How to be a better teacher today – a long look in the mirror

A new year!

mirror, mirror...

mirror, mirror...

Time for a fresh start. A clean slate. Back to the old drawing board!

2011 (is it just me or does that sound like science fiction?) – I watched Back to the Future series with my family over Winter Break. I love that the “future” in Back the the Future II is 2015. We’re almost there and I’m still waiting for my flying car!

Anyway, the start of a new year is as good a time as any to take a long look in the mirror and examine every aspect of your practice.  Some aspects of teaching that can benefit from a critical inspection:

  • Grading & assessment
  • Assignments & lessons
  • Pedagogy
  • Homework
  • Late work
  • Classroom management/ discipline
  • Standards & main topics

When you do this, set aside all of your assumptions; thumb your nose at the status quo. We’re all creatures of habit and it’s usually easier to keep doing what you’ve been doing than to reinvent the wheel.  And yet, that is sometimes EXACTLY what needs to happen.

Look at each practice one by one and ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I do?
  • Why do I do it this way?
  • How well is it working? (Ask your students too)
  • What are other ways it could be done?
  • What are barriers to change?
  • How can I learn more?
  • What criteria should help me decide?
  • What are my next steps?

I think you’ll unearth aspects of your teaching that exist only because they were the best solutions you had as a rookie (or even pre-service) teacher!.

That’s not a good thing…

image used under cc license from the flickr stream of lovestruck.

12 thoughts on “How to be a better teacher today – a long look in the mirror

  1. Excellent Post, Tyler! Indeed, it is good to ask why we do things the way we do them. It is very difficult to challenge what we believe in. It even hurts sometime. Paradigm shifts are difficult because, as you stated above, “We’re all creatures of habit and it’s usually easier to keep doing what you’ve been doing.” Thanks for writing this.

  2. Great advice! But a word of warning – don’t try to make too many changes at once! I speak from experience – two is enough at a time. Otherwise you lose the balance between just working hard to going overboard!

  3. Great postTyler! I totally agree. We’re walking through some changes at our school, and its easy to focus on the tangibles, but it is important to take a step back and really reflect if our practices truly line up with our vision. I think of this especially with regards to assessment. If my goal is to “graduate” students that are self-directed learners, passionate about education, then are my grading and feedback practices fostering that?

    And Naomi – THANKS – I completely agree – one thing at a time or else you are spread too thin. Some great initiatives were abandoned at my school years back because it was too much at one point in time. THANKS!

  4. Naomi,

    While I agree that one shouldn’t try to change to many things at a time, it is good to take a step back once in a while and give it all a good long look. Too many teachers change nothing year after year. That’s they way I’ve always done it is a poor argument for a practice!

  5. Brian,

    I have to constantly push myself to change. Nobody else is going to push me in my school so it’s up to me. My PLN has been invaluable in this process!

  6. Cheryl,

    Thanks for the comments.

    Tell me about your grading and feedback practices. Why are you questioning them? What is your next step? Have you read my stuff about UNgrading? How about Joe Bower’s blog?

  7. Mr. Rice,

    This is a great post! Too many teachers use the same teaching methods every year. Some even use the same tests and assignments. This has to be boring for the teacher as well as the student. Some students feel that teachers who aren’t interested in updating material will be “easy” because if they don’t care enough about what they are teaching why would they care about student responses?

    However, I have never thought about what it would take to change the way I would teach. Your critical inspection and questions are very helpful. I read your UNgrading post and I was very interested in learning more about how that works. I completely agree with you that “students need mentoring and formative feedback, not judgment!” How do we make this possible?

    -Jessica Brown
    EDM310 Student
    Twitter @jlb986

  8. These are definitely great words of advice. Change is good, especially when we evaluate ourselves and see what is and is not working for us. It seems like a lot of times you can talk to a friend who took a class the semester before you did and it’s exactly the same. Change helps the students learn and the teacher as well!

    I think that people have to be able to break down their barriers and criticize themselves in order to be able to do this. I think some people are set in their ways because it is what they think is right and they do not see anything wrong with it. I like your list of questions. Maybe that will help someone who thinks this way. Hopefully they can ask themselves these questions and honestly evaluate themselves. Sometimes we not only need critical evaluation from others, but we need it from ourselves.

  9. I am a EDM 310 student from the University of South Alabama. I was assigned to comment on your post. I agree their is a need for critical inspection in the classroom. I believe that if students are not passing the teacher may need to evaluate themselves as well.

  10. Kristie,

    It’s easier for the teacher to blame the kids. They’re “just” kids after all; we are the “wise” adults, right? We never make mistakes, right?

    I make more mistakes in one class period than I want to admit.

  11. Whitney,

    Critical introspection is crucial in all aspects of life. I would argue that teaching is an area where it is particularly essential!

  12. Jessica,

    Thank you!

    It’s easy to fall into a rut in any career. Teaching is one career where the rut is particularly common and completely destructive.

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