone helped many of my students. Later I taught Intro to Literature. This became a passion of mine because I had to allow for many different insights to a poem or story. Keeping in mind that another won't quite reach the same conclusion to Literary Writings made teaching this subject very successful for me.
14. From Alexia Brooks, Lecturer in First-Year Composition:
Aside from establishing boundaries with your students and yourself (because let's be honest, this job will have you working nonstop if you let it), I would say to allow yourself to be a beginner. I am 27 and have been told I look 21, so my first semester, I was really worried about that. I cut my hair in an attempt to look older, had my students call me Ms. or Professor Brooks, and would avoid answering questions from my students about how long I'd been teaching or how old I was.
When I finally realized that I was new and that no haircut or name change would fix that, I felt liberated. If you try to pressure yourself to be a veteran in the classroom on day 1, it will just add more stress than you need. Now, my students call me Alexia and know I've only been teaching for two years. I feel like it's helped facilitate a stronger bond in the classroom.
15. Samantha Glassford, Adjunct English Instructor and Professional Writing Tutor
If you're considering graduate school and teaching on the college level, understand that you HAVE to love what you do. You will have to start as an adjunct and work several part time jobs to make ends meet, but if you really love the work, you won't mind doing it. In these beginning years, you have to really work to find that work/life balance. I often have to tell students if I'm going away for the weekend and won't be able to keep to my 24-hour response promise. I do take one or two weekend getaways each semester to keep myself sane :) If you love it, it really won't feel like work!