Dr. James Norwood is a middle school language arts and drama teacher at Badger Springs Middle School, about 70 miles outside of Los Angeles. He has been teaching for about a decade. You can also listen to a podcast with Dr. Norwood by clicking below (or download the audio file here):
I always knew from a young age that I wanted to be a teacher, but I didn’t know how I would get to be one. Although I was one of those people who didn’t quite accomplish much right out of high school, the thought of standing in front of a classroom, inspiring young minds and just “being” a teacher got me through many nights of tedious, unmemorable work.
The minute I earned my bachelor’s degree, I took the steps necessary to become a substitute teacher. After a year of coursework at California Baptist University, I was ready to start student teaching. Looking back, student teaching was a breeze because my supervising teacher had my back when things got tough. Student teaching was supposed to last for 16 weeks, but after just 8 weeks, I was hired to teach Language Arts to 6th and 7th graders.
My first day as a full-fledged teacher (at Badger Springs Middle School, where I still am) was a day I had dreamed of — literally. In this dream my students welcomed me, smiled at my jokes and anxiously awaited my instructional wisdom.
Then I woke up! I was standing in front of a classroom of students who had spent the past two months with a substitute because their regular teacher had suddenly resigned. To put things succinctly, my first day — actually my first year, and parts of my second — was hellish, with students running around inside and outside the classroom as I struggled to come to terms with my new reality. I survived my first year, and my second, but not by much.
Finally, in my third year, I discovered a major secret that no one tells new teachers — or at least, no one had told me: “be consistent.” Do not constantly change strategies or classroom management techniques. Use one method and stay with it. Another major lesson I learned was that, no matter what my students said or did, no matter how shocking, it is not personal. The vast majority of students are not attempting to attack me personally; most of the time, they are simply being kids and not thinking about the consequences.
Why do I teach? What inspires me to keep it up year after year? For me, it is not simply because it is what I always wanted to do; rather, I teach because I found out during my first turbulent years that I can make a difference. I can inspire young people, maybe not all of them but enough to make a difference, for them and for me.
Recently a student from my first two years stopped by school to say hello. Although he was now a grown man with a fiancée and a child, I recognized him — and recalled him as one of the worst behavior problems I’d had. In our conversation he did not allude to my lack of classroom control or my varying teaching styles. He told me he came back to thank me for showing him how to be a man and teaching him not give up no matter what. His comments gave me renewed vigor to keep teaching, because it showed me that what I do can make a difference.
More than ever as I (mostly) enjoy my tenth year in the classroom, teaching is not a job — it is a passion.