By: Victor Gouchee
For those of you who have wondered what it’s like to be a real teacher, or if you can’t choose between teaching high school or elementary, here is an inside look at the joys and stresses that come with teaching. I interviewed Susan Gouchee, an elementary school teacher responsible for a grade six and seven split class, but who began as a high school French teacher.
Her first teaching job out of university was at the elementary level in BC’s Lower Mainland. Next, her little family moved to the interior of BC and she received a full-time position as a high school French Second Language teacher (FSL). Born in England, an FSL job was the last position Gouchee imagined filling. Having only studied French for her last two years of high school, she was nowhere near qualified to teach the language. With this in mind, sit back and learn about the unique and enjoyable journey teaching can offer you.
Victor Gouchee: How did you get a job teaching French from barely studying the language yourself?
Susan Gouchee: There was a desperate need for French teachers at the time, but I was not one of them (as I had only briefly [taught] beginner French [in elementary schools]). The timing was right, though, and the school district offered me a position teaching FSL [in] high school. I said ‘yes,’ as it was a job, but I was scared stiff, as I did not have the qualifications or the belief that I could do that level of French! So I spent a great deal of time studying the textbook and trying to figure out how to teach rules of the language that I ‘kind of’ knew.
VG: How did you enjoy teaching high school French?
SG: After a year or two feeling like a ‘fake,’ I started to find my groove and realized that I only had to be a step ahead of the students and they assumed I knew everything! The teenagers grew on me and I started to really enjoy working with them. I learned that they were just like elementary students — they wanted to know you liked them and care[d] about them — only they were bigger! As my confidence grew, I loved teaching high school.
VG: You taught other subjects in high school, too. Which ones [did you teach] and how did you enjoy those compared to French?
SG: I also had the opportunity to teach psychology. Again, [although] I was not qualified on paper, it was an opportunity to maintain a full-time teaching position. So not even knowing what the course was, again I said ‘yes.’ I was supporting [my] little family and we needed the money. Once again, as I learned about the course, I learned to love it! Psychology is interesting stuff at any level, and being with teens who find so many concepts interesting, made it quite fun to get into. We nicknamed my psych class “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
VG: How was the transition to elementary [school]? Do you enjoy elementary more than high school now?
SG: The transition [back] to elementary was brutal! It was absolute culture shock. It is a totally different job! I underestimated the changes that had been made since I had taught at that level over a decade ago! It took a solid two, three years to find my groove again and get used to the changes: leading the students to the library instead of just sending them, things you could or could not say, and joking at a more safe, less sarcastic level (as they take everything you say literally!) But now that I’ve found that groove again, I love it! [There are] so many more out-of-class opportunities at elementary. Sports days, field trips, bike rodeos, fun days, plus cupcakes. Always cupcakes, everyone always brings cupcakes for their birthday!
VG: With regards to teaching in general, what are the best and worst moments? Most rewarding? Most difficult?
SG: If you happen to be like me and enjoy the presence of kids and helping them learn, then teaching is the most fantastic job of all. The children are fascinating, and it is just a wonder to see them grow — physically, mentally, and socially. It is always changing, so there is little time to be bored. When a student writes a card or comes to you at the end of their time with you and they point out all you have done for them, often things you didn’t even realize, it is a tear-jerking moment and so rewarding.
It is a deceivingly physical job with very little downtime through the day, but the days go fast! I don’t really find anything bad about it, though I don’t love doing report cards. It is, however, the hardest job in the world if it is not right for you. I have seen teachers who, quite frankly, just don’t like the kids. Then the job is difficult [and] exhausting, and they burn out.
VG: If you weren’t teaching, what would you be doing?
SG: After 27 years of teaching, I can’t even imagine an answer to this question. Would I have continued waitressing? Maybe, but I certainly wouldn’t have learned as much from that as I have from teaching, and I definitely wouldn’t have had so many happy and fun-filled days.
The only thing I can imagine that might be more enjoyable than teaching would be working out all day, and getting paid twice as much.
VG: Any other information you may think will be insightful to our audience?
SG: One thing I’ve always felt lucky for was teaching both levels of school and being part of my son’s growth. I learned so much about high school in Canada and in . . . small town[s] especially. It helped me [become] aware of my son’s experiences as he went through school both academically and socially.
Editor’s note: Susan Gouchee is the writer’s mother.