We’d like to do something we don’t do often enough, and begin this article by saying “thank you” to all you teachers out there. There are a number of things we want to express our gratitude for in order to segue into exploring the truths below that we believe can make you a better teacher almost instantly. So here goes:
Thank you for trying and for caring.
Thank you for your selfless commitment to our children.
Thank you for striving to create a bright future for all.
Thank you for being the first one to show up and the last one to leave.
Thank you for believing in yourselves and in your learners.
Thank you for fighting for the realization that there are more important things than test scores.
Thank you for your laughter, your tears, and your humanity.
Finally, thank you for believing that being a better teacher means becoming a better student.
Wanting to be a better teacher is something many in the education profession strive for. Internalizing a few fundamental truths like the ones below will help make that happen.
Your learners are 100% of our future.
The very first thing we mention in the book Mindful Assessment is that, “it is you who inspires our future artists, innovators, scientists, and leaders. Although children are only a small percentage of the population, they are 100 percent of the future.” This idea shouldn’t scare you; it should inspire you.
Everyday you meet, greet, and nurture the young minds that will one day transform the world we live in. You are their lifeline to success and their guide on the learning journeys they will profit from well beyond school. Your calling is to teach them about possibilities and about how they can tap their own potential to achieve greatness, for themselves and for the whole world. And you are more than up to the task, even on the days when you feel like you aren’t.
Being a teacher is an emotional experience.
As a teacher you deal with people, and people are emotional beings. The art of developing into a better teacher means teaching happens from the head and the heart. It’s a journey that revolves around your ability to connect, inspire, and enable both your learners and your colleagues—including the ones who will fight you every step of the way.
Educator Kate Sacco made a poignant observation about this on her blog:
“Teaching will both make your heart burst with joy and break it to pieces. Sometimes this will happen in the same day or even the same hour … let’s face it; you work with humans, not with widgets.”
We have literally no idea what another person’s journey is all about. We don’t often realize that the colleague who is resisting change is afraid of losing a career that has sustained them and their family for decades. We don’t always consider that a bully could be abused, misunderstood, and just needs someone to listen. It’s hard to believe that the slow learner who can’t pay attention is at home painting masterpieces in their spare time. But imagine how our thoughts and attitudes would change if we knew these things.
Change happens—embrace it.
If you’ve been a teacher for pretty much any length of time, you know how quickly the education landscape is changing. Information, the technology that connects us to it, and the rise of social media have all contributed to bringing a very special kind of learner into our classrooms. It’s a student with needs and learning styles that are a far cry from anything many of us have experienced before. Though we may not have seen it coming, it was always on the way.
What’s important to remember is that this scope of change was inevitable if education was to continue surviving, and changes will continue to happen that we can’t yet fathom. If teaching has reshaped itself this rapidly in a few years, imagine what the field will be like 5, 10, or 20 years from now. Do you need to worry about all that at this very moment? Of course not—that would drive anyone crazy. What you do need to do is be prepared to explore it, embrace it, and learn from it.
Your failures don’t define you.
In the course of our work with teachers all over the world, we’ve discovered in most cases that perfectionism is a burden that individual teachers often place upon themselves, as opposed to it being an expectation that comes from the surrounding environment. Our advice is to stop striving to not make mistakes, and rather learn from the ones you do make as we expect our learners to do.
Perfection is something that we never truly attain, and as such it’s kind of a false concept. What is most important is that we simply focus on being better than we were yesterday. If we begin to define ourselves and our abilities by taking stock of our failures, we stop short of reaching our full potential as educators. Even worse, we run the risk of modelling this destructive mindset for our students.
Teaching’s true rewards cannot be held in your hands.
Many teachers struggle with a lot of different things about their jobs. Long hours, low pay, and encountering disdain for the profession in general are all part of the conversation at some point. Unfortunately, focusing on these things can make one lose sight of why they really became a teacher in the first place—to not only prepare our youth, but to transform them. The greatest reward in the profession comes from knowing you were instrumental in making that happen, even though it isn’t apparent right away.
Any teacher can tell you the pride they have felt at meeting a student of theirs years after their classroom days and discovering that student has always remembered how well and with how much compassion they were taught. The values we encourage in our students now—humility, charity, citizenship, perseverance, adaptability, independence, and more—are the values they carry forward into their lives beyond school. Those are the greatest learning gifts you can give them, and the significance they have in one’s life is the reward you get in return.
As a teacher, you can never tell where your influence starts or how far it will take a student. In fact, you may never know. The point is that you do influence each and every child that crosses your path, and they will always remember you. It comes down to this: What kind of a teacher do you want to be remembered as?