10 Lessons I Learned in 10 Years of Teaching

Bhawana Shrestha
6 min readApr 17, 2023

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17th April 2023,

9:00 pm

I receive a message “Ma’am, I got the job. I got the job as a teacher and now will be leaving for Sindhupalchowk this Saturday”. This message turned out to be the best 10th-year anniversary gift to me. And she gave me the gift without even noticing. This message meant so much because this came from someone who when I met had decided to drop out of school. In the process of motivating her, it took me and her 10 years to see the fruit of education. She came as hope in my life as a teacher. From that decision to quitting to completing her undergrad and now going to a different village to help other adolescent girls like her who are finding difficulty in their studies, she came along and along with her, I walked that journey of uncertainty too. 10 years back on this day, at 9:00 am, I entered the classroom for the very first time as a teacher and today as I reflect, I am still working on myself. I cannot yet say that I have become a good teacher or I have mastered teaching. But there are 10 major takeaways from these 10 years.

  1. Emotions matter: This is the first major learning which was so crucial that I decided to start my organization My Emotions Matter. Many ask what’s the story behind my organization. It’s simple. As one of the best students (in terms of grades) in my class, I had the understanding that I would turn out to be a very good teacher. But within a few months of teaching, I realized, I wasn’t. Even though I was good at content, I wasn’t understanding my students' emotions because of this I wasn’t being able to support them as per both of our expectations.
  2. Vulnerability is courageous: I used to think that I had to be perfect in everything if I want my students to learn from me. So even though I was in problems, in my earlier days as a teacher, I used to show that everything is fine. I was hesitant to share that I was feeling anxious, nervous, sad, or frustrated. But that didn’t do any good. Rather being authentic and sharing my true feelings helped me connect with my students better. Connecting with them turned out to be instrumental in supporting them.
  3. Understanding my boundaries: When you connect, students feel comfortable with you and come to share most of the critical incidents in their life. Though it is important that you listen to them with empathy, it is not important that you come forward and be their savior. There are some battles that your student has to fight for themselves. Though you can stand there as a support, you cannot come forward and try to solve their problems for them. Understanding and acknowledging the thin line of boundaries in student-teacher relationships is crucial.
  4. The teacher is ready when the student is ready and vice-versa: Not every day do I enter the classroom in a joyful mood but when I see the learners all ready radiating joy, I feel like giving my best. And I have realized that holds true for the learners as well. Not every time they are in a mood ready to learn but when they find you prepared, they support you not wholeheartedly but they follow. And sometimes it is not about what you share but how you share matters. Most importantly, I have learned that how much you prepare, there are several variables that go out of your control, and learning to improvise is the key. Meanwhile, when you improvise both you and your students should be on the same page.
  5. Never be afraid to say “I don’t know”: I had to go through a major unlearning in terms of the thought process that students are empty vessels and the role of the teacher is to fill them. This was something that I had been taught by society in an unconscious manner. So first, I wasn’t aware of this notion that I was carrying, and later when I realized that I had this within me, it was difficult to get away with it. So making this habit of consciously bringing to the forefront that there are a lot of things that I don’t know that my students know has been humbling yet a very meaningful experience. After I started this, I learned so many things from my students.
  6. Patience is the key: There are several assignments and exams that try to help both the teacher and the students measure their learning outcomes. But if we consider learning beyond the content and think of its outcome as the application of those learning in a real-life situation, then it is a very long and tedious wait to actually see the impact of our work. I have learned to become open and patient with my students. Not every student is going to value what you are teaching in the present moment but a lot of them will find it important after several years and at that moment want to approach you and understand it better.
  7. Be ready for life-long learning: Whether it is learning more about our subject area or learning about the teaching methodology or about communicating with the students, it is important that we keep on expanding our horizons. We are not perfect and never will be. But acknowledging our limitations and working to improve ourselves is important if we want to be relevant.
  8. Take enough rest and make your well-being a priority: Though only a few people understand it, teaching is tedious work. With multiple other works like one-on-one conversations, assignment grading, to supporting extracurricular activities, apart from classroom teaching, it is not uncommon for teachers to experience burnout. The happier and healthier you are, you will be able to give the best in all activities. Also, when you prioritize your well-being, your students prioritize theirs too which impacts their learning directly.
  9. Never hesitate to say “No”: Although we prioritize rest, there’s very little time for it as there are several assignments that keep us occupied. Time management becomes difficult. Finding the balance between work and family becomes more like a task. So learning to say ‘No’ to the works that don’t actually help in your growth as a teacher is important. When we aren’t aware of our goals and aspirations as a teacher, it becomes difficult to figure out what kind of assignments we need to prioritize which makes it furthermore difficult to say ‘no’. Thus, continuous self-reflection is helpful to lessen our hesitation to say ‘no’.
  10. Self-reflection is important: If you have come thus far reading all my learnings, thank you. There are multiple resources these days that actually help us become better teachers. But a very important lesson for me is to not make comparisons with other teachers. Each one of our is working in our own context and have own sets of challenges. So what works for me might not work for you. Whatever I have learned is important for me in my context, so scrape off the notes you have made from this note and reflect on your journey, and make adjustments according to that. Meanwhile, understanding our biasness is instrumental for our growth. So checking our biases and taking one step at a time for our growth serves better than clinging to the thought of a radical transformation. For me slow but consistent effort has been serving well.

With these learnings, I celebrate my 10 years and count on several other joyful and purposeful teaching-learning journeys.

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