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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

Michelle 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Collaboration and mentoring are such vital parts in our profession. Many people don't realize the importance of the two. After my schooling, I realized how unprepared I was for the real classroom! I had excellent mentors that walked me through so much of the political and daily confusion. Sometimes I don't even know if they knew they were mentoring me, but I studied and followed many of their examples. They became role models. I think it is very important as veteran teachers that we do take new teachers under our wings and help them along. The job can be so overwhelming at times, they truly need our support. I find collaboration with my other grade level teachers extremely valuable. It is amazing how just discussing issues can bring alive so many solutions and ideas. Our first grade team meets once a week to discuss everything from lessons to behavior issues. This allows us to vent, discuss, and problem solve together as a team - you don't feel alone. We have all chosen the teaching profession because we truly want to see children succeed. In order to do that we need to make sure we all learn, grow, and succeed.

Kristi Latoz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Collaboration and being a lifelong learner are consistently noted as areas necessary to build upon as we strive for excellence in teaching. As part of my journey I have recently begun working towards my Masters degree. Having taught 21 years, during which time I only had the opportunity to attend an occasional workshop or conference, I certainly can see where staying on top of things by reading books and educational journals can go a long way towards stimulating my professional growth. The articles and books that are required reading for the class have been most informative, as well as interesting. I am already looking forward to the classes I will be taking in the future and the many other topics that will enhance my teaching as well. I feel good in the fact that the grade level I teach in has a unit meeting on a weekly basis that allows us time to connect about activities taking place in our classrooms and the curriculum resources we will be using. It serves as a great open forum for sharing ideas, asking opinions from colleagues, and providing support for each other. As one of the more seasoned teachers I am often given the opportunity to use this as a time for mentoring new teachers. But at the same time, it is often good for us more experienced teachers to listen to fresh ideas and feed off the enthusiasm that they bring.

Denise's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Even with my limited experience in classrooms doing volunteer work or other work for pre-internships, I have found that many teachers really do speak badly of their students. Once I was appalled by some teachers who, during their break for specials, began reading student work for test practice for the Florida Writes! and began to call their students "stupid" and "worthless". I cannot understand how quickly teachers can blame students for their inadequacies instead of having faith and looking to themselves as educators to overcome these hurdles. I would much rather prefer if teachers really accept the responsibility to TEACH these children, regardless of challenge. It seems that these teachers have little to no pride for their profession and if they did, if one of them did, maybe the conversation about student achievement would've gone a little differently.

Lynette's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a young, fairly new teacher and I wish there were more teachers out there like you! I am in school right now working on my master's degree in elementary reading and literacy and your blog hit on everything we have been talking about for the last two weeks. The more active we are about getting information about collaboration, professionalism, furthering our education, and being a positive representive of teaching the better. Nice work! Thank you!

Corie Biser's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This article was very interesting to me. I enjoyed reading abou the five ways to enrich your teaching life. This article gives me alot to think about especially for the upcoming school year. I feel very confident that I participate in two of the five. I will strive to incorporate the other three soon.

Heather Riera's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed this blog. I think a lot of times as teachers we think of the success of our students, putting our own success and lives on the back burner. We have a hard time seeing ourselves as "home" selves in the classroom, and so students think of us as teachers, not people who have hobbies and chores and likes/ dislikes. I think if we focused on ourselves more and stood up for what we believe, students would see that and know who we truly are. In my Master's course we have talked about the qualities and characteristics of a highly effective teacher, none of these were on the list and I think they should be. Yes it is important to be humorous and have charisma, but it is also important to know who you are and become an achiever for yourself as well as for your profession.

Carrie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think collaboration is so important and that teachers/administrators are finally realizing just how important. I've been teaching for 13 years. When I a novice teacher collaboration with other teachers was almost unheard of. It was really wishful thinking. We all wanted to do it, but had a hard time finding the time. Now, 13 years later we are collaborating more than ever! We are no longer keeping things to ourselves. I can't imagine going back to where I was my first year. I don't know how I ever made it!

Linda Austin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed reading this blog and many of the responses to date. Many of the things mentioned are so basic yet so necessary to be successful in the teaching profession. I have just finished my first year of teaching and am also working on my master's degree. So many topics mentioned in this blog are the same topics we are covering in the class I am currently taking. I am grateful that many of my colleagues have been helpful and seem to exemplify the positive aspects of teaching. This blog sends a great message to teachers at any stage of their career.

Michelle Rowland's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I liked reading this piece. These are some of the same topics we are discussing in my Master's program. I teach Special Education classes in an Elementary school. I am surrounded by great teachers and administers but once in a while, whether a colleague, parent or someone else, someone will put a negative soin on Special education or teaching in general. It has been difficult for me to stand up for my profession or my sef at times. I think the more I learn about my profession, the more effective I will be in standing up for my profession and myself. Thank you for the post.

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

I really liked this section. Music teachers tell me that extra hours and rehearsals is just part of the job. I've even had another teacher say that I wasn't devoted to my job because I wasn't willing to pay for materials with my own money. I don't want to begrudge my job.

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