The Four Stages of Teaching Stage 1: Fantasy

The Four Stages of Teaching Stage 1: Fantasy


Kevin A. Ryan, founder of Boston University’s Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character, lists the “four stages of teaching” as Fantasy, Survival, Mastery, and Impact. Insight into all the stages is useful for a teacher at any stage.

Many new teachers, date set for their first time in front of a classroom, are starry-eyed with fantasies of kids hanging on every word, days sailing by in one fun experience after another, and future Nobel Prize winners crediting their first inspiration to that teacher.

These dreams typically last until the teacher experiences his or her first real-life hours with a real-world class. Then, fantasy is displaced by the more likely scenario of twenty-nine kids squirming with post-vacation restlessness, several of them all too ready to take their loss of freedom out on the teacher—and while there may be one or two students who do hint at potential for acknowledging that teacher at a Nobel Prize ceremony, the forty or fifty years between now and then suddenly look as long as the gap between ancient Egypt and the Space Age.

Most teachers survive this disillusionment. Many go on to actually become the exceptional educators they dreamed of being. Probably none can avoid the fantasy stage completely—and, indeed, it’s hard to sustain effectiveness in any career without a level of idealism. The difference between the “total idealist” and the resilient, effective idealist is that the latter is wise enough to keep dreams and actions flexible and adaptive.


Tips for Keeping a Little Realism in the Fantasy Stage

  • Visualize yourself not only enjoying perfect classroom days, but coping effectively with problems, feeling empathy for students of varying personalities, and working hard to create interesting programs.
  • Remember that no matter how young your students are, they will have individual personalities, interests, and histories. If there’s any personality type you find especially hard to deal with, think carefully about what you’ll do when (not if) you meet that type among your students.
  • Accept that not everyone may be “nice” to you. Embittered veteran teachers will bombard you with doomsday predictions about the awful things educators have to endure. Office politics may invade your faculty just as they can a corporate boardroom. Among your students, you’re certain to meet (if not this year, someday) at least one stubborn character who absolutely refuses to learn no matter what. Resolve to be your friendliest and most empathetic self, and to look at “impossible” people with sympathy rather than anger.
  • Talk to someone who’s been teaching for years and loves it. Ask about their most rewarding and most discouraging moments, what keeps them going on a hard day, and their favorite coping hints. If you can, sit in on one of their classes and watch them in action.
  • Whatever happens, resolve to keep smiling and counting your blessings!