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

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

Amy Myers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Heather,
I loved your blog on "5 ways to enrich your life". Your points are exactly what I try and strive for each day in school. I am currently a 5th year teacher teaching Title One, and I have experienced many of the situations you talked about. My first year, I did not have a mentor teacher, in fact most of the teachers were first year teachers and it was a hard year for all of us. Now having some experience, I try to do what I can for our first year teachers. I also agree we are and will always be life long learners. Teaching and learning is always changing and we need to stay current with new topics and ideas that our out there for education. Again, thanks for your blog!
Amy Myers

Elizabeth Fac's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed your blog. As many stated above, this is my first time blogging also. I picked your topic because I wanted to find out ways to improve as a professional. You definitely allowed me into some insights. I thank you for that. Also, I just want to comment on your "Stand up for yourself" portion. They are doing a training on sharepoint in my school. I was interested in attending the training, but I did ask if we were getting paid. It was just an hour long, but I was still curious to see. I just asked for the sake of asking and I probably would have done the training anyway. I just did not know if it was appropriate to ask. However, after reading your blog, you made me feel better about asking. Actually, after reading your blog, I will ask about it all the time and I will not even question myself about it. Tbanks.

Dan Cook's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a first year teacher this year and in my district we have a mentor program and it has been great for me. I have felt comfortable about what I am doing on a daily basis and it gives me a person to go to if I have any questions. This helped me not being afraid to ask questions and it greatly helped me get to know the way of the school. This mentor program is a three year process that will continue to help me and many other teachers in the district for years to come.

Dan Cook
Walden Student
Algebra Teacher

Dan Cook's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Heather,
I can not agree with you more about the poor publicity that many of the teachers in this world put out there. It makes us all look bad and makes those on the outside think of us as though we are just doing our job for the pay check. Teaching if done correctly is very rewarding and difficult and is one of the few professions were you are learing new things everyday that make you grow from day one to the last day.

Dan Cook
Walden Student
Algebra Teacher

Lauren A Brigham 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am new to the world of blogging and I cannot be more thankful that this course has opened my eyes to blogging. My school district does not do anything with blogging. So I have never looked into it myself. I soon realized what I am missing out on. I really enjoyed reading your article "5 ways to enrich your teaching lives." I am always looking for ways to enrich my teaching. You could not have picked any 5 better ways. I really liked the one about standing up for your profession. We do need more teachers to be vocal and positive about education. I see a lot of teachers in my school who are so unhappy with teaching. GThe complain about every little thing possible. It makes me sick to think that this goes on. That attitude they have is portrayed through their teaching and you better belive that their students can sense it. I dont know whether they are burnt out but I do know that they need to reconsider what they are doing and if they are that unhappy then find another profession. Yes we do need to speak up but how do you speak up and not have it taken in the wrong way? I have to work with these teachers and see them on a daily basis. I would not want to speak up and have my comments be taken in the wrong way. That would make for a very difficult working environment. Is there a way that this can be done without someone taking it in the wrong way? I am not to sure if that is possible. This is way I just keep my comments to myself. Yes our job is stressful but we need to keep in mind that we are doing what we are doing for our students. Leave all the other nonsense at the door when you step foot into that classroom. Your students should not have to suffer because you are unhappy with your profession. I just wish that there could be a resolution to it all. Hopefully one day. Thanks so much for this blog. You hit on a lot of good topics and made me think about a few things.

Kelli Martin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I found this article to be very honest and true. These are all valid points. Collaboration is key when teaching. I am fortunate to have worked with a great team this past year to share ideas, not only in curriculum, but with handling other school-related issues, as well. There were four teachers on my team this year. We taught Title 1 Reading and Math. It was new to our school and none of us really knew what to do, how it should run, etc. I was very lucky to have them to bounce ideas off of and work with. We got through it together and had a super successful year partly because of our collaboration. Standing up for our profession is not always an easy thing to do. It is, so often, the negative people that like to speak up and bad mouth students, other teacher, administration, and teaching in general. I know I have been guilty of being in the presence of this happening, and not saying a word. I do not like conflict, so I try to avoid it when I can, but it certain instances, it only made me feel worse that I didn't say anything. This is something I am currently working on - saying what I want to say and not feeling bad about it (when necessary and appropriately, of course). I also feel that being a student is one of the most important points of this article. I am a student at Walden University, and I recently posted a discussion about this. I feel that as a teacher, it is important to continue learning, through classes and professional development, but even more so from other teachers and ourselves. I know I have learned more of my teaching style and strategies I use in the classroom from teachers I had when I was in school and teachers I have worked with, than I did from my teacher-education program. I have also learned so much from myself through accomplishments and mistakes. I don't think teachers should ever stop learning.

Kelli Martin

Beth McLaren's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Having a mentor is so important for beginning teachers! In Iowa every new teacher has a mentor and it was incredibly helpful when I started out. I have also been a mentor and enjoyed that experience even more.

Beth McLaren
Walden University student

Denise's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Heather,

Thank you for your blog. I think your ideas are wonderful. I agree with you that collaboration is so important in teaching. Our field can be very lonely without it even though we are with students all day. We all need to turn to someone when a difficult situation arises and we all have them no matter how long we have been teaching. It is important to have a good team that can help work through issues that come up during the year.

I also liked your point about standing up for our profession. Unfortunately there has been bad press because of some bad personal choices some teachers have made but there are alot of fantastic teachers that teach year after year without public recognition. Most people do not have any idea what we have to do each day, week, or school year. We need to support each other. Thank you.

Megan Humphries's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I could not have said it better myself!

Teachers have to work together! Collaboration is so important in this profession. Expert teachers have a responsibility to help along the new teachers and work with them to uncover new and exciting ideas!

I also agree that teachers need to be forever students! They have to continue to learn and want to learn! No one is perfect at anything. Teachers always need to be open to change. What works in the classroom one year may not the next. It is important to reflect and be honest. Methods and techniques are meant to be tried and changed! It keeps the profession interesting!

Sadly, I have had direct contact with those teachers who are giving other teachers a bad name. I do not understand why some teachers complain so much. If you really can't stand the students, the parents or the administration, change careers! It is really frustrating as a first year teach to listen to such negativity in the teacher's room. Teaching is a wonderful experience!

This is my first experience taking part in a blog with a community of teachers. I want to say I really like knowing others are out there who share my ideas and have words of wisdom. Thank you.

Kristin Newnam's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Heather,
I really enjoyed reading your blog. I agree with the importance of collaboration. I tried to do everything my first year of teaching and found it very difficult. Talking to your peers really does help with lesson planning and just surviving the year. I also agree that mentors can be very helpful. The county I work for provides mentors to new teachers. I worked with a retired teacher whom had not been in a classroom for 10 years and taught 4th and 5th grade. I taught Pre-K. I found that the more experienced Pre-k teacher became my mentor and still is. I still go to her when I need help with a student or parent. I look forward to visiting your blog again.
Kristin

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