Thangachi’s Corner: Musings of a New Teacher

teacherMarch 13, 2014

Updated every other Wednesday, “Thangachi’s Corner” is a bi-monthly feature that discusses relatable topics and issues relevant to the Canadian Tamil youth of today. For more information about this feature or to suggest a topic, feel free to e-mail us at!

Written By: Keerthana Raveendran

So in January, I finally transcended my perpetually unemployed status and scored my first grown-up job—as a Core French teacher at an elementary school. It was a pretty big deal, needless to say. And like all newbies, I took the post with excessive zeal, determined to excel and prove my worth in a profession that demanded experience when I had so little to offer.

I was as prepared as I ever could have been. I had already volunteered at the same school, so I was familiar with the environment. I had observed the original teacher’s strategies and witnessed successful instruction unfold before my eyes. I had even undertaken supervision of an extra-curricular activity to gain rapport with the students.

But though I knew when I started the gig that it wasn’t going to be easy, I didn’t expect the challenges I faced during that first month—the challenges that I still face today (and that I will probably face throughout my career). Every day is a learning experience and success is only experienced in small doses, after copious amounts of trial and error (emphasis on the error). Still, after two months, I’ve managed to extract a few golden morsels of wisdom:

1)    Remember when we thought that our twenties were the years when we figure stuff out? When we make that transition into adulthood and find ourselves still identifying with the word “youth”? Yeah. Uh-uh. You know you’re wrong when you take your first attendance and glance at the birthdates of your students on the sheet. The worst part? I can distinctly remember what I was doing during those specific years, which can really only mean one thing—when you’re a teacher, it doesn’t matter how you are, you are still old. I notice this more and more when I hear my kids in conversation with one another; I often find myself thinking in the voice of a seasoned veteran: ‘You kids and your music and your television…’ Because of course, as an adult, the first instinct is to not only think that your own childhood was better, but to make as many vocal acknowledgements of this as possible, preferably though the use of the sentence starter, “Back in my day…” Hah.

2)    I don’t know if this happens to every teacher, or if it’s just my inexperience showing, but ever since my first week, my brain ceases to function after four in the afternoon. There is something about being surrounded by children all day that is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting, and after having to keep it together during school hours, it’s safe to say that all the crazy is released in one go as soon as I’m out. My poor family, I tell you. Usually, it’s just inconvenient, since my abundant after-schools, which could be spent wisely catching up on readings for my night course, are spent rather on brainless hours of television to unwind or otherwise an immediate, inexplicable revert into childhood to make up for lost hours of immaturity. But imagine what this ‘Teacher Brain’ does to folks with their own families, who have responsibilities beyond their own well-being. Ouch.

3)    Every day is different. Really, it is. For the first month, I started to regret taking the job simply because of the immediate onslaught of responsibilities for which I didn’t feel nearly ready enough. But after weeks of failure, there came that one day—nay, that is far too optimistic—that one period of success when the struggle suddenly had a purpose. It was great. Unfortunately, the ‘Every day is different’ rule means that a successful encounter with students doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the next one will be good as well. But that’s just life. And life, like teaching, is very much a roller coaster.

4)    I’ve never been more grateful for conversation with actual grown-ups. I finally understand why teachers hang out in the staff room—where else in the school can you go for peace of mind? During my earlier days, I was the sad and pathetic teacher who would eat lunch in my classroom as I prepared materials for my next classes. In fact, I had to make the deliberate decision to take some time off to spend in the company of my fellow teachers, and it turned out to be the best thing I could have done for my sanity

5)    One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn was that even as a teacher, you can’t help everybody. It was a fairly bitter pill to swallow, especially for the zealous girl who took on the position hoping to change the world one kid at a time. But as it turns out, you can’t teach someone who doesn’t want to learn, and as a rotary teacher with 170 students and about forty minutes a day with each class, you tend to always go home wishing you’d done more.

6)    I made a very important realization the other day—I am going to be in school for the rest of my life. Funny, I knew I was going to be a teacher and everything, but I did not see that one coming.

7)    Talking to angry parents about their child’s inappropriate behaviour in class is like talking to the public as a politician before an election. It’s a three-step process, really: stay calm, validate their concerns and come out smelling like roses.

8)    When you’re a teacher, you become a role-model overnight, whether you like it or not. This is partly true, because really, there are plenty of kids who don’t care a fig who you are, plenty of kids who think that you’re just an adult they’re stuck with for a period every day. But then there are others who seem to put you on a bit of a pedestal, and suddenly your biggest fear is letting them down. Some people say that teaching is like acting—that you’re in front of a crowd every day and are putting on a performance as a confident, eloquent and well put together teacher. But really, the responsibility is mostly overwhelming because teaching is actually like improvisation—you can prepare as many scripts as you like, but nothing ever goes quite according to plan. And you just have to make the most of what you’ve got.

9)    Kids are funny. I totally get the allure of shows like “Kids Say the Darndest Things”, because they really, really do. The best part is that they don’t even know how much I have to fight the urge to laugh—because of course, as a teacher, you have to be prepared with a stern look and lecture about inappropriate behaviour at a moment’s notice. Even when you’d rather just throw your head back and laugh. How else are you going to get through all of that curriculum material?

10) No matter how much you love your job (which I’m happy to say I finally do), no matter how much joy you get from the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day or how much satisfaction you get out of the successful molding of young minds, there is still no relief like Friday afternoon. Because don’t we all need our breaks?

The past two months of teaching have really opened my eyes to the realities of a career that has been in the public eye for decades, and I’ve barely scratched the surface myself. Maybe one day I’ll be able to look back on my earlier teaching experiences and joke, finally having mastered the transitions required of a professional educator, but for now—

Right back on that roller coaster.

About the Author:

Keerthana Raveendran, known by her flock as Thangachi, is an aspiring author whose motivation to write usually kicks in when she’s supposed to be occupied elsewhere. She is an avid procrastinator who sees potential novel ideas as movies in her head. Maybe one of these days they’ll make it onto the page. Thangachi is currently a Masters student studying English at York University.

Read More by Keerthana!

“A Change of Pace”

“Staying in Shape”

“Vanakkam: More than Just a Word”

“Celebrating our Holidays”

“Your Dose of New Year’s Optimism”




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