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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

Kara's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am finishing my second year of teaching and collaboration from my colleagues is something I look for to get me by. I started teaching in the sixth grade and was working with history lessons that I hadn't seen since I was in sixth grade and I was responsible for teaching science concepts that I had a hard time understanding myself. Luckily, I had teachers at my grade level that I could go to and ask, What is the best way of teaching this? That is one thing I am not afraid to ask. I am always curious to see how teachers approach curriculum in other classrooms. Also, as a beginning teacher, I have yet to find my voice to help me stand up for certain causes. This post was inspirational in that aspect. It is important that teachers know it is alright to stand up for what you believe is best for you and your students.

Dawn Henneman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This was such an awesome and timely article. Not only is the information good for novice teachers but a refresher for experienced teachers as well.

It is so important to work with, not against, your colleagues. Sometimes teachers want to keep their ideas all to themselves. We are all in the profession for the benefit of our students so why not share how we are successful and even pitfalls we have experienced. Encourage one another so that all our students have the opportunity to have the best educational experience ever!

Tracy Murray Foreman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Your article was awesome. I really needed to hear your words wisdom. I am a student at Walden University and participating in a blog was an assignment. My required reading are very much aligned with the advice that you give. I think it is important to incorporate the five concepts in your article to help alleviate burn out and move from novice to expert educators. Being a life long learner only enhances your skills and experiences. I thank you for your candor and honesty. I will continue to tune in for you pearls of insight.

Megan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This was a great article. I think collaberation is such a key to great teaching. I agreed with all of the points in this article. I also really enjoyed the point that was made about teachers as students and that students learn best when they teach instead of listen to lectures. I hope to always be a student and keep my mind bubbling!!

Megan Ivester

Heather Tack's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Collaborating. I am going to be a first year teacher next year and will be looking for all the help that I can get to make my first year of teaching successful. I will be working with with a team of 2 other teachers. I have had the advantage of being a paraprofessional in the school for two years, so I already know the teachers and can start collaborating with them before next year starts. I am hoping with this advantage I will have a great start to next year.

Chandra's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I especially like the section on mentoring other teachers. Every teacher has skills, ideas, and experiences that could help a fellow teacher. Some of the most important aspects of how my classroom runs didn't come from my undergraduate education, but from mentors along the way.

I couldn't agree more about speaking up when a colleague is derailing a meeting with negative statements. It's important that everyone be able to express their thoughts, but it shouldn't be to the detriment of the agenda or progress of the school. Sometimes it seems like the most vocal people are those with the worst attitude.

Great article!

Kim Gaines's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wow! I am a veteran teacher who is suffering from burn out. I found myself struggling this year with the issues i can not control, parental involvement and funding. It was refreshing to be reminded of the things I can control. I am a numeracy coach at a large middle school in Baltimore, MD. Part of my job is to colaborate with other teachers to develop strategies to implement the curriculum with all students. I also serve as a mentor to new teachers. This is the part of my job that keeps me going.

My duties also include working with students. The students are the real reason I teach. They do help me learn. I learn with them. I learn what they can do and what I need to help them do. I ahve always considered myself a student. And I will never stop learning.

This blog was really what I needed as I end this school year. I will spend time reflecting on the five ways to enrich my teaching life.

Chandra's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Janae. I enjoyed reading your post. Why do you think that when the teams got together the experience wasn't successful? Was it due to personality conflicts or different teaching styles? I too have experienced some conflict between grade level colleagues. I think all four of us had a common goal, but how we wanted to get there was quite different. Two of us were more type A personalities and the other two were more plan as you go type people. In the moment I was very frustrated, but now looking back I have a greater appreciation for their approach to planning an executing ideas. If I was able to work with them again I would try to focus more on their assets.

John Sepanski's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed the statements about collaboration. As a veteran teacher, I am finding it very useful to search for developed presentations from other teachers. I have, however, yet to find a dependable collection that I can turn to frequently, Unfortunately, often times, I find that the search is more difficult than simply creating something on my own. I consider myself a very good teacher, but I am certain that there are resources out there for a 7th grade math teacher that involve the use of technology and are written to a standard of expectation that is acceptable to me. I am looking to find suggestions as to where I can find challenging and successful collaborations. Any suggestions?

Rachel Santos's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I got curious about this blog so I clicked on it then I found this topic which I got interested. While I was reading it I was laughing to myself and my partner ask me why. I read to him the parts about stepping outside your comfort zone which is just right about our topic of discussion yesterday. I told him about one of my colleague who believed so much in herself because she claimed that she's been in the teaching profession for a long period of time. She doesn't want to accept opinion but she's smart getting ideas from others and applying it. Like this month is our busy month preparing for our PreK graduation (it may sound funny because they're only Pre-K but that's part of our activities yearly). Anyways, there are 3 Pre-k teacher in our school I am one of them, the other is like a daughter to me we always work as a team but the other one is the one I'm talking about. She asked us about our album and folders which is the compilation of works and pictures of our class, she looked at our work but when we asked her about her work she didn't show it us, she said she is not done yet. She claims everything as "mine, my," my class, my students, etc. She gets mad at children yell and scream at them most of time. I guess it help sometimes especially with those who are hard to handle because they're all scared of her. I'm not saying that she's that "bad" influence teacher but it just that she has that attitude of being...I don't how to describe it because she claimed that she has years of experienced maybe she knows a lot of things already that's why it's hard for her to come out of her comfort zone.
This teacher always has something to say about other teachers behind their back since she's a friend of the owner and the owner sister. I guess that is also one of the reason why she's like that shall I say sucked up. Is that the right term? I also doen't like the way she treats other children when at first impression she doesn't like them all throughout she single them out like as "bad students"
will hardly notice them even if they do something really good. Like the name Jacob, since she had experienced having two hard to handle students named Jacob, she said she doesn't like students named Jacob. I told her why it's Jacob is in the bible and you're a Christian. She said yes she know but she just doesn't like them at all. I just kept quiet and stopped commenting.
Yesterday, her student gave a set of headband and hair clip to my students and when she saw it she took it back from my students and said this is only for my students, my girls. I was surprised and shocked because she did it in front of a parent who used to be my parent too because her older daughter was in my class before. The mom just looked at me and sighed with a grin and a wide opened eyes, made an eye contact with me and shook her head. That student was close to me because she used to be in my class before she was transfered to her class.
Another thing is about standing up for your profession and yourself. I was just reflecting on this issue yesterday during my break time. Asking myself what will happen if I answered her that time she took the headband back from my students? Until when can I keep my mouth shout? There times I can't take it anymore. So, I thought about posting this in the blog or asking my instructor and colleague what to do with teacher like her.I don't want trouble. I come to school to work, to teach, to love and be loved by students, to live a legend in my students life, and of course to get paid. But sometimes I can't stand it anymore especially when I'm not in good mood of understanding her always. There are times that we have our days too, not every day we can understand things and situation like that. Sometimes I feel like answering her back but it's just not me. I guess I'm wrong and I've learned here in your blog that I need to speak out for my students and for myself too. I think I need to start figuring how I can do that without hurting her feelings. She is older than me and I always respect people older than me. But I think there's always exemptions to the rule. RIGHT?
I learned a lot today.Thanks for this wonderful insights.

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