Lessons I Learned as a New Teacher

by William Childs

If I’ve learned anything throughout my career, it’s that if you want to succeed, you must accept that learning is a lifelong pursuit and must never stop. After spending nearly forty years in advertising and marketing, I accepted an Advertising Design instructor position at Lehigh Career & Technical Institute. I love a good challenge, and if my first year taught me anything, it was that I still had much to learn.

Teaching is simultaneously one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever done. As a new teacher, I was amazed at the emotions I felt during the first few weeks. Excitement was the first feeling that showed up. I knew I had much to offer the students regarding what I had learned throughout my career, but as I saw it, the real challenge would be conveying that knowledge and getting it to stick.

During the first two weeks of the school year, according to my step tracker, I was doing over 10,000 steps per day. That’s the equivalent of walking four miles. Thankfully, things settled down after several weeks, and I could focus on what I was hired to do. What I’ve quickly learned is that teaching happens in the little moments. Those one-on-one interactions where you see a student responding and connecting to the material. When you witness their confidence soar or see them step outside their comfort zone, that’s where the real magic lives.

I also believe in creating a positive, supportive environment for the learning to take place. I’m not a fan of hammering useless facts into students’ brains without context. For other subjects, that might be what’s necessary. Still, advertising design is more about learning how to think and embrace ambiguity, being comfortable with being uncomfortable, and showing up for the process. That’s what successful designers/artists do every day. I’m teaching my students to be open to fresh perspectives and to make peace with the prospect of failure. Failing is how real learning happens. That’s true for the industry or the classroom.

Another thing I discovered is that teaching can be a lot like surfing. One day you’re catching the tastiest waves, riding them beautifully, and in the flow. The next day, you try to duplicate yesterday’s classroom performance and realize quickly that you can’t. It’s a different day, and whatever waves you rode yesterday are long gone. All you can do is push forward, adjust on the fly, and try not to be too hard on yourself.

Coming from the industry, I’m used to hearing immediate feedback upon completing a task. However, teaching is vastly different in that you might not know your lessons had any impact until after the students graduate and work in their chosen professions. I must trust and believe that the lessons I’m trying to impart will seep into their hearts and minds. The ability to form authentic connections is at the heart of every great teacher. I have found that everyone learns differently, and I must meet my students on their level to inspire them to dream big.

Students need to know that their teachers want to see them succeed. Good teachers push and guide students to become the best version of themselves. Teachers need to recognize their influence can reach far beyond the classroom, so they must model good behavior for their students to emulate.

Ultimately, I’m trying to emulate the teachers that impacted me in high school. Someone authentic, personable, determined, trustworthy, passionate, dedicated, and willing to share their knowledge. If I can be all those things, and do them consistently, without any loss of enthusiasm, then I can rest easy knowing that I have given my students all the tools they need to build a rewarding career.

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