Over the course of 2006 to 2016 I’ve been a classroom teacher, ACT prep tutor, literacy coordinator, and state department director. (I’m not about to include all the part-time jobs I held during this time, but thanks Foley’s! I appreciate your patience with me despite my lack of thread count knowledge.) After capping off my first decade in the education profession, I basically know all there is to know about teaching. Right? Nope. Not even close. There’s so much 21st century educators need to add to their skill set and it doesn’t come from standard college of education course work.
Below are the ten actions and insights I’ve had after reflecting on ten years in education.
#10 | Ten years and still learning.
The experiences within the four walls of a classroom make a direct impact to the outside world and the outside world makes a direct impact to the classroom. On January 1st, 2001, we entered the 21st century. If you’re like me, there was little choice in the matter. Ready or not, we’re here now. How has it impacted your classroom? It’s likely a number of changes have taken place in your school, district, and community. Remember what high school was like without smart phones?
Technology continues to expand in availability and functionality. It is making students more aware, influencing their perspective on life, and they bring it all to the classroom hoping for your clarifying wisdom and guidance - whether they admit it or not.
Once upon a time, I day dreamed about being that legendary teacher with untold years of experience under my belt. The kind that could walk into any classroom, immediately take over using my instinctual, classroom management abilities gained from years of experience, and turn a room full of reluctant students into a die hard Shakespeare fan club. But that’s never going to happen.
I can have all the answers, but students also have all the answers at their fingertips. I could never keep up with the availability of information thanks to the advancements of technology. Too much “new” is created each day. What’s worse, it’s actually really, really good “new” stuff that’s being created! It’s “new” stuff that’s worth exploring in the classroom! It’s deep and engaging and our students are influenced by it. I need to keep up with it if I’m going to keep up with my students and keep my curriculum relevant.
#9 | Blog.
Instinct is hard to explain and teach. 21st century teachers share - victories, defeats, confusion, and risky ideas. Especially risky ideas! Break down, step-by-step, what you do well and how you do it. Break down what you don’t do well, too.
I’m almost upset my college of education coursework didn’t require self-reflective blogging. There is a collective knowledge base that already exists thanks to blogging educators and it needs to be expanded. Have you ever met a teachers with 15, 20, 30 years of experience and just started talking about pedagogy? That kind of knowledge is gold and should be documented! Document your journey in this profession and help all teachers grow. Add your insights to the ever expanding collective.
#8 | Build Your Brand.
Legendary teachers are those great educators that every student just seems to know, regardless if they had them as a teacher. They have a reputation and students revere and honor it. Parents know what happens in that teacher's classroom and students want to experience it. That legendary teacher has developed a brand - an expectation that they’ve developed and everyone wants to experience.
Teachers need room and support to develop their unique brand. It requires a lot of experimenting with pedagogies and personality, which is more time consuming than purchasing and enforcing a stock curriculum. However, the time spent to develop a teacher’s understanding of pedagogies produces a greater return on investment.
#7 | Teach like an entrepreneur.
Like teachers, entrepreneurs manage multiple moving parts of a system. Like teachers, entrepreneurs weigh multiple commodities to make decisions. Like teachers, entrepreneurs take educated-risks to, hopefully, produce big gains. Like teachers, entrepreneurs are careful when making investment decisions.
Time and energy are the commodities of educators and there’s never enough. Here’s the crux: time cannot be replenished and energy takes time to replenish. When planning on classroom activities, I find it helpful to use an entrepreneurial lens to assess where to spend my time and energy.
In the classroom, time is a scarce commodity. It’s the only commodity we cannot recreate once it’s lost! However, through thoughtful planning, we can leverage technology to maximize our time. Don’t worry about teaching students how to use tech and apps to enhance their learning. Start learning about the technologies that will improve your professional and personal life.
#6 | Tech was made for teachers!
Some believe technology should be purchased to benefit students. I like to think technology exists to improve a teacher’s life. If it isn’t helping you to be more productive, more organized, and a more effective (less stressed) educator, it’s not worth the investment.
Don’t worry. Students will catch up to the technology you’re using. Honestly, they’re probably already three steps ahead of the technology you’re using.
#5 | Find your community. If you can’t find your community, build it.
I depend on the support of others. Some are like-minded and some are constantly challenging my ideas; both are beneficial. Having a safe community of fellow educators is necessary. Participating in professional organizations with people you respect is revitalizing and cathartic. Seek out people that share your principles. There are many communities of professionals within our state and technology has helped allow us to connect with each other. If you can’t find the right fit, leverage technology to build a new community. Have you ever heard of Facebook? It’s pretty neat. Once a community with shared principles is organized, learning starts to become more meaningful… and a lot more fun.
#4 | If you think PD is boring, do something about it.
Boring PD is our fault. I’m taking about all of us and including me. Don’t let boring PD suck up valuable time. Sit in the front. Participate. Take notes. As a last resort, feign interest and write some awesome lesson plans or a list of all the ways you would lead a better PD workshop. Then go do that workshop.
#3 | Test Stress doesn’t need to be passed on to students.
Our students deal with enough stress and don’t really know how to manage it.
Growing up is already stressful. High stakes tests only add to that stress. The last thing students need is to absorb our stress. If you’re stressed, your students feel it. Don’t let test stress get to you because it will trickle down to your students. That’s why we all need stress-reducing hobbies.
#2 | Don’t quit your hobby.
Besides teaching, there must be something you love doing just for you - something entirely self serving and enjoyable. I’ve learned the hard way how easy it is to give that one thing up. There’s a lot of good reasons to quit a hobby - money, the need to spend quality time with the family, too much work to do, et cetera. None are good reasons to completely give up a hobby.
Invest in your long-term sanity by prioritizing a personal hobby. Sure you might not have as much time to invest, but commit to a certain amount per week/month. Your students and family will thank you.
#1 | Advocacy.
We cannot survive by keeping our heads down and our classroom doors shut. I think this is the most important realization I’ve had over the course of my career. There are certain aspects of our profession that may never be perfect and they’re never going to improve without teacher advocacy.
I’m not political and never intended to be, yet it’s evident that this is one more responsibility we need to include on an ever growing list of priorities. Change happens when educated people connect, organize, and vocalize educated ideas. Our school system needs your educated ideas.