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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

Stephanie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This was a very interesting post for me to read. I agree with all that was said, and am the first one to admit that I take on too much, and go way above and beyond. This is necessary to some extent, but there has to be a limit! I feel that true collaboration is key and even crucial to successful teaching and learning. Having an open door can be one of the most challenging things for a teacher to do, but the one thing that can make all of us better teachers if we're willing to get feedback. Truly reflecting is a part of this.

Thanks for shedding light on teaching and all that comes with it.

Stephanie
1st grade teacher

Matt's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Great advice for any new or struggling teacher

Matt's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

These tips are excellent for any new or struggling teacher.

Marshalee's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Suzie,

Yes you are right, we take turns observating each other. Feedback is usually given immediately, so there isn't a planned time as such. We try to facilitate such observations in our non-contact sessions so there is adequate time for feedback. Do you teach and is there any particular strategy that you find useful?

Sharon Gallardo's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I was inspired by this blog. I have had a few challenging experiences as I am new to the profession. My student teaching and substituting experiences have been some what traumatic as I was asked to do many things that I found out later were out of the realm of what was expected of me. I was just trying to do a good job. I wanted a good recommendation and the fear of making a bad impression caused me a lot of stress. I wish that not only there was classes for teachers on publicity but also on the politics. I was talking to another teacher this weekend and we conversed about how we wish we knew what was OK to speak up about - i.e. stipends. I think many fear that if we run to the union for advice we will offend the principal. I enjoyed reading the blog and the sentiment it spoke of, it is our charge to stand up for ourselves and not put up with the cynicism that is infecting teaching. I am a newbie that has a lot of hope and spirit and it is quickly being poisoned by negative experiences.

Catherine Tronza's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wish I had these great tips my first year of teaching!

Suzie Stambek's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that observing one another is a great idea. The only individual who has had the opportunity to observe our classes, is our principal. Yes, he gives us feedback, but one of our peers seems less intimidating. We would more likely be ourselves and not get stressed out. I hope that observing our peers especially within our grade level) will be something that our school district can incorporate in the near future.

I am a 5th grade teacher in Gobles, Michigan. It is a small rural town approximately 15 minutes from Kalamazoo, Michigan. I teach language arts to my homeroon and science, to the entire 5th grade. As for strategies, my number one priority is to build relationships with each of my students. I find that once they trust you and see that you are a "real" person, the learning (with some creative, engaging lessons) becomes a much easier process. I have a son who is in eighth grade (soon to be a high school Freshman). I see so many of his teachers who don't get to know their students, yet they expect their students to somewhat "worhsip" them. It upsets me, because each student is unique and has different ways of learning. How can you help each individual without getting to know them first?

Thanks for taking the time to reply!
Suzie

Kathy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for the wonderful advice. Collaborating with colleagues is an awesome way to enhance teaching experience.

Kathy
Montana

Emily's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am completing my first year of teaching 2nd grade in Hagerstown, MD. Jalpa, I also agree with your points about collaborating with colleagues. I cannot imagine making it through this year without the assistance of other teachers. This year I have been fortunate to be on a team that works well together. We team plan all of our lessons. I feel this collaboration has truly been the key of my successes this year. Being able to walk through a lesson prior to teaching it with a more experienced educator has opened my eyes to probabilities, possible behavior interruptios, organization tips, etc. that I otherwise would not have planned for. Then after teaching the lesson, being able to discuss and reflect with another teacher about has been extremely insightful. I can discuss the differences in how we presented it, what I could have done better, and what I can do the next time to ensure more success. I think another reason I have benefited so much from this collaboration is because the teachers I work with have taken the time to explain why certain things are done or requested of us the way they are done. I feel that not only do I have my own knowledge to plan with, but also theirs too!
Just as the article mentions being a mentor to new teachers, I feel that when the time comes for me to step into this role I will do it willingly. I would relish the opportunity to give back to others just as colleagues have helped me. I also think it would probably make one a better teacher to be a mentor to others. Although I haven't been placed in that situation yet, I feel that I would take the time to reflect on certain things so that I could then share them with someone else.
I enjoyed this article because it hit upon a few things that I believe are vital to our success as educators.

Tonia Peterson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This blog was very interesting.The five ways to enrich one's teaching life were stated so clearly, but yet are all so complicated. My school year was really tough and the morale of the staff extremely low. I plan to use these steps to enrich my upcoming year and I will surely share the steps with my co-workers. Thanks for the help!!!!!!!!

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