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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

Heather Wolpert - Gawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Congratulations on discovering blogging and commenting! It's going to become an invaluable way to collaborate. In our current state of deflated budgets, prof dev is struggling for life. But it is alive and well online! Thanks for commenting and come on back to Edutopia for a dose of some collaborative, positive support!
-Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Heather Wolpert - Gawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

...for your comments and your use of the advice. I think that new and veteran teachers alike all find ways to short-cut the negativity in this profession and it is our duty to share those tips. Come back to the site, and share all the ways you've discovered to circumvent negativity and promote the profession. Thanks again for the comment. I can't wait to also learn from your future advice.
-Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Kate's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello. My name is Kate Gotlinger and I too an working towards my Masters in Education at Walden University. I also have never bloged before and this is a pretty new and interesting way to share ideas amoung educators. Its pretty cool.
I found many points that you make in your article very interesting and insightful. I agree that teachers cannot teach in isolation and we must always collaborate as this is an important tool for effective teaching. I could not imagine teaching in isolation and racking my brain trying to come up with new ideas on my own. Collaboration makes teaching fun in that you are working together as professionals to better egage students. I am thankful for my teammates at the school I work at to help me becomore a more effective teacher, and help me to create new ideas toward teaching. Thank you!

Katina Albanez's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

How do you draw the line? I realize how important good mentors are during those first years of teaching, and even now having finished nine years in the classroom, I still find myself depending on the opinions of veteran teachers. In the past two years I have been in the position to mentor some new teachers in my grade level. It is a great feeling to know I am helping them, yet at times I've found myself feeling like I was being taken advantage of. I am the kind of person that has a hard time saying "no". I do want to help, because I remember how many different challenges and problems I faced during those first years; problems that college courses don't prepare you for. How do I know when to say no? I know that there are some things that I've done for them that they could have done on there own if they hadn't procrastinated. Any suggestions?
-Katina Albanez

Wendy Bowers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love the ideas shared in this blog. I am a first grade teacher at AES in Adamsville, TN. Our county has 2 high schools, 1 middle school, 2 elementary schools and 3 schools that are K-8. Every school has a PR person and I want to brag on each of them, especially our PR girl Tammy. They all do a great job in making sure that our schools are represented in the local newspapers each week. I don't see this in some of our neighboring counties and I often wonder why. I was not fortunate enough to have an assigned mentor. All new teachers at our school have one, but the year I started there was also another new teacher in our grade level and the veteran teachers were busy mentoring her and I fell through the cracks a little. I asked a lot of questions and I did a lot on my own. I think that made me stronger, but it sure would have been nice to have had more supervision at times. I am one of those that need to learn to say NO to the extra projects and ideas that come along. I love to work and I often get myself into more things than I can deal with.

Nancy   Flanagan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What is it that you are doing for novice teachers that they could do on their own?
Nobody can take advantage of you without your permission! I have been in the same situation--feeling as if I were giving "my" time and materials to someone who needed them. In the end, I realized that sharing my expertise and teacher-created materials was feeding my sense of self-worth and being indispensable, too.
If you're doing for new teachers they should be doing for themselves, you might ask yourself why. If there are things they need to learn (like getting stuff in on time, or planning lessons in advance), then the best thing you can do as a mentor is point that out to them. Sympathetically, of course.

Eneida Alcalde's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Heather,

Our organization exists to ensure school's make the most of children's innate desire to learn by investing in teachers as changemakers who collaborate, stand up for their profession, mentor other teachers, are students, and are reflective practitioners who stand up for their profession. Please follow us on Twitter @InspireTeach because we'd love to follow your updates if you have a Twitter account since your message aligns with ours. Also, our signature program the Inspired Teaching Institute begins in June. It's a yearlong professional development program that is free to all preK-12 teachers in the Washington, DC area. The Institute rejuvenates teachers while strengthening their abilities to meet the challenges of teaching to build student achievement and meet standards in creative and truly effective ways. You can learn more here http://tiny.cc/MZPhs. Thanks so much for posting! We will share this on our Twitter page and with our staff and teachers.

Best,
Eneida Alcalde
Director of Special Projects

Heather Wolpert - Gawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

That is soooo cool, and, as you can tell, I believe that investing in PR is absolutely necessary in education. Are they paid from grant money or a specific fund? I would love to know how logistically your district allows for their position so we can encourage other districts similarly.

Regarding this issue of being taken advantage of (another person commented on that as well): it is always something you should be aware of. We are a profession that has in the past been dependent on our sacrifices. But being generous should not be at our own expense. Watch out that your inability to say 'no' doesn't become an expectation of past practice.

We are all drawn to this profession for many reasons, but enjoying being taken advantage of should not be one of them. Set your boundaries sweetly, but you decide when you want to make them more flexible.

Thanks for your comments and your dedication.
-Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Georgia Campbell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Well said, Heather! I thought your post touched on many important issues that teachers face today. I also agree that collaboration is essential,especially with new teachers. I think veteran teachers should make it a point to reach out to new incoming teachers. As a new teacher myself, I rely heavily on other teachers and don't think I would be where I am today without that support. I work with a very supportive team and this year we created a new literacy block, which has shown unbelievable growth in our early readers, but that collaboration was key in making it happen. I will always remember that, as I proceed through my career and help out any way I can.

~Georgia Campbell

Jodi Kaspin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi, my name is Jodi and I'm also a student at Walden University and new to blogging. I really enjoyed the article and found it very helpful! What I also appreciated was the end of your article where it mentioned that of course these five hints are not easy and take "bravery, modesty, charity, lungs, and transparency." I will definitely keep these in mind to help me on my journey to become a better teacher. Thanks!

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