Looking deeper, looking further

Recently, I was asked to address a group of new teachers at the start of their first school year. Thought I’d share with others what I shared with them.

Perspective: Three Assertions

  • How we “look” at something; how we “see” it can change everything.
  • Many things (objects, situations, and people) are not what they first appear.
  • As professional educators, we must be willing (and able) to look deeper and further into matters of education than those with whom and for whom we work.

There are three things that have been most beneficial to me in my career, and I’ll share them with you; hopefully, building on a foundation of what you have been taught or learned by experience already.

  1. Learn Your Students

To paraphrase Shakespeare: The whole world is a stage, and on any given day our classrooms can be somewhere between Comedy Central and As the World Turns.

“He Looked Beyond My Faults and Saw My Needs”

Look deeper into our students; look beyond:

  • Outside appearances
  • Mannerisms (or lack of manners)
  • Backgrounds
  • Family history
  • Past performance (academic and behavioral)
  • Initial performance on academic tasks

You may and should see a future for them they may not yet be able to imagine.

Don’t just practice looking beyond with those sloppy, noisy, low-performing students, but also with those neat, quiet, honor students.

Look not only for the needs, but for what your students can contribute to the class.

Use this deeper knowledge and perspective to guide your work.

2. Learn Your Subject and Learn How to Teach It

  • Look deeper into your subject matter. You don’t know as much as you will know about it.
  • Subjects change (even English grammar)
  • Don’t give up on a lesson plan or topic that doesn’t work well the first time or first few times. There’s always another way, a different approach.
  • Helps to be active in your subject area organizations, publications, coursework (keep yourself and your credentials current)
  • Build and use collegial networks
    • Within building, district,
    • Organizations, meetings,
    • Online and social networks (Example: K12 Online Conference)

Teach As If Your Students’ Lives Depend On It

Work as if for the Lord…

  • Our students deserve our best professional efforts everyday. Do the right thing and do it right.
  • Don’t wait for a “thank you.” (They may come back later, but it may be a long time later. Administrators, colleagues, parents…may or may not tell you you’re doing a good job.
  • Don’t compromise your professionalism (means you may have to make some very hard choices or be very creative).

Teach well. Any one who can’t teach well has no business setting educational policy, designing curriculum, or training teachers—at least not having the predominant say in those activities. Successful student learning should be the basic requirement for entry into educational leadership.

3. Learn Yourself

Be honest about how your own preferences, beliefs, and attitudes affect your perspective; your views of students and of teaching; and learn how to compensate for your own biases.

Don’t underestimate your sphere of influence, or your own professional potential.

Then:

  • Young person decided to be a teacher
  • Completed teacher ed; got licensed
  • Found a job in a school/district.
  • Stayed there 25-40 years, working diligently, quietly in his/her classroom.
  • Retired.

Now:

  • Persons of all ages and backgrounds are entering teaching
  • Multiple paths into teaching career
  • Schools/districts are scrambling for teachers and competing in some areas.
  • 1/3 of teachers leave in the first 5 years; many more change schools or districts; moving into other education related areas; more career switchers into and out of teaching.

Be a teacher and a leader.

Leadership in education is no longer reserved for administrators or university researchers.

Many possibilities are available today, and more are coming:

  • Mentors / coaches esp. for novices and those in need of improvement
  • Lead Teachers or Team Leaders
  • Curriculum developers & coordinators
  • Professional development planning / facilitators
  • District, state, national commissions (Boards of Education)
  • Professional educational organizations
  • Teacher ed programs

Not every teacher will be or should be a formal teacher leader, but every one of us has a responsibility to our profession.

Until we consistently produce true teacher- leaders, our working lives and conditions will remain at the whims those who don’t pay the price or carry the responsibility of shaping children’s lives.

“Lead From the Front” – Leroy Byars

Speak up: For the profession. Be honest, but avoid just joining in the public-school-bashing that passes for policy debate on education in this country. Don’t just bad-mouth the situation (there are plenty of horror stories); offer real suggestions, speak from your experience and knowledge base about what works in education. Teacher voices carry weight, but more so when you can stand on the credibility of student achievement. Teach well.

Teaching is a calling and a commitment.

Teaching is not for wimps, whiners, or washouts.

Teaching is hard, but not impossible.

Teaching is often undervalued, but not unworthy.

Teaching is the consummate profession, and if you do it right, it is one of the greatest adventures you could ever have.

Welcome. May God bless you with much success in your careers.

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