Fall In Love With Teaching Again
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day I decided to seize the opportunity to talk about love, yes love. I promise it does fit into the STEM teaching discipline quite nicely, and I hope to show you how.
Sadly, STEM teaching these days involves many things we don’t love. Rising class sizes, reduced funding, increased student testing…these are the negative things we hear about the most and are also the things that are driving people away from the teaching profession. However, there are still many people who are excited and ready to start their teaching careers. I think now is the time we all need to stop and refocus ourselves on love and positivity. On that note, let’s take a moment to look at what there is to love about this job.
The things teachers often cite that they love about the profession include making a difference in the lives of their students and being able to share their passion for a subject with the next generation. I have been out of the classroom for four years now, and it has given me the opportunity to reflect on the things that I loved about teaching—and they aren’t the typical things people list. Don’t get me wrong, the things people most often list are great; however, there is so much more to love about this profession! Below are my three favorite aspects of teaching, in no particular order.
- Teamwork. It is my sincere hope that each of you reading this has experienced working and growing with a team of educators. As far as I’m concerned, one of the best things about teaching is being part of a professional group that provides support and learning opportunities for each other. Whether it’s a team of you and one other person or a larger group, knowing that others share in your daily struggle and are willing to grow with you is something truly special. A great team challenges its individuals to create the best learning experiences possible for students. Creating a lesson with a group of hard-working teachers is always easier and more effective than coming up with one on your own. I have been asked by teachers many times if they should change schools, grade levels, or subjects, and I always asked whether or not they had a good team in place that collaborates and works together to make improvements. If that teacher said yes, my advice was always the same—never leave a good team.
Maintaining a great team takes a great amount of work. Relationships with your coworkers are some of the most important ones in your life, so keep reading for some resources designed to help you strengthen your team.
- Personality Tests—Every member of the team brings something different and vital to the table. It is important to identify how each member of your team works and thinks so that you can use those strengths and learn to work together more effectively. These are two of my favorite tests to use:
- True Colors: http://campusrec.unc.edu/sites/campusrec.unc.edu/files/Personality%20Test.pdf
- Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator®: http://www.truity.com/test/type-finder-research-edition
- Book Studies—One of the best ways to grow as a team is to do a book study. While we know the life of a teacher is busy and hectic, carving out a small amount of time each week or month to discuss a book is a great way to connect with each other. Below are some great books to use:
- “The Power of Teacher Teams: With Cases, Analyses, and Strategies for Success,” by Vivian Troen and Katherine C. Boles
- “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable,” by Patrick Lencioni
- “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” by Daniel H. Pink
- Constant change. This is not usually on the list of things people love about their jobs, but I realized I loved this aspect of teaching once I was out of the classroom. If there is one thing you can count on in teaching, it’s change. If you have a group of difficult kids, all you have to do is make it through the 50 minutes and a new group of smiling faces will be waiting for you. If you decide you really don’t like the grade level or subject you are teaching, you can simply change it. If you hate your schedule, don’t worry! It will change next year (and it will probably change if you love it, too). One thing about teaching is that it’s never boring. There is always so much going on that the only thing you can count on every minute of every day is change. Think about it: What other profession provides you a guaranteed do-over every year? If you have a rough year, that year will eventually end and a new one will take its place.
Change is a gift that teachers often take for granted. We have the ability to reinvent ourselves and start fresh all the time, but we have to recognize and embrace it. Change can be difficult for most people, so below are some resources to help you learn to love it.
There are some great books about change. We are actually reading one right now with the STEMcoach team. This book breaks down what you need to do to make the changes you want:
- “Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard,” by Chip and Dan Heath
We also recommend a wonderful book that examines the things highly effective people do, and one of those things is constantly renewing oneself:
- “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen R. Covey
TED Talks provide phenomenal, short videos that can get you thinking about change and how important it is. I’ve listed some of the best ones I’ve seen, and there are many, many more:
- “TEDxPerth–Jason Clarke–Embracing Change”:
- “Three Myths of Behavior Change–What You Think You Know That You Don’t: Jeni Cross at TEDxCSU”:
- “Forget Big Change, Start With a Tiny Habit: BJ Fogg at TEDxFremont”:
- Summers off. I would be completely remiss if I wrote a blog about what’s great about teaching and I didn’t mention the summers off. In what other profession is there built-in time for the personal reflection and growth that can happen during a summer off? Not only does teaching provide us with constant change, but it also gives us months to learn how to make that change. Of course you’ll want to use some of that time to relax, but I do hope that each of you utilizes that time to seek out ways in which you can grow as a teacher. I always used my summers to re-energize and identify the key things I wanted to change before the new year started. Look around your area for interesting professional development opportunities, create a summer book study with that awesome team we mentioned earlier, or think about ways to help your district or school get a head start before the new year! All of these things can help you grow as an individual and a professional.
When you are considering professional development choices, perhaps you might choose something that doesn’t directly apply to what you are teaching. Some of the best ideas I had for teaching came from unrelated professional development courses. One summer I did a two-week externship in the business world and saw firsthand the skills that would be expected of my students in the real world. This was huge for me! I didn’t hear anyone ask the employees if they knew the function of the mitochondria or if they could demonstrate Newton’s second law of motion. What I did glean from the company was that it expected its employees to be able to communicate well, work in teams, collaborate, and be flexible and hardworking. I realized that almost nothing I was trying to do in my class was getting my students ready for the real world, so I was grateful for a do-over that year!
If you are fortunate to work at a campus or district that employs instructional coaches, use them as resources. They can help you identify areas you can change and can assist you with choosing professional growth opportunities that will enable you to realize your goals. No star athlete got to where he or she is without a coach, and teachers who utilize their instructional coaches to help them fine-tune their craft will likely grow by leaps and bounds.
Here are some resources to help you find summer professional development opportunities:
- College and universities
- Local education service centers
- National Science Teachers Association—http://www.nsta.org/conferences/
- MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses): coursera.org, www.udemy.com, www.edx.org
- ASCD: http://www.ascd.org/professional-development.aspx
In celebration of Valentine’s Day, I hope I was able to help you feel the love for teaching again. I value your feedback and would appreciate any comments you have on my blog. If you feel I missed something, please shout out! Let me know what you love about teaching. Send me more resources if you have them. Share your thoughts. I can’t wait to see what each of you loves about this noble profession, and I challenge you to spread that love among your coworkers this month!