Today’s guest blog is written by Josh Stumpenhorst. Josh is a junior high history and English teacher in Chicago and the author of The New Teacher Revolution (Corwin Press).
When we start the journey of a teacher, nearly all of us had the same goals in mind. We wanted to make a difference in the life of a child. Some of us came into the profession wide-eyed and nervous while others came in with a feeling of confidence or even a slight arrogance.
However, all of us at some point were humbled by something we were not quite prepared for. This happens more often than not in our early years as a teacher. We realize the possibility our college course work and teacher preparation program may not have been as thorough as we would have liked or assumed it was.
In most cases we attempt to seek advice from those around us by way of our peers and fellow teachers. Yet, a realization often comes over us as we begin to seek that help. Many of the teachers we work with have entrenched views on education where status quo and tradition reign supreme.
To me one of the most critical areas of a teacher’s job is the obligation to improve their teaching to meet the ever changing needs of their students. In addition to new teachers, I often see veteran teachers struggle in this area due to an outdated or potentially engrained belief system.
At some point in your career, you will come to the realization that you don't know everything. You may come to this realization on your own or somebody else will help you arrive at this conclusion. There are many ways you can work to become a better teacher. There is no perfect answer, solution, or recipe to accomplish better teaching. However, one crucially important element to becoming a better teacher is the attitude and belief that you want and need to improve. There are far too many teachers who think they have it all figured out or are arrogant enough to think they're good enough. Many of these teachers will tell you how to do your job and possibly write a book instructing you on how to do this. Yes, I realize the hypocrisy of that comment. This is not to say there are not good teachers out there teaching right now. What I mean is as a teacher, you need to have the belief and acceptance there is always a better way to do what you are doing. This is not to condemn what you are doing, but just that an eye for improvement is critical. An important aspect to discuss when investigating being a better teacher is this whole definition of a good teacher. The reality is as you begin to teach and the longer you teach, you will realize that some days you're a great teacher and sometimes you're a bad teacher. Some days you are both within one class. What I mean by this is every year you'll have a new group of students. You will have students that will not learn at the highest level with your teaching style or you as an individual teacher. As a teacher, you do the best you can to connect with every kid, but understand, it's not going to work for every kid every single day. Some people will try to tell you good teaching is defined by the high test scores of your students. Many states and districts are using that as part of a teacher evaluation, which is literally evaluating if you are a good teacher. If you are lucky, it will play a small role in your evaluation. At the end of the day, if you are inspiring kids to want to learn, then you are more than likely a good teacher. It really is that simple, but in order to stay a good teacher, you will need to constantly be looking for ways to improve and stay relevant. Being better for the sake of your students should be motivation enough to improve." (Stumpenhorst, 2015)
Professional growth is a critically important topic to reflect on and analyze if a teacher wants to stay relevant and effective. My goal as a teacher is to always look for ways to improve on the work I do every single day with students. I look at five simple things any teacher can do in an effort to evolve and improve in their work.
- Connect with other teachers both inside and outside your building. Use social media to learn from teachers around the world. Use PLCs or other groups of teachers in your building to share ideas and resources.
- Build positive relationships with administrators. Administrator evaluations are an integral part of a teacher’s job. Building a positive relationship with your administrator will help evaluations be more conversational and collaborative.
- Expose yourself to as many new ideas as you can. Start in your building and go visit other classrooms and see your peers teach. Seek out opportunities to attend conferences or engage in free online professional development.
- Reflect on why you are doing what you are doing. Reflection can come in many forms from private to public. Keeping a journal or possibly starting a blog or a podcast are great ways to reflect and share your learning.
- Seek Feedback from parents and students. Often the parents and students we serve are underutilized for professional growth. Look for ways to gather their feedback and input as they are often ground zero for what is working or not working.
Teachers, new or experienced, who are reflective about their practice, are often the ones who evolve with their students and are better suited to meet the needs of the learners in their rooms. Regardless if you are looking at classroom management and motivation or education traditions and initiatives, the most effective teachers are those willing to take a critical look at their craft with the goal of continual improvement. The dynamic of a classroom and what we know about learners is ever changing. As a result, we need teachers ready to start a revolution of ideas and meet the needs of these learners. This cannot happen if we remain content to do things the way we have always done them.
The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.