Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Secret of Making Yourself a Better Teacher

We, and when I say we I mean Joe and Troy, my buddies from GT Innovators, presented a couple of sessions to teachers last week in North Texas. And one of the most well-received pieces of advice we gave to the educators in the room was, "Your only goal for next year is to be less worse than you were this year."

A few years back, right before school started, I walked out to the portables to check on a brand new second grade teacher. I found her on the floor, crumpled and sobbing in front of her unfinished bulletin board. Surrounded by piles of bordette and die cut letters, she sat crippled by overwhelming indecision. She had no idea what to do next, what was important, or what she was going to do in five hours when twenty-two seven year old's bounced in to meet their teacher.

At that moment we did not need to delve into pedagogical discussions about reading groups or the best ways to use 10 frames to teach subtraction. She needed a room put together, procedures for collecting materials and some time to put on her "Welcome to 2nd Grade! I'm so happy your in my class" face.

With the help of the support teachers and her team leader, we stapled that room into a work of art. It turned out to be a good night for her.
Like many teachers she was overwhelmed with how much there was to do, how much she had to do and the ultimate realization of how much she did not know.

Realization is hard but what is harder is moving from realization to action.

The best thing I ever did for myself during my first year as a teacher was to forgive myself for my shortcomings in the classroom. And at the end of that first year, as I looked back on the two things that went well and 468 things that did not go so well, I realized that one summer was not going to be enough to improve on all of those shortcomings. 

So I came up with a plan that has served me well over the past two decades. Each year I would focus on one thing and make myself the best I can be in that one area. Even if that meant I taught one content area straight from the textbook while I worked on my craft in another area. I knew I could not become a great writing teacher and a great math teacher at the same time. There just was not enough of me to go around. 

Now, as the summer tumbles away, my focus for the upcoming year, as it has been for almost two decades, is to be a little less worse than last year.

If you would like to read more about some of the lessons that time and reflection have helped to improve please click for more resources.

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