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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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.

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Keila Ivory's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What I love about teaching most is having the opportunity to interact, share and listen to the ideas of the future leaders of the world. I love the uncertainty of each day...each class period. You can never prepare yourself fully for the questions and comments of students. I love the fact that teaching affords us the opportunity for "do-overs" and change. If a lesson doesn't work and seems to be missing something during 1st period you can revamp, change, modify until it does. Teaching affords the opportunity not just for professional growth but personal growth. Each day I learn something new about myself through interactions with my students.

HeatherWolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for choosing my post to comment on! Applause to your masters class for insisting, and I'm thrilled you traveled over to Edutopia and found the Spiral Notebook. Watch out, blogging is addictive and it opens up the world of opinions, personal publishing, and editorial to anyone. Blogging is personal professional development 24/7. Whenever you're feeling like your toolbox of strategies is empty, go online and find like-minded people to fill it up again. Or, better yet, find those with totally different takes on education. You just expand your philosophies and those neurons may begin firing once again. And once you find someone that will correspond, or respond, you have now created a VLC. Congrats! You're on you way!
-Heather WG

Rosa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed your post. I agree with you that the best teachers are still learning every day. I tell my kids every day how lucky they are to learn something new every day, whether it is in school or on their own. Of course, with middle schoolers, they look at me like I have a third head growing from my elbow, but it makes them think about learning at least a little. I told one of my students today, if you haven't learned anything today then you aren't paying attention!

Jeannine C.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I was struck by your question "What impact has a passion for lifelong learning had on your teaching?" I came to teaching after several years in publishing partly because of my passion for learning. Teaching seemed like the one place I could indulge my passion and pass it on to others. I would not be a teacher if I did not have this passion. I am in my second year of teaching and have definitely learned more from my colleagues (especially my mentor and my supervisor) than I did in my alternate route program. I am also amazed at how different this year's students are as compared to last year. It has been invigorating figuring out how best to teach them. With all of the factors involved in teaching (new students, new technology, new teaching strategies, new colleagues) it seems impossible that anyone could become bored with teaching.

Natalie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I loved reading your blog. It really hit home on so many levels. Specifically, that teaching is learning. I enjoy learning and teaching helped me to do that. I felt so empowed by my students, mainly by what they taught me as you noted. I can read books and read articles but being in a classroom with 21 first graders is the greatest. It is being aware of what is working and what is not and being able to adjust to each situation. Again, thank you.

James Parker's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that being a lifelong learner is the way to go. I think that when I am willing to learn, I gain better insight into how to deliver instruction. I also feel that it keeps my ideas for my classroom fresh and exciting.

Sometime teaching can be hard. It is always important to rely on other teachers around you. I really like how you are able to get new ideas from your colleagues. I find myself always trying to "pick" another teacher's brain for some that can get my own brain moving.

Ashley Spence's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love this article! Out of all the types of Blogs that I've visited, I find Spiral Notebook to be the easiest to relate to and the most enjoyable to read. I agree wholeheartedly that keeping our minds active and learning helps us stay young. I know I am a lifelong learner because I truly enjoy finding new things to try and new ways to think. The students in my class and the teachers around me definitely teach me valuable lessons. In my four years of teaching, sometimes I can't believe how far I've come...and how far I'll still go! It is so cool to say that I truly do learn something everyday. Not many people (outside of teaching) can probably say that. I want to add something as well. I truly feel that I am learning a lot from my masters program in addition to learning from my students and colleagues. I get so excited when I read a great article or book and I can't wait to apply what I've learned to my own classroom. I feel invigorated when I am learning something- either at school with the kids or at home in a book. That's how I know I am a lifelong learner.

Parenthea Howard's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Heather,

I enjoyed reading your perspective on teaching. It is always interesting to hear what others in this profession have to say. I agree that a good teacher continues to be a student. I always learn something new just about everyday, whether it is about me, the children that I teach, or new methods and strategies. I have even gone back to school to get my masters. And stepping outside of my comfort zone is an everyday task for me. Before teaching, I always avoided new and interesting situations. However, I have found that this is what teaching is all about!

Parenthea Howard
Kindergarten Teacher

Denise Williams's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I must agree that true growth can happen only by challenging yourself with situation that are not familiar to you. Whenever I am faced with a challenging situation, I do no not stay frustrated, instead I anticipate and work towards a positive outcome. I collaborate with others or draw on my own experience, to enhance learning or shape a student's behavior. Achieving that desired result gives me satisfaction, as well as a deep sense of purpose.

Christy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would also agree that being a lifelong learner is important. As a teacher I think if you are a lifelong learner you will become an "expert" teacher. You have to be open to new ideas. The students change every year which means you have to change some or you will not be teaching them. This may be stepping outside your comfort zone some, but it will be well worth your time.

I also agree you can learn things from you students. I teach preschool and I learn something every day from them. I think it is important to be a good listener to your students. You can learn a lot just from listening to them.

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