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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Five Ways to Enrich Your Teaching Life

We, as teachers, can't do a lot about many of the factors that have a huge influence on student success, such as parental involvement, health care, and funding. But there are a few steps we as educators can make in protecting our professional reputation, advancing student achievement, and making our day-to-day lives a little less challenging.

Collaborate

We can't teach in isolation. It is not a pride issue to ask for help. It is a pride issue to not reach out to those who might be able to give you what you need to make your job better, easier, and more efficient. We can't keep up with everything by ourselves, but we can be good at different elements of content, and we can ask each other to help us with what we aren't experts at.

Have you seen the history seventh grade has to cover? It's something like 16 countries, from 400 AD to 1700 AD. I mean, come on. Nobody should have to create an entire great curriculum, but you do have a responsibility to hunt and gather teachers who will help you create a quilt of best practices.

Also, remember that collaboration doesn't just mean curriculum development. It also means seeking out teachers who share your drive and your philosophies such that you can turn to them about any school-related issue. Issues that require great friendships to help you through include a challenging kid, parent, or colleague, the politics of the job, and the sadness that accompanies some days.

Stand up for Your Profession

Be a vocal and positive representative for education. There is a small but loud percentage of our own out there who may be ready for a different profession. Perhaps their lessons have shown no evolution from year to year. Some show an indifference to teaching all students, accepting wide margins of failures as par for the course. Some treat their colleagues poorly, and there are those whose anger or bitterness in life is felt by an entire school community.

These are the teachers controlling public education's publicity. We need to take the publicity back and make sure the press, the public, your community, and your school know the quality of work that goes on in your classroom. I think every new teacher should take a class in publicity for just this purpose. (A blog post on this topic is soon to come.)

And don't be the audience for these teachers, for heaven's sake! When they heckle another teacher in the staff meeting, or speak badly about a student in the faculty lunchroom, we need to speak up. When they make lazy decisions that make your job harder, make sure you defend yourself and let them know it's unacceptable.

Mentor Other Teachers

While I was working at an urban public school in California, my mentor got me through what could have been a dark time for me, helping me harness the challenges of the school into victories and lessons of my own. When I became a more experienced teacher, I vowed to give back to my profession by helping new teachers in turn.

When it's your time to give back, help new teachers by taking things off their plate. Help them with long-range planning, and share your lessons on those panicked mornings that happen to us all when we ask ourselves, "What am I going to do today?" Give them tips for classroom management. Give them advice on handling parent meetings. When they are called out of class, slip some decent sub plans on their desk.

Just think back on how many things weren't covered by your teacher-education program. Be the person on the other end of the phone, an ear for their frustrations. The turnover in our profession -- about 20 percent -- is something we have a direct influence on improving through our mentorship and our camaraderie. Be a part of that improvement.

Be a Student

The best teachers are also students. Sure, they might still be taking classes, but what I really mean is that they are also lifelong learners. (Read a related Edutopia.org blog post of mine, "What I Love About Teaching.")

Find ways to increase your own content knowledge about the subjects you teach. Find ways for the students to teach you. Remember, those who do the teaching are the ones doing most of the learning. When you give students those opportunities, they learn much more than they would from a lecture.

And when you, the teacher, become the student -- neurons firing, brain bubbling -- just imagine how much you are growing as an educator.

Stand up for Yourself

I don't care that we are in an economic depression; you can still ask for what is fair. If you are asked to run a club, ask for a stipend. You don't have to be angry about it. You can decide for yourself whether you'd do it regardless of pay. But you should ask. If you're told you are needed to teach six different classes or work an extra class during your prep or attend meetings after school outside of your contract, call your union and make sure you aren't being taken advantage of.

But you must handle things professionally. Everyone's looking to run the best school they can, and if questions come your way that ask you to go above and beyond, make sure that later on, when you're trying to revert back to the more humane schedule, you don't get dinged for past practice. Make sure you aren't getting the short end of the stick just because you didn't ask to see the long end.

Make sure you are doing your best in everything that you do, but don't be a Florence Nightingale, willing to take on more for nothing. It won't help you, your students, your individual reputation, or the reputation of the profession in its entirety.

I wish I could say that these five suggestions are easy to follow, but they're not. Standing up for yourself takes bravery. Being a lifelong learner takes modesty. Mentoring other teachers takes charity. Standing up for your profession takes lungs. And collaboration takes transparency.

None of these things come easily, but they are sure to make your job easier. They are also sure to make teaching, as a profession, one worthy of greater respect. It's a ground-floor, grassroots operation -- and you can be a part of it.

Comments (137)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

R. Scott Devoe's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When teachers don't stand up for themselves they become negative and jaded. These teachers just complain. They don't do anything about their problems or want to hear solutions. It is important to be active while upholding the highest level of professionalism. Being passive-aggressive doesn't accomplish anything.
Thanks

Shayna's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This blog has so many great insights to education. I could really feel power behind these five enriching ways. Communication is such a key to education. We are required to communicate with a variety of people in this profession but one of the most valuable communication lines is the one you have with your colleagues. Being able to collaborate with you colleagues makes your job easier and soothing. It speaks a lot of you when you are willing to share your great ideas and be an active listener and intake great ideas. I must say that I really enjoy the first grade team I work with because we have a team meeting every week where we are able to collaborate.
So many people bash the education profession but if we as educators don't stand up for our profession who will. It is very important that we constantly take a stand for this profession.
A lifelong learner is what I'm always classifying myself. You can never learn too much. The education profession undergoes so many changes and you gain so much by continuing to learn. I love going to professional development sessions to learn new principles and practices of education. This keeps me rejuvenated as an educator and it keeps teaching and learning relevant.

