What I Have Learned as a Teacher

This heart-warming post is about what a new teacher learned in the trenches of classroom life.

By Lori Hadorn-Disselkamp

When I first started teaching three years ago I shadowed three different high schools. I wanted to research how to teach teenagers.

I listened to the teachers during the classes and watched intently at their interactions. After accepting the job offer to teach, my principal gave me thirty minutes of instruction on how to set up a class structure.

I received Power Points and lesson plans from mentors and advice from many other teachers. I read books and went to classes. I reflected on my temporary experiences with teaching and my wealth of knowledge from leading retreats, but nothing could prepare a person for being in front of the classroom completely except experience.

The first time I taught, it was like an out-of-body experience. I was talking to the students while I was thinking to myself, “That is you teaching! Don’t they know you don’t have a clue as to what you are doing right now?”

I was like the missionaries from the old days going into another culture without truly knowing that culture, thinking I was prepared because I had done the homework and research on the teaching part of it all. I was ready to give the information to lead them to God.

At that point, much like the good-natured missionaries, I didn’t have a clue as to what the people listening truly needed, and what they already had.

One of the Catholic boys’ high schools that I interviewed with, before I received the job at Holy Cross, did not hire me because I did not have enough experience with teens. I thought they were ridiculous.

At the interview for Holy Cross I told the principal, “I need experience to get this job, but I can’t get the experience unless someone takes a chance and gives me this job.” She took a chance on me, and experience has taught me well.

My ministry is not about what I know, it is about listening to the hearts of others. It is about walking in their shoes, understanding their lives, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide me, making the faith relevant to their lives, and living the example of a Christ-centered life, and not being embarrassed to show it, not flaunt it but show it.

There was one person who I shadowed before I started teaching who told me something I thought was completely senseless when it comes to teaching. She said “the most important advice I can give you is to love them, simply love your students.”

I thought she was crazy: my plan was to teach not to love.

Three years later I can tell you she had the best advice ever. I have to love my students exactly where they are, accept them for who they are, respect their culture, ideas, dreams, and emotions. I have to guide them gently to God, through meditation, open discussion, and taking all the questions they have and validating them. I have to live within their culture as a mentor, trusted adult, and teacher to bring them to a deeper faith in God, recognizing that God has always been there even if they didn’t know it already.

We are not the ones who will bring God to these people. We are the ones who are to love these people and to let the Holy Spirit work through us in whatever way God deems best. The most important part is to know, respect, and love them that is the only way for me to minister and to teach.

Lori Hadorn-Disselkamp has completed her 3rd year of teaching theology at a high school level and is also a current student of Loyola University Extension Program of Ministry earning a Master’s Degree in Religious Education. She blogs at Faith-Filled Mom.