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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

Maria Tsampis's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

They say that it takes a village to raise a child, and therefore I believe that it takes a community of teachers, administrators, counselors, social workers and special educations teachers to educate one child. I completely agree that no matter how many years of experience we have, working collaboratively, engaging in meaningful dialogues, observing each other, helping one another is not only something that is needed to aid us in our professional growth but it is an imperative element for our students academic progress. Teaching is also learning, and we are continualy learning from each other, from our students, from our practices, from our readings, and from our experiences.

Lacey Williams's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Carey,
I think that it is wonderful that your collaboration meetings not only serve your students, but your teaching souls in the process. My group had discussed a few years back of bringing food to our meetings, but so many of my colleagues are on Weight Watchers (except me) that we just decided it would be too much work, plus we meet directly after lunch for only 30 minutes.
I agree that team meetings are very valuable and that it is important to know that support is around the corner. I work in a three person team including the Reading/English teacher, the Social Studies teacher, and myself who teaches Math and Science. I am so happy that I also have this support team both in and outside of school!

Gretchen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This blog provided me with some refreshers and reminders about teaching. I agree that collaborating with your fellow teachers makes your teaching so much better. I have recently switched grade levels and I can see a big difference because of the lack of collaboration. I came from a group of teachers that worked well and collaborated great together to a group that one teachers likes to do her own thing. It hurts the students when teachers do not like to collaborate. Thank you for these reminders and best of luck.

Jen Geisler's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wow I loved Reading the Five Ways to Enrich Your Teaching Life. My school year just ended and ended on a sour note. Our levey has not passed for the sixth time and we just learned that our district might eliminate sports K-12, music programs K-12 and all extra activities after school. After hearing this a group of us decided something had to be done. We have made plans over the summer to educate our district.

Collaboration is key no only in curriculum, but in what makes a school a place of learning and exploration. My school is in jeopordy of losing that. It is the teachers that are initiating extra activities. Through outside planning, communication over the phone and email we will get things rolling.

On a positive side of collaboration, I am very blessed to have such a strong Reading Team and a Team of teachers taht share students. We constantly are meeting and deciding what is best for our kids. I am the youngest and newest teacher on my team by far. Everyone I work with is a mentor to me. I truly appreciate the help and support that is given to me. I feel it is important to do the same. I hope to someday return the favor and help mentor the new teachers in my building.

Janae Howell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I just finished my third year of teaching kindergarten. I started at a new school where teacher collaboration was hard for some of my colleagues. We were broken up into teams and my team tried to work together, however the other team had difficulty. Then when it was time to all get together, it was a train wreck. I came from a school where we did everything together and I formed many friends. It has been a struggle this year, but I had a great mentor who got me through the challenges. I am hoping for a better experience next year. Thanks for the great advice!

Dee Ann Moore's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Sara, At my school we collaborate every week for one hour. We also had some problems when we started collaborating with people complaining or dominating the conversation. We developed a form that everyone reads and signs stating that they agree with it. The form states what we can or cannot do like complaining. It takes a little time to design, but you might want to talk to some of the other teachers and see if you can come up with a form to use next school year.

Casey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I just finished up my fourth year in teaching. I am now working on my Master Degree through Walden University.
As I was reading the section about how teachers should be a student, it reminded me of an article that I read for my Master Program: "Brain Research and Education: Fad or Foundation?" by Pat Wolfe Ph.D. (The School Administrator, December 2006). In this article she discusses some basics about brain based research, but she also talks about the importance of educators knowing which studies are more credible than others. If we, as educators, are going to use this new information about the brain as a "foundation" rather than a "fad" we must be critical of the research that we study and learn more about the science that supports it. I agree that we as educators need to continue to grow by learning.

Casey
Duluth, GA

Susan Trachsel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have always been one of those teachers that tries to do what is best for the school or what is best for the students without worrying about a stipend. I came from the elementary level, and it seems teachers at our grade schools donate more of their time and energy than teachers do at the middle school or high school level. I was not comfortable with the idea of asking for compensation for my time, but I soon found out that most teachers in our junior/senior high get reimbursed for most of the extra time they add on to their regular school day.

It was good to read that we should stand up for ourselves and get reimbursements and stipends when they are deserved. Now maybe I won't feel so guilty when I fill out my time sheet for watching the students in after school detention. Why would I feel guilty? I would have been in my room grading papers for that hour anyway, and I feel like I am double dipping. It was interesting to read your perspective.

Susan Trachsel
CV Schools, Ohio

Suzie Stambek's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Marshalee,
When you say that you engage in peer observations, do you mean that the teachers take turns observing one another? If so, how often is this done and do you have a planned time where you are able to ask questions or give feedback?
Suzie

Taisha Viera's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that collaboration is one of the most important factors in becoming an expert teacher. Like you said it should not be limited to only curriculum. It should be applied to all aspects of teaching. I love being able to share ideas and also learn new things from fellow colleagues.

This is my first time blogging. I would like to know if you find blogging truly beneficial? What has your experience been like so far?

Taisha Viera
Walden University
Masters of Education, Elementary Reading & Literacy
Rochester, New York

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