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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.


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

Christina's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi everyone!

My name is Christina and I teach second grade in Fairfax County, Virginia. As I approach my final days of my first year of teaching I have already started to think about what I want to improve on for next year. I am very excited to have a year of experience under my belt but I know I have many more years ahead of me to work toward becoming an expert teacher. I feel I have learned a tremendous amount as a novice teacher. I agree that collaboration is key to establishing a successful classroom. I am constantly collaborating with my colleagues at school and using every resource available to help prepare my lessons, discuss student difficulties and to enrich my classroom with technology. I consider myself to be a life long learner and I feel I have learned something new everyday so far this year. I know I have committed myself to a profession in which I strive to be the best teacher I can be for my students and I think "being a student" is a great approach to becoming an expert teacher. Professionalism is also going to lead me through the transition, novice to expert. I have learned how to effectively communicate with parents and my colleagues. I have also been practicing professionalism through communication in discussion board in which I participate in for graduate school. I feel I have a lot more to learn and would love to have any advice as to what to focus on as a second year teacher? I am always looking for new ways to improve and better myself as a teacher and I am open to suggestions.

Stephanie Peterson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wow! This article is great! All 5 reasons are totally true. Collaboration, in particular, is absolutely vital to becomming a great teacher. Collaborating with grade level teachers, other teachers in the building, other teachers from the district, and teachers online are all ways to make myself more knowledgeable. They are also ways to share information instead of inventing the wheel for every single thing I want to do in the classroom.
My school just recently started doing 4 guided reading lessons throughout the school year in which we needed to collaborate with our grade level partner to make a book plan for a chosen book and two lessons which we will observe each other teach. This collaboration is often neglected as all teachers are busy at all times. However, this collaboration helped my grade level partner and I really dig a lot into one book and make it more effective by both putting our knowledge into one plan.

Go collaboration!

Pam Fletcher's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Collaboration is one of the most important aspects to teaching for not only the first year teacher but the seasoned teacher as well.

Kelly's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What a great article! I believe these are wonderful ideas for teachers to follow. Collaboration is a good tool to use no matter how long you have been teaching. It never hurts to get a new ideas or find a new way to teach the same material you've had to teach for the last 10 years.
I also think that mentoring other teachers is a good idea. Some teachers forget what their first year (or perhaps first few years) was like and how overwhelming it can be. Being there to help out a fellow teacher may not only help that teacher, but may in turn help the students in that class (then they may not have to deal with a completely stressed out teacher!). This article was great to read and I will definitely be keeping all of these ideas in my mind!

Sarah's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The advice in this article would benefit any teacher. Continuing your education is a lifelong process that will improve your teaching whether you're just starting out or have been teaching for 30 years. This can be accomplished in many ways - formally in a degree program, reading peer-reviewed education journals, participating in professional development activities, etc. In order to be most effective for our students, we all need to work together, collaborate on lessons, share our experiences, and re-evaluate our own successes and failures in the classroom. This can take place informally among grade-level or subject area teachers, or more formally through a mentoring program. Being a mentor and helping another teacher has a huge impact on your own teaching. When trying to help others in the past, I noticed that I called upon my own techniques and strategies in dealing with the issues at hand. Oftentimes, I will remind myself of something forgotten that had worked with a former student and could work again with my current classes. In order to be effective and do our best for our students, we sometimes do need to be reminded that we do not have to do it all for no compensation! Although some new teachers may not be familiar with the support their union will provide, many seasoned teachers continue to not stand up for themselves or their colleagues. This trickles down until the impact is felt by the students.
Being reminded of these simple strategies will make a teacher's life easier!

Kasey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wow! What a great post. I found reading this to be such a wonderful encouragement. I am a first grade teacher in Warner Robins, Georgia and I just finished my first year of teaching. It feels great to have year number one under my belt. I feel a new boost of confidence about going into my second year and I know the ins and outs of my school and district. I also know what liberties I can take and what is expected of me.
I love what was stated in this post about being a student. When I was early in my college career, I thought that upon graduation , you would be an expert at teaching, know everything you needed to know, and be a successful teacher. You can definitely be successful and help your students achieve success also, but most of my thoughts were so far from the truth! As a teacher you must be committed to lifelong learning. Even though I was taught to make sure I was always involved in professional growth and I even stated that fact in my final presentation upon graduating with my undergraduate degree, I feel like I didn't really "get it" until after being a teacher for a year. You really do have to stay on top of the most current educational research and be committed to constantly reflecting on your teaching practices and studying on how you can better them. That's what makes a great teacher, in my opinion, and most importantly, I feel as though my students deserve this type of teacher.
The other part of this post that really stuck out to me was the emphasis on teacher collaboration. This is one area that despearately needs to be improved on in my grade level at my school. We share worksheets, crafts, and sometimes ideas, but I feel that our collaboration is very limited to these surface level types of discussions. This post has encouraged me to not be afraid to share my thoughts about this next year. Hopefully I can contribute to some type of change in our grade level planning. I would like to see us evaluating student work, analyzing lesson plans, essential questions, discussing ways to differentiate, etc. I feel that these changes would not only help alleviate the work for teachers, but also help increase student achievment. In an article I read recently, "Becoming Expert Teachers (Part One)", Robert Garmston talks about how in order to reach a level of excellence in teaching, teachers must be able to collaborate in such a way that they are rethinking their instruction and inventing new ways to reach all students, utilizing the latest and best educational research. I feel that that sums up how I am feeling and thinking after reading this article quite nicely.

Timary Barga's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Even though I work in a district that fully supports collaboration within grade levels (as well as across grade levels), there are still teachers that are not comfortable with this and only get together when our principal mandates it. I hope they will realize that more heads are better than one. I know it must be difficult to go from working well with a group of people, to working with individuals that are not open to the idea. Best of luck to you, and keep trying to bring them in!

Eric Uriel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

collaborate with our fellow teachers, provide them with our know-how and expertise, as well as having the desire to learn, are more than ways to enrich the teaching life, these are the keys to success education for both new and experts teachers.

Judy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is my first experience with a blog, and I have to say that the article "Five Ways to Enrich Your Teaching Life" and subsequent responses are very enlightning. I wish I had read this at the beginning of the school year, as the article brings up some very simple yet effective ways to enrich your teaching life. As an older 'new' teacher, I have found that some people assume that I have been teaching for a while, so therefore do not offer the help or advice that they would a young, directly out of college teacher. I have found that I have more confidence asking for help, advice, and have a department that uses collaboration regularly.

Amie Blalock's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My name is Amie Blalock. I teach first grade at Chatsworth Elementary in Murray County Georgia. I thought this blog was amazing. I wish I would have read it a couple months ago. I really needed it then. This blog relates so close to my life as an educator. I was given a mentor at the beginning of the year and she helped me a lot but another colleague of mine really became my mentor. I do not know what I would have done without her. She was there to help me when ever I needed her no matter what it was. She had a rough few years where she was jerked around and she vowed to herself that she would never let a first year teacher go through what she went through. Well she kept her promise because she did just that for me this year. I owe everything to her.
The one thing that I had the biggest problem with this year was standing up for myself. I let others belittle me. They let them think that I was not a good teacher. I am now fighting to show that I am not what they said I am. I also have the data to back it up. I just know that from reading this blog that I am not going to let it happen again.
I also think of my self as a lifelong learner. I enjoy learning new things that I can bring into my classroom and into my life. You can never learn too much. That is why I plan on continuing my education to the full extent. I hope to take everything that I learn and apply it to my student's lives.
I just had some questions: How can I stand up for my self without someone feeling like I am attacking them? What can I do to make others think that I am worthy of this profession?

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