Historically speaking, the field of education has a tendency to be viewed by prospective teachers as a career choice that pays a respectable salary and comes with a built-in three-month summer vacation. Additionally, some individuals may view teaching as an “easy” profession because they attended school and watched their own teachers in action. How difficult could such a career truly be?
In reality, educating children and young adults requires not only extensive training, practice, and skills, but also a number of personal commitments that teachers must embrace if they are to succeed in the field and ultimately leave a positive and lasting impression on their students. An overview of the seven commitments of high-quality educators is as follows:
Commit to lifelong learning.
One does not become a successful teacher simply by completing a four-year degree and reading a few popular books on education. The absolute best teachers are those who realize that they will never reach a point at which they have learned everything there is to know about curriculum content and good pedagogy.
As a result, educators must remain actively engaged in studying how students learn best along with the ways in which culture and socio-economics impacts students individually. It has recently been stated that schools are preparing students for careers that do not even exist yet. Given the explosion of technology and drastic changes in the way the world functions, teachers must remain current and grow with the times as opposed to teaching the same way in 2021 as they did in 2001.
Commit to serving students academically.
Teaching is not and should not be viewed as a selfish profession. Teachers certainly play the leading role within the classroom environment; however, they should not approach the classroom from the perspective of what makes their job easiest. Effective teaching is hard, challenging work that often requires hours of advanced preparation. Simply lecturing students for a class period requires less preparation than developing an engaging learning activity; however, engagement is what leads to understanding.
Think about your own classroom experiences. Do you remember more about the teacher who leaned against the wall and recited facts about the American Revolution or the teacher who required you to recreate the battle of Yorktown with Lego blocks? Chances are, the lecture escapes your memory, but the kinesthetic activity remains.
Commit to serving students personally.
A wise professor once said that good educators must be able to “love the unlovely.” Teachers thrive on interactions with students who quickly grasp new concepts and complete their homework assignments on time. A fact that often goes unrecognized is that students who are the most disruptive and disengaged often are the ones with the greatest need of attention from the teacher.
Teachers must commit to connecting with challenging students on a personal level. Once the trust in the relationship has been established, which may take significant time, academic progress can begin to be made.
Teachers also should pay attention to whether or not students’ physical needs are met. A student who did not eat breakfast would benefit from a granola bar from an extra box in the teacher’s desk and better be able to focus; while a student who suffers from neglect may benefit from extra individual attention.
Commit to being involved after the school day ends.
Although it may sound ironic, some of the strongest classroom relationships are built outside the classroom through teachers’ involvement with extra-curricular programs including sports, clubs, and service organizations.
Involvement in after-school activities provides an opportunity for teachers and students to interact in less formal situations. This level of interaction tends to humanize the teacher and transform him or her from some type of cyborg-like being that knows a great deal about science or math into a relatable individual who is deserving of respect both inside and outside of the classroom.
Commit to developing a growth mindset.
On average, teachers spend approximately 35 years in the field. An old cliché states that some teachers don’t really teach for 35 years…they just teach the first year 35 times. This mentality will not serve teachers well, especially during challenging circumstances like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In order to be effective, teachers must be willing to grow and adapt not only with new curricular content, but also with new procedures and methods of instruction. Perhaps the most critical aspect of a growth-minded individual is the ability to remain flexible and adapt quickly. Getting oneself into a rut is easy for educators unless they intentionally focus upon remaining open to new ideas and practices.
Commit to being “drama” free.
The word drama probably is overused when describing the interactions of adolescent students; however, it is a fitting term to describe unnecessary emotional reactions to issues that generally have no identifiable long-term significance. Just as students display dramatic behaviors, if they are not careful, teachers can also fall prey to this unproductive behavior.
For some unknown reason, rumors seem to pass through school faculty lounges as quickly as water through a coffee filter. This naturally creates widespread misinformation that is not based in facts. Teachers should commit to the process of going to the source, be it an administrator or fellow teacher, with questions and concerns before stirring up themselves and their colleagues with misinformation. The general school climate becomes much more productive and significantly less stressful when everyone deals in facts as opposed to rumors.
Commit to personal time.
Teaching is a profession that requires nearly constant giving on the part of the educator. If teachers are not careful, they can be subject to unnecessary fatigue and burnout. In order to avoid these pitfalls, teachers should intentionally make time to spend with their friends and families and generally doing activities they find to be relaxing.
Often, professional educators focus so much on their careers that they forget to make time for themselves and their own health and wellbeing. Ultimately, teachers cannot be fully effective if their own needs are not met, so purposefully planning “non-school” time is paramount both to good health as well as good teaching.
While this list is far from comprehensive, following the seven identified commitments will prepare teachers for long-term success and enjoyment in the classroom.