Five Ways to Enrich Your Teaching Life | Edutopia
Edutopia on Facebook
Edutopia on Twitter
Edutopia on Google+
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

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.


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 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

Debbie McFalone's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I couldn't agree more strongly with the importance of collaboration in schools, as teachers support, encourage and gain ideas from each other. As a consultant for many schools and educational organizations, I can say with certainty that when trust is in place, and conflicts are faced with honesty that powerful positive growth can occur and student achievement rises.
Debbie McFalone

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

Thanks so much for your comment. Some schools dip their toe into the collaborative pool but retract it quickly because transparency can be bumpy at first. But teachers, departments, and schools who stick with it find that with philosophical glue comes success. Support between teachers is bound to trickle down to support given the students. Thanks again for checking in!
-Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Joan Lightner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Your idea of having teachers take a public realations course is one I hope colleges implement. I also think that school districts should have a PR person that makes sure the positives that are happening in the district are brought to the attention of parents and the community. Too many times attention is focused on the negatives or rumors.

I have added your page to my favorites. I intend on reading it before school starts next year.
Thank you for all of the positive ideas.

Pamela Walker's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that is a wonderful idea. I love talking and meeting new people. Everyone says that I would make a good salespersonl. I think that having a good report with the parents and coworkers it a must. Having a positive attitude makes all the difference in the world.

Kelly Rudy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love this article. As a new teacher, collaboration is a MUST! I do not know what I would do if it were not for the other teachers in my school. In return, I try to always help with anything I can to make the other teachers' jobs easier. I find that I do have something to offer to the more experienced teachers as well.

Dawn Smith's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

"We can't teach in isolation..." that is such a true and powerful statement you made here. My name is Dawn and I am a student at Walden University's M.S. in Education program and am trying out weblogging for the first time. It is a whole new idea for me and so far it has been fun to explore. Anyway, you make a lot of good points in this post and I just wanted to introduce myself and say thanks for the tips as I learn more about becoming an effective teacher. Thank you.

Katina Albanez's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I truly enjoyed reading your suggestions for becoming a better teacher. I'm currently working on my Masters degree in Education and am always excited to hear more ideas for improving my effectiveness as a teaching professional. Standing up for your profession is very important. In today's society, it seems that teachers are viewed differently in the public "eye" than even 20 years ago. Because of some poor decisions made from so called "educators" to take advantage of and mistreat students, true educators aren't given the respect they deserve. I agree that we as teaching professionals need to be a postive voice for this wonderful profession. The profession that makes all others possible!
-Katina Albanez

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.