Allison Hanson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with this blog and many of the other comments. It is so true that we, as teachers, spend more time focusing on our students and neglect ourselves as professionals. I also think that, while these things are so important, they also are very difficult, especially for younger, more inexperienced teachers. I have been teaching for four years now, and it is incredibly difficult knowing how to stand up to my more experienced colleagues when they are being unprofessional, without treating them disrespectfully. I would like to be able to say something to help my jaded and negative partner be more positive, but I am not sure how to do it without losing what little credibility I have earned with her so far, or without destroying our relationship. I have worked hard to create a working relationship with her and I would now like to move beyond listening to her "vent" and start collaborating with her as colleagues.

Noah Holzknecht's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

While I believe this article is fantastic and makes a ton of valid points, it seems like it is written with the seasoned veteran in mind. One of the resources that were shared with me through a professional program at Walden University is: What Teachers Should Know and be Able to Do (2002)
http://www.nbpts.org/UserFiles/File/what_teachers.pdf
This PDF. was written by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and offers five points that the professional educator should be very familiar with. While the article posted on this site explains ways to be a better teacher, including mentoring, the article at nbpts has some great ideas that seem broader so every level of teacher can improve. A general summary of the article is a how to on being a committed teacher who knows how to teach their subject effectively while monitoring student progress, grow from experience, and collaborate in a professional community. I really enjoyed the article above and feel that the article I am sharing has similar goals in mind. To synthesize the ideas of both would probably be the best idea though.

References:

What teachers should know and be able to do. (2002, August). National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Retrieved July 28, 2009 from http://www.nbpts.org/UserFiles/File/what_teachers.pdf

References:

What teachers should know and be able to do. (2002, August). National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Retrieved July 28, 2009 from http://www.nbpts.org/UserFiles/File/what_teachers.pdf

Erika's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really liked this part of the article. Due to budget cuts, our district lost our teacher leader positions, who are the people who go to the district meetings for each content and report back to their staff what was discussed. They got paid for this position, and provided critical information to the rest of our staff. People are now fearing that next year all teachers will be asked to take on these responsibilities. Our union leaders have told us "Don't take on anything that someone previously got paid to do." In other words, if the job was previously the job of a teacher leader, we have the right to (politely) decline. Although it might be difficult for some people to say no to their principal or other district leaders, we need to protect ourselves and show that we aren't going to be taken advantage of. If we start doing these jobs without pay, why would they ever offer to pay us for them again? I think it's critical for teachers to stand up for themselves, and I'm happy this part was mentioned in the article. Great job!

Chris Frangione's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed reading this piece and find the aspects they bring up can really enrich our teaching. We certainly cannot argue the merits of callaboroation and website like this are a good example of teacher from around the world can get together for idea and information sharing. I think the aspect that most of teachers can agree on is that as teachers we are always students. We too hold a responsibility to advance ourselves educationally and constantly be evolving with the every changing face of education. This article brings up many valid insights, but as some of the responses mentioned, the advice seems to be geared to the slightly more developed teachers looking to become the expert teacher.

Meghan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This blog is so very true! Oftentimes as teachers, we become so overwhelmed and frustrated with a feelin of lack of power. There are so many things (lack of parent support, budget cut-backs, struggling students, behavior problems, etc) that make us feel like we are not able to professionally and effectively do our jobs. The ideas/suggestions given in this blog to gain back a feeling of self-efficacy were great! I love the idea of standing up for yourself and our profession.

Melissa McManus's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I was pleased with the information presented in this brief article and believe that these tips can benefit educators of diverse ages and levels of experience. As I have been reading various articles that describe the traits of effective teachers for a Masters class, I have frequently read about the importance of charisma, care, pedagogy, and collaboration. However, the element of "Standing up for Yourself" was unfortunately overlooked as one of these key traits. I think that it is important that we stand up for ourselves as teachers, and that we need to make sure that we are not only offering the best education and respect to our students, but also that we are receiving this same respect. If you have been mistreated, disrespected, or have been taken advantage of, it is important to understand that you should address these issues in a professional way and through the right means and sources.

Mary Ann Hodges's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed reading this piece. Upon reading the collaborate part, I am saddened by the fact that I cannot say I have had much collaboration with my colleagues. This is due to the fact that I am not a regular education teacher, so I feel like an outsider. Any time I try to interact with my colleagues I am made to feel like I don't belong in their discussions. I am the only bilingual teacher in the entire high school. The only collaboration I do have is with other bilingual teachers in the district. I would really like the opportunity to work with the regular education teachers and have that give and take experience.

Ashleigh's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am currently completing my Masters degree at Walden University and we have been learning and discusses what qualities a teacher must have to be effective. I believe that the most important things are collaboration and being a life long learner. If we can all work together, we can achieve a lot more. When we collaborate with others we are sharing ideas and helping others. You can take more risks when you have the collaboration and support of your colleagues. As a learner yourself, you can be a better teacher. There is never anyone who knows anything and in an effort to become the best teacher that we can, we should all continue to learn. The best teachers out there strive to learn always and seek new an innovative ways to help their students. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog and all of the comments.

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