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missjena's avatar

When you were a new teacher did you feel stupid?

Asked by missjena (910points) May 11th, 2010

I have always been a good college student; however, when I am teaching in an elementary school classroom I have difficulty teaching certain subjects. I feel as though I forgot how to do a lot of things and students ask questions that I do not have the answer too. Sometimes the questions are simple and I just don’t know how to answer it. I dont know if I am nervous or what it is but I have been feeling stupid. (Please no jokes because I am serious) I was on the deans list in college and graduated with almost a 4.0 but when it comes to teaching, I feel dumb. I feel incapable and lost. Is this normal?

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15 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

I can never forget the hours before my first day of teaching French to third graders. I felt sick and sweated through my blouse. It got easier very quickly.

And when I was in the school biz., every year at opening day, the old pros, who were extraordinary master teachers, laughed about how nervous they were.

If you don’t have an answer at your fingertips, say, “Great Question. I’ll answer it either later or tomorrow.” You are not expected to be omniscient and perfect.

Chin up.

lillycoyote's avatar

I was never officially really a teacher but I was a teaching assistant for my first two years of grad school, and yes, I did feel stupid sometimes. There aren’t too many things more demoralizing and humiliating than having an 18 year old undergrad with half the education that you have ask you a question that you don’t understand, let alone have the answer to. Well, maybe there is something worse, having a 10 year old ask you a question you don’t know the answer to. Don’t let them see you sweat. They will test you. And don’t pretend to know something you don’t because they will know. You can figure it out. It’s part of learning to be a teacher, I think.

missjena's avatar

Thank you Gail. I notice though its with simple questions that I do not have the answer too. For example, when I write sentences I do not know the rules to grammar or why you would you certain words and not others. I just know it but I do not know the reasoning behind it. I was teaching a simple literacy lesson and wasn’t able to answer simple questions. It is so frustrating and bothers me very much.

missjena's avatar

Also I have a hard time explaining things and breaking it down. I am very new at this and I don’t feel that college has prepared me for this. I go home at the end of the day (I am a substitute right now) and think to myself.. “I am a failure and I didn’t explain anything well enough today”. I really get down about it.

lillycoyote's avatar

@missjena There is an art to teaching, and it is a skill that is sadly under-appreciated. You are just learning how to be a teacher. Maybe that sounds crazy, but you will get the hang of it and you seem to care enough about whether or not you are doing a good job that I have a feeling you will end up being a fine, a very good teacher, once you gain some confidence and experience.

jeanmay's avatar

As a teacher I have felt like the biggest dumb ass on the planet at times, and I felt hopelessly lost for the large part of the first year. I’m a language teacher, so instructions and explanations in class are crucial. The thing that helped me was careful planning; really thinking through what you’re going to teach with a clear order of activities. In your plan, think about why you want to do each activity: if you’re not clear yourself of the purpose of an activity, your students don’t have a hope. As I think through my plan, I develop a ‘script’, mentally speaking through how to introduce and conduct each activity. I make sure I’m as prepared as possible in terms of my knowledge of what I’m teaching. Good research breeds confidence, even if you don’t know all the answers. When you don’t know the answer to something, be honest about it and willing to laugh at yourself. This can even help you build rapport with your students, whatever their age. Make sure you follow up on those muddy questions next time. If you’re evasive, they won’t respect you. Above all, try to relax and know that this feeling of newness does eventually diminish!

missjena's avatar

When I have my own classroom I plan on researching the day before so I am more familiar with the topics at hand. Hopefully, that way I will understand more of what I am teaching. Its just scary sometimes because I know that there are things that I have trouble with that I truly shouldnt be having difficulty with. I second guess everything I say. My stomach actually turns when I am not understanding something or I know that I am not explaining it correctly. I am very hard on myself. I know how competitive teaching is right now and at this rate I feel I should be better than I am.

jeanmay's avatar

We all second guess ourselves from time to time, but it’s not productive for you or your students if you doubt everything you say. Don’t be so hard on yourself, we all have to start somewhere. If you feel you’re not explaining something well, try a different tact: draw a picture, do some silly actions, find a different example. If you feel you’re not getting through, drop it for now and try again in another class. Sometimes students just need time to digest.

If you really feel you’re floundering, ask an experienced colleague to observe you and give you constructive feedback. It’s nerve-racking, but a great way to see objectively where your faults really lie and get some tips on how to improve your skills.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

When my sister first started teaching to other college grad students then she said she went through a spell of feeling “out of joint” but it went away after a few months. I like @gailcalled‘s answer until you find your legs. I remember when I was struggling with Algebra and being angry at my stepdad because he was rusty, I just assumed since he’d finished it then he’d know and remember everything. Go easy on yourself for a bit.

liminal's avatar

When I started teaching I often felt inadequate as a teacher.

It was a freeing moment for me to realize that questions that reveal holes in my knowledge are great because they become wonderful teaching moments. The question demonstrating that I don’t know something shows my students, tangibly, that learning never stops. It only shows me a fool if I miss the opportunity to learn and share learning with my students.

When I am asked a question I don’t know the answer to my automatic response has become one of excitement: “What a great question, I don’t know the answer but let’s find out!” Instant ‘homework’ assignment for myself and my student. We each go our own way and then compare the answer/s we discovered. What a wonderful way to discover we can always learn and don’t need to solely depend on another to find answers.

crankywithakeyboard's avatar

It took me at least 6 or 7 years until I felt that I was a good teacher.
Kids sometimes come up with good questions that we don’t think of. Just tell them you will try to find out and actually remember to find out (sometimes I forget). It’s actually important for you to model the fact that no one knows everything and that people should be learning constantly.

jeanmay's avatar

I forgot to say, you could also work on pre-empting the kinds of questions that might come up in class when you’re planning, and prepare how you might answer them.

gailcalled's avatar

@jeanmay: Given what young kids think up, that may be a daunting and exhausting task.

jeanmay's avatar

@gailcalled I’m not talking about an exhaustive list, but to give a crude example: if you’re going to read a story about a banana it’s reasonable to assume a student might ask, “what’s a banana?” This question is key, as the students need to understand the meaning of banana to follow the rest of the lesson. It saves time and energy in class if you’re ready for this key question. Once you’ve identified a few key questions (questions that affect the success of the lesson) that might come up, it will also help during class to identify and deflect irrelevant questions with a gentle, “that’s a question for another time”, or “we’ll come back to that question tomorrow”.

gailcalled's avatar

@jeanmay: Of course, you’re being sensible. I just posted on another thread that when my 17-year-old paternal grandfather arrived here in 1888 from Lithuania, his cousin handed him a banana.

My grandfather started at the top and ate the whole thing.

And I can think of several banana-related questions. How do they grow? How? How does someone cut the bunches down? And what’s that other funny thing, the plantain? Can you put them in the fridge. Who’s Chiquita Bananaâ„¢?

My mother used to dip banana slices in chocolate and freeze them. Not bad.

Great example,

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