May 25, 2008

A Working Classroom Teacher?

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.


  1. I totally agree with you. Teachers are life long learners and that is what we want our students to be. Education is not static. Strategies, methods and our students for that matter, are always changing. For a teacher to stay on top of their game, you have to read journals, take more classes and pursue another degree. The things that you learn about in your reading or in classes, may work for you or not. If you don't take the time to try, you will never know. I further agree with you that it is up to the classroom teacher to educate their student. If our students are not being successful, the student is not the one who has to do something different. That rests with the teacher. Although we would love to have students who came from supportive homes, with access to computers, books, positive life experiences, love, encouragement, and school supplies, and learn in a style that we are comfortable teaching to,we don't always get this. It not the norm. Those are variables that we can not change. The only thing that we can change is how we meet these challenges. Teaching is hard work!


  2. I'm currently finishing up my first semester as a teacher on an emergency credential. I'm trying to land an internship next year, and I'm also in California.

    I just found your blog here and I look forward to keeping up with it and learning from you.

    I also started my own blog where I can jot down some thoughts and think about teaching. I'm not here to hock it, just to say I'll be keeping up on your writing here. If there's one thing I've learned in my short time teaching it's that I can learn a lot from other teachers and it's incredibly important to think through what we do and why we do it.

    My teaching blog is at - there's nothing particularly wonderful there yet, just a couple thoughts.

  3. I have been looking at blogs for at least 3 weeks now. I finally came across your blog and loved what you had to say. I agree with many of the things you put into your blogs, as well as, laugh out loud a little.

    I am not a teacher yet, but I am working on my certificate and my bachelors in Literature.

    I want to say thank you for creating a blog that I actually enjoy reading.


  4. I enjoyed your posting and had to laugh about your being critiqued. I was a teacher of English for 25 years. Administrators observed me blindfolding kids while I was teaching them about Hellen Keller and he asked "What's the point of blindfolding your students". I was so astounded I didn't reply. They only have the time to come in for short periods and often forget to bring their heads. They can get the wrong impression or leave advice that is not relevant when you consider the entire lesson. Still I have had some good criticisms that have helped me be a more effective teacher.

  5. Thanks for the encouraging words. I certainly have a love of learning and live for the moment when the light turns on in a student's mind. But how do you keep going when everything feels so hard? It sounds like its the same for teachers the world over. We keep going because we know it's the right (and only) thing to do.

  6. Love the blog! I teach 2nd grade, but your description of your "evaluation" certainly rings true!

  7. Teachers work hard. I know I did and still do to support the efforts of instruction and students.

  8. Lawrence Ferlinghetti said, "I am awaiting - perpetually and forever - a renaissance of wonder. That yearning for discovery is the essence of what makes a great teacher, and your post speaks to that quality. That is what makes our profession such "work" as well as pure joy and a raison d'etre. It is refreshing to hear other teachers speak of the desire to keep learning and keep offering the fruits of that labor to students. The other "profession" that does that well is parenting, and there is a little of the parent in all teachers. I wrote a piece of commentary for the Denver Post about this sense of wonder. If you're interested, you should be able to find it at

  9. I appreciate your useful information. I am currently going to school to be a special education teacher, and really I have no idea where to start. I have some experience with special education students, but none of it is working with them in a classroom. It is blogs like yours that make becoming a teacher much easier! thanks again!

  10. I would recommend that anyone interested in teaching get qualified to substitute, even as an aid and get a good look at what works and what doesn't. I was part of a workshop sponsored by my district where we had to observe our fellow teachers and take notes, including quoting the teachers reaction to distractions. I'd been teaching for years but it was a big eye opener. Sometimes I was amazed at their right on reactions, other times I winced at what they allowed themselves to say to a child. The most clarifying conclusion I reached was that those who brag about how effective they are often aren't--they're mean--and those admittedly struggling are much better then they, or their fellow teachers, realize. Go see for yourself and see if you have what it takes because what it takes is often far beyond what's ever taught--it's magical.