I subtitle my blog, “A Working Classroom Teacher” because that is what I am, working. Teaching is hard work and those of us who teach work very hard indeed. Sometimes the work is in the planning, sometimes in the instruction, sometimes in the guidance of students, and sometimes the work is in figuring out what works best for us as teachers working with our students in our classrooms. The beauty of this last type of work is that the answers are not universal, and what works for me may or may not work for you. As you read through my essays remember that what I write is for ME. If you can take something positive away from my working process, great. If not, maybe even better. I believe that each individual teacher needs to figure out what works best for them, and then do it.
I know what kind of a teacher I am and where my strengths and weaknesses lie. I reflect on my teaching. I don’t need to be critiqued, reviewed, or judged by anyone else. In fact it’s embarrassing when administrators walk into my classroom, stay for five minutes to observe as I am working with students, and then leave me a “report” concerning how well I am doing. Please. My point is that teacher reflection is up to the teacher and you are your own best critic. If you feel that you are not being effective in the classroom then it’s time for YOU to start working harder to achieve your goal. If you are failing large numbers of students each semester then YOU need to figure out how to reach them better. If students are sleeping in your classroom during a lesson then its time for YOU to jazz it up a bit. A good place to start improving is research on the web reading about what works for other teachers, reading books about teaching written by teachers, and experimenting with different strategies in your own classrooms.
I find it interesting that the articles I have written that include “easy steps” or begin with “How to…” in their titles get more traffic and comments while other articles focused on the deeper meanings and motivations of teaching get less. Nothing can replace working out your own classroom issues on your own. No book, website, conference, or class can give you experience; and experience is the superior teacher. It’s equally true that some are born teachers, some made to teach, and others have no place in the classroom influencing children. I have no idea what category you as a teacher may fall into here, but you do. I have discovered that I’m no mechanic so I no longer tinker with my automobile. I won’t even change my own oil anymore. I take my truck (of course I drive a truck) to a professional and long-time friend. I know enough to know that I don’t have the talent or the aptitude to work on engines and such. The idea of me working in an automobile repair shop is as absurd as my dear mechanic friend stepping into the classroom to teach. Unfortunately, many people who are not teachers believe that they do possess the skill sets required by the classroom.
The process of discovery is important for teachers. We ask our kids to discover or learn something new everyday. When was the last time you made the same progress within your subject or area of specialty? I was told by a veteran art teacher once that teachers who teach any type of art need to create art alongside their students. Not only that, but that there is real value in teaching something for the first time as the teacher is forced to learn right alongside their students. Excellent advice. Unfortunately, once I discover something that works, I tend to stick with it. It’s a logical choice. But teachers who go too long without changing, adapting, and improving lose their relevance and their grip on the imaginations of their students. I believe this is one of the reasons why some state’s salary schedules are tied to the number of units the teachers take through the passage of years. The more new stuff teachers learn the more they can teach to students.
If you are new to teaching and still discovering the profession then I want to encourage you to keep working at discovering and learning everything you can about the teaching process and experience. Hard to do if you are not yet into a full-time teaching assignment, but not impossible. If you are not on contract then I suggest substitute teaching. I discovered more while substitute teaching then I could have ever learned in any teacher education class or from any book or website. The work of becoming a teacher and earning the certification is complex and time consuming. Young teachers are being asked to do more and more before they are eligible to solo teach. I believe that this vetting process is a good one as it achieves two goals: first it weeds out the pretenders, and second it gives young teachers more time to evolve and grow into master teachers.
If you are a veteran teacher and you consider yourself a master then I want to encourage you to keep working on your craft and to keep discovering new and better ways to have a positive impact on your students. In a way the new teachers have an advantage over us veterans. The new teachers enter the classroom prepared with the most relevant research, methodology and pedagogy proven to work for kids. True, most of the research was completed by the older guard, but its always good to get a fresh perspective from the youngsters. Writing opportunities like this are one way veterans can both share their experience and work out their issues with a transparency that all teachers can benefit from. That is why I write and will continue to discover as a working classroom teacher.