Randy Turner, a 14 year English teacher in Joplin, Missouri recently authored a blog post with a warning for 18 year olds: Don’t become a teacher. A friend, and aspiring pre-service teacher, sent me a link to the blog post asking me one question: Is Turner right?
After reading Turner’s article – experiencing a variety of emotions from angst to admiration – I turned to what all great teachers do – reflection. Over the past six months I have spent time with a number of teacher leaders in a weekly Twitter chat. These leaders are past administrators, current teachers or educational advocates. Our conversations have focused on the exact issues outlined in Turner’s blog post, and can best be summarized into two statements: 1) Teachers are overworked, underpaid and less valued than ever, and 2) Work by policy makers (standardized testing, teacher evaluation and tenure arrangements) have drastically changed our profession. However, there are significant differences between Turner’s perception of these issues and that of teacher leaders. First, teacher leaders see these issues as systemic but heavily controlled by the actions and ongoing work of teachers. Second, systems of evaluation and testing are works in progress and feedback mechanisms (again, by teacher leaders) are critical for ongoing change and refinement.
So what would be the advice of teacher leaders to an 18 year old interested in teaching? Here is a short list that could serve any pre-service teacher:
- It’s all about relationships. Much of the “art” of teaching and teacher leadership is about relationships – the way that you work with students, parents and colleagues. It is never too early to begin to think about how to utilize students’ interests and talents in your planning and instruction. Using internship and student teaching time to experiment with ways that work with your personal learning style is a great start. Reflect on your progress in this area continuously! Engage students in discussions about ways to help them access course materials (i.e. using technology). Remember that many of the relationships you build with students are based on their perception of your ability to respond to their interests and learning preferences.
- Use your colleagues as a source of information and seek opportunities to advance your own leadership style. It is never too early to begin your journey as a teacher leader. Networks are an excellent way to “connect” with others who share your passion for teaching. It is also important to have a place to go to seek positive advice. New teachers should consider finding others who have professional network connections as a top priority. My advice — seek out Nationally Board Certified teachers.
- Teachers need to take charge of their own learning the same way that we expect students too. Place a priority on professional development – even during your pre-service years. With the increased emphasis on technology in classrooms pre-service teachers may want to consider their professional development as “professional learning”. Take courses related to instructional technology so that you can find hardware and software tools that match your personal teaching style.
- Imagine solutions to problems rather than listening to, or participating in, complaints about the work that teachers do. The topic of education has become a source of negativity especially in the media. Aspects of the teaching profession such as standardized testing and evaluation are evolving in our field. As a pre-service teacher it is important to understand how these elements fit into your teaching practice. Remember, you can be a teacher leader and constantly seek advice from experienced (and positive) colleagues.
As we approach the New Year my resolution is, that every 18 year old considers teaching in their personal career aspirations.
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