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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

Heather WolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hey Angela,
Funny you should say this. I have written an article for the May/June issue of Imagine magazine, a print periodical for Gifted middle Schoolers on "How to Keep Your Brain Fit for Summer." Although my audience is tweens, I think it applies to adults too. In it, I say that the key is to learn something. Perhaps I'll adapt the article for teachers and post it here. I know that thinking about how to keep my brain fit is how I keep up with students, my own child, and with life. Take care and thanks for your comment.
-Heather WG

Heather WolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Just this Thursday, my Speech & Debate students and I were competing at a school. There is a particularly dark speech that some student or other always finds in my library that is about teen suicide. A mom that I really like is very offended by the speech and its existence in my stacks. She was very polite about it, but I could see it really made her uncomfortable. My point is that some middle schoolers are ready to talk about these issues and I have to provide speeches that speak to them as much as other, less edgy speeches may call to others. I also believe that it tends to allow me to talk to these students about the character in the speech and the meanness of the sarcasm in the tone. The character is clearly in pain, but is not a victim. My student and I have dialogues about how mean it would be to go to such an extreme to those who are left behind. Anyway, talking to this parent got me thinking. I get to have this meaningful conversation with my student who is doing the speech, but maybe my student needs to write an introduction to the speech to allow for a "conversation" with her audience about it too. I spoke to the parent about how her concerns rippled out to influence my thoughts, and she hugged me. "That makes me feel so much better," she said. There's redemption and accountability now for this character that isn't just being performed as an edgy speech, but is, rather, a lesson for all those who see it. In opening my mind to what the parent was seeing, I found a higher-level way for a student to think and, through performance, to teach. Keep open to all, and thanks for the comment.
-Heather WG

Linette Concepcion's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Heather! ; - )

I agree with you teaching is fun and keeps you young, inspired, up to date on the lastest trends, fashions, music, reading selections, movies, new phrases and new games. Teaching is a place to learn, explore, mentor, give and receive. As each year goes by it is important to stay refreshed and renewed.

According to Jeffrey Kottler the author of "On Being A Teacher" The human Dimension says, "The best teachers are those who have worked hard both to develop themselves as experts in the fields and to practice what they know and understand in their own personal lives. The best teachers access not just what is in their heads but also what is in their hearts."

As a teacher being involved in their world, identifying with your students plays a big part in teaching.

TEACHERS ARE DYNAMIC PROFESSIONALS!

Stefanie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After tossing up the thought of entering the field of education for years, I finally entered the profession in 2008 and I'm kicking myself for not listening to my 'inner self' sooner! I love being a teacher and I can't see myself in any other profession. When I look back on being a 'number cruncher' in the professional field of finance, it brings back memories of unhappiness and unsatisfaction. I knew I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children and my community, so what better way to do it than becoming a teacher?!
Teaching is more than just a job to me, it greatly became my life. When you become a teacher, everyday(sometimes all day) you see things and hear things and wonder how you can apply it to teaching your students and making an even GREATER impact on their lives. You care for children you most often times only know by first and last name, as if they're your own and all you want is the best for them; academically and emotionally. Educators have so much power when it comes to affecting a child's life and when that power is used for the greater good of that child and his or her's future, nothing can stop that child from being whatever he or she wants to be.

I TRULY LOVE BEING A TEACHER!

Paulette DeBaldo-Carson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Lori! This is my first time participating in a blog. It is an amazing experience to be able to chat with teachers from all over the country. Lori, I feel like our lives have followed similar paths. I received my degree in 1980 and spent the next two years in Micronesia as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Upon my return in 1982, jobs were still scarce in Michigan so I taught for seven years in a private school in Detroit. I became pregnant in 1989 and decided to stay home for eight years to raise my children. When my husband lost his job in 1998, I had to return to teaching. At that time, I was 41 years old and felt like I was totally "out of the loop." It took great courage to re-enter the teaching field after having been a stay-at-home mom for so long. I had missed teaching and loved the challenge that being in the classroom presented. I spent three years at that school - long enough so that my teaching certificate could be re-instated. I realized that a private school salary was barely adequate for my financial needs and once again, entered the job market. I was a substitute teacher for an entire year but finally was hired as a full-time teacher. I have taught in many schools and in many grades since I was hired. I have never stopped learning or loving the whole experience. We teachers are so lucky to have the opportunity to "mold minds." I decided to pursue my Masters degree in Reading and Literacy in order to provide better instruction for my Title I students in grades K - 3. Graduate school is a wonderful opportunity to learn new skills, and grow, both professionally and personally. I love every aspect of online learning and am even getting better at navigating, accessing information and all of the other tricks of online learning!

Carol's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I, too, am responding to blogs for the first time today. I'm having a hard time responding though because there are way too many interesting things to read!

There have been several times in my career that I have traveled far away from my comfort zone and each time have been rewarded with learning more about myself and my students. Several years ago I took on a job teaching English as a Second Language and was petrified! Now I look at those kids and their families as a highlight of my career. That experience embodied what makes teaching the best job in the world.

Sharon Greenen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi, Jan!
I have never blogged before but I found your blog very interesting. I am a first year teacher, teaching 4th grade, now and 6th grade teacher, the first half of the year. I am studying for my Master's of Science in Education (Curriculum,Instruction and Assessments), and our topic this week is novice or expert teachers. What is the difference? My feelings are that when a teacher states or believes they have become an expert teacher, it is time for them to think of retiring from teaching. I feel, as you stated, "Teachers must be life long learners". I have a great passion of teaching children but also the passion to keep up on the world around me to keep my student's motivated by thinking outside of the box. I think it is important to cultivate new ideas with life experiences. This means using popular objects from daily life that students understand instead of widgets and objects from the past.(Candy Math)
I like to think of teacher's with experienced knowledge as Master Teachers, whom are always striving to be on the cutting edge of new developments. I want to be believe, we are novice teachers more times than just when we begin teaching. Being novice at something is when something is new and yet to be learned.

Sharon Greenen
4th grade Teacher
Phoenix, Arizona

Heather WolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Stefanie,

This is a great topic and one that I covered in an article I wrote for Teacher Magazine. In it, I describe what all my careers prior to teaching bring to the classroom now. As teacher, I have found a happiness that I knew in no other profession. But every job contributed to who I am now as an educator. Thanks so much for your comment, and check in again!

-Heather WG

Heather WolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

...for your first contribution to a blog thread. I think your definition is dead on. I would also challenge anyone to deny that we aren't all novices about something at all stages of life. I love teaching, I love teaching teachers about teaching, but I could never cal myself a master. I save that word for ninjas and Dumbledore. Take care and thanks so much for checking in!
-Heather WG

Cassius's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Sharon,
This is my first time blogg, so I feel a little odd. You are right, when a person feels he or she is an expert teacher, they become complacent. The student is then short changed. We must keep learning to stay up with the changes in education.

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