Heather Wolpert-Gawron

5 Things Teachers can do to Improve Teaching

By on April 21, 2009

We all know there are many problems in education and not one bullet to solve any one of them.  We as teachers can’t do a lot about many of the factors that have huge influence on student success: parental involvement, health care, funding.  But there are a few steps we as educators can make in protecting our professional reputation, advancing student achievement, and making our day-to-day lives a little less challenging.

1. COLLABORATE:  We can’t teach in isolation.  It is not a pride issue to ask for help.  It is a pride issue to not reach out to those who might be able to give you what you need to make your job better, easier, more efficient.  We can’t keep up with everything by ourselves, but we can be good at different elements of content, and we can ask each other to help us with what we aren’t experts at.  

Have you seen the History that 7th Grade has to cover?  It’s something like 16 different countries from 400AD – 1700AD!  I mean, come on.   Nobody should have to create an entire great curriculum, but seek out teachers who will help you create a quilt of best practices.  

Also, remember collaboration doesn’t just mean curriculum development.  It also means seeking out teachers who share your drive and philosophies such that you can turn to them about any school related issue.  A challenging kid, parent, colleague, the politics of the job, the sadness that accompanies some days: these are all issues that require great friendships on site to help you through.  


2. STAND UP FOR YOUR PROFESSION: Be a vocal and positive representative for education.  There is a small, but loud, percentage of our own out there who should not be in the classrooms.  I’m talking about those teachers who live the saying, “Those who can’t do…Teach.”  You know them, they range from the extreme youtube celebrity villains to those teachers who have put down sequenced worksheets for the last 20 years and dare to call it teaching.  

These are the teachers controlling education’s publicity.  We need to take the publicity away from them and make sure that the press, the public, your community, and your school knows the quality of work that goes on in your classroom.  (See Step 8 in my earlier post, “Top Secret New Teacher Handbook” or my post “A Teacher’s Duty.”)

And don’t be the audience for these teachers, for heaven’s sake!  When they heckle another teacher in the staff meeting, don’t make them feel the celebrity for doing it.  When they make lazy decisions that make your job harder, make sure that you defend yourself and let them know it’s unacceptable.


3. MENTOR OTHER TEACHERS: When I worked in an inner city school in California, my mentor got me through what could have been a dark time for me, helping me harness the challenges of the school into victories and lessons of my own.  When I became a more experienced teacher, I vowed to give back to my profession by helping other new teachers.  

When it’s your time to give back, help new teachers by taking things off their plate.  Help build their lessons for them.  Give them tips for classroom management.  Give them advice on handling parent meetings.  When they are called out of class, slip some decent sub plans on their desk.  

Just think back on how many things in teaching weren’t covered by the teacher ed programs.  Be an ear for their frustrations.  Be the person on the other end of the phone.  The turnover in our profession (see my home page here) is something we have a direct influence on improving.  Be a part of that improvement.


4. BE A STUDENT: The best teachers are also students.  Sure, they might still be taking classes, but what I really mean is that they are also life-long learners.  (see my earlier post, “What I Love About Teaching.”)  Find ways to better your content knowledge.  Find ways for the students to teach you.  Remember, those who do the teaching are doing the learning, so in giving them those opportunities, they are learning far more then just going through whole group lecture.  

I don’t know what happens in your brain neurologically when you are learning.  (See Judy Willis for that information.)  But when you are a student, your neurons are surely firing, your brain is bubbling, and you, as a person and an educator, are growing. 


5. STAND UP FOR YOURSELF:  I don’t care that we are in an economic depression, you can still ask for what is fair.  If you are asked to run a club, ask for a stipend.  You don’t have to be angry about it.  You can decide for yourself if you’d do it regardless of pay.  But you should ask.  If you’re told that you are needed to teach 6 different classes or work an extra class during your prep or attend meetings after school outside of your contract, call your union and make sure that you aren’t being taken advantage of.  

But you must handle things professionally.  Everyone’s looking to run the best school they can, and if questions come your way that ask you to go above and beyond, make sure later on when you’re trying to revert back to the more humane schedule, that you don’t get dinged for “past practice.”  Make sure that you aren’t getting the short end of the stick just because you didn’t ask to see the long end.  Make sure that you are doing your best in everything that you must do so that you have leverage when being asked to step up more.

Don’t be a Florence Nightingale, willing to take on more for nothing.  It won’t help you, your individual reputation, or the reputation of the profession in its entirety.


I wish I could say that these were 5 Easy Steps, but they’re not.  Standing up for yourself takes bravery. Being a life-long learner takes modesty.  Mentoring other teachers takes charity.  Standing up for your profession takes lungs.  And collaboration takes transparency.  None of them come easily, but they are sure to make your job easier.  They are also sure to make Teaching as a profession, one worthy of greater respect.  It’s a ground floor, grassroots operation.  And you need to be a part of it.

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