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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

There's a lot I love about being a teacher. Teaching is one of those rare professions that keeps your brain young, allowing you to continue your own journey as a student and a lifelong learner. We as educators speak often about creating lifelong learners, but if we aren't buying into it ourselves, then our students don't stand a chance.

Michelle Pfeiffer once said that being an actor allows her, with every new character, to learn something new, immersing herself in a distinct universe with each project. Being a teacher is that and so much more.

Keeping It Real

Each school year brings new people into your life. Each unit and lesson brings new perspectives. Each failure, when looked at formatively, can help you solve new problems. Each success, when used reflectively, can be even greater the next time.

Sharing oneself, thinking aloud, and being honest about what's working and what isn't is not about making the environment "softer." It's about creating a classroom in which students are at their best in attitude and character. It's about classroom management being better because students want to be there, learning from a teacher who is also willing to learn from them. "The one who does the teaching is the one who's doing the learning," as they say.

Teaching is a job that encourages your own growth because to do it well requires your own continuous education. Some might say that's a bad thing, but growth is about facing your demons -- or just your imps -- and dueling yourself for greater knowledge.

Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

I believe true growth as a person can happen only by challenging yourself with situations that are not familiar to you. Throwing yourself into a job in which you can encounter people of different ethnicities and religions and with different philosophies, learning styles, and backgrounds can only cause you to grow as a person, and public education provides that environment.

And you never know how that will eventually translate. For some, it will mean a growth in empathy. For others, the fact that your brain learns something new every day becomes a means to fight old age. Remember those nuns from Wales featured in Time magazine a few years back? This group of long-lived nuns had theories about their own longevity as it related to their active brain activities. Learning, they believed, kept Alzheimer's at bay and helped their minds stay intact even while their bodies aged.

Whatever your beliefs are, the fact is that a good teacher continues to be a student. This could mean you continue to be a student in a graduate class, or you could simply be a student of your own school community.

In my ten years of teaching, I learned more from other teachers, my students, and their parents than I learned from any class in my teacher-credential program. (True, that's not difficult to do -- but that's another post.) In turn, when they saw my own enthusiasm for learning, students were more inclined to learn from me. And that's how my own happiness and growth has translated into the success of my students.

What impact has a passion for lifelong learning had on your teaching? Please share your thoughts.

Comments (111)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Katie Maltby's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Heather

One thing is for sure. I don't think any one could describe teaching as boring. We are all constantly interacting with different people and sharing new experiences that nothing ever becomes stagnant. I agree with you in saying that flexibilty is an important quality to have as a teacher and we must be willing to step outside of our comfort zones. I am doing just that with my own learning, as I am completing a Master's degree in adolescent literacy and technology. Thank you for sharing you thoughts to become an inspiration to others.

Katie Maltby

Heather WolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This issue of flexibility is key - like water off a duck, baby! I love teaching middle school because of the flexibility it demands, not in spite of it. BTW, where are you getting your masters? I love the thought of entire programs of adolescent literacy and tech. I mean, they're using it - so we should be a part of it.
Thanks for your comment.

Heather WolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks so much for your kind words. I would love to share some of my successes with ELL students, but really perhaps it is a post on the dreaded "D" word: differentiation. I think that differentiating is key for any class, and frankly, I use many of my ELL strategies with my mainstream classes. Let's face it, linguistic combined with non-linguistic is key. My current district is 49% Latino and 49% Asian. I guess I'm in the "Other" category. :-) Anyway, I'm going to muse about this and try to throw a post together with some ELL success I've had. But I will say this, however, the best person I know is someone I've never met. He's Larry Ferlazzo at http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/. He's a guru on online advice just on the topic. He's like this ELL superhero of resources. If you don't know of him already, add him to your Reader. Everyday, and I'm not exaggerating here, everyday he riddles off lists of resources he would recommend. Enjoy the search and good luck with your kids!

Lisa Little's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Heather,
I enjoyed your blog! I am a first year teacher in CA. I am currently teaching English Learners, but hope to become a classroom teacher. I am also working on my master's in Instruction, Curriculum and Assessment. I am enjoying working with children from different cultures and being a part of the team of teachers at my school.

Kimberly's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Heather,
I am a first time blogger, I love teaching as well. I always say that as you continue to teach, in order to stay up with the times teaching is the profession to be in. We need to take classes and make it intersting for the children. I want to keep motivating my students as well as myself. Thanks for your motivating words.

heather WolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

First year teacher, eh?
I'm so glad to hear you are enjoying it. Just know that sometimes you won't. And that's perfectly normal. The more you share your frustrations, coupling the venting with brainstorming active solutions, the quicker you'll go back to loving it.

Another piece of advice I could give is to remember that teaching is a little bi-polar. You rarely have great days. It's more like you have great periods. In other words, first period could be blissful, and second period sends you crashing down to "What they heck was I thinking land!?" Not to worry. It'll even out as you get better at reading signs and sticking up for youself so that you can control some of what it on your plate.

But the fact that you teach ELLs is a plus in that many administrators will give you some freedom to figure out what succeeds. You also get a class size that allows for some more knowledge of the kids. But here's a warning: you'll be seeing them leave for the next grade in no time. That too, can be a hard period if you've loved them so much.

But again, not to worry. Another bunch comes in and, viola! You're even better then you were before.

Word to the wise, however, you'll then feel guilty you weren't the teacher this year that you'll be next year. See? Funky roller-coaster, is it not?

Good luck, thanks for the comments, and check back in to Edutopia.

Kimberly's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I particularly agree with the section about "stepping outside your comfort zone." I did this recently when I got my position teaching sixth grade. I always thought that I wanted to teach the primary grades and nothing else. However, when I got this job, I put everything I had into it, and I was very pleasantly surprised! I enjoy my students so much! I look forward to every day! I do not think I will ever go back to teaching lower grades!

Justin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello Heather. I really like your comment "Teaching is a job that encourages your own growth because to do it well requires your own continuous education. Some might say that's a bad thing, but growth is about facing your demons -- or just your imps -- and dueling yourself for greater knowledge." It's so true. If we don't push ourselves, no one else will. There's an old saying that I tell my students every once-in-awhile, "You get out of it what you put into it." And it's true for everyone whether it's your job, family affairs, religion, or what ever. Some people might say growth comes only because someone is a novice or beginner but there's another saying one of my old coaches used to tell me, "If you always do what you always done, you'll always get what you've always got." Being content is not a part of teaching. Every year students change and teachers need to change as well in order to be able to reach them. Thanks for your comments.


HeatherWolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hey Kim,
Keep up with the learning and be open to getting it from all over. Try joining a VLC (virtual learning community) to recharge your batteries, even from home.
Nice to hear from you and check in again!

HeatherWolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I started out with elementary and I loved it because it allowed such curriculum integration. But I found that how I communicated is more on the middle/high school level, so I moved up the grades. It sometimes takes a year or two not only to find your preferred grade but what you love about teaching in general. This is why I get crazy-mad when teachers are bopped around the grade levels as if a 3rd grader was the same developmentally as a 5th grader. We each have grade levels that we are good at, and some that just aren't our cup o' tea, as it were. I totally get why elementary is awesome, but I can't handle the whole "don't chew on a balloon, please" safety thing. I find that I'm in awe of K and 1st grade teachers because they teach HOW to read. But they seem to be in awe of my level of teaching because we battle kids' hormones AND teach content.

I love middle school. We can't find subs like other levels can (statistically, subs prefer elementary and high first-middle's their last choice), but when you're called to it, there's nothing like it. They're crazy, but I love 'em. Enjoy them and get back to me. I always dig talking a someone who's pro-tween.

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