How I Saved My Teaching Career: Step 5: Get More Training

This is the sixth post in a series on how to overcome burnout and love teaching again.   See the end of this post for previous entries.

One advantage of being a teacher is that it’s easy to keep learning, and learning, and learning.

I got my education degree years ago, specializing in Teaching English as a Second Language.  It was one of the most useful things I’ve done with my life.  It was also one of my most enjoyable experiences.  The program I chose (at Concordia University in Montreal ) was collegial, well-organized and both theoretical and practical.  I made a lot of good friends who were serious about becoming great teachers.

When I began teaching CEGEP, I was grateful to have done some formal educational training.  (An education degree is not required for CEGEP teachers; we need only have a Masters in our discipline.)  Years later, when I began to burn out, I spent some time thinking fondly of the days of my education studies.  There’d been hardships during my time as an education student – personal problems, a difficult high-school internship – so it hadn’t all been rosy.  Also, I’d taught in various contexts before beginning my degree, so I hadn’t had any illusions about life in the classroom.  But I’d loved being a student, and I’d loved learning how to be a better teacher.

Now, as a discouraged mid-career teacher, it occurred to me that getting more training might be one way to overcome my fatigue and bitterness.

I went about furthering my education in three ways.  If you’re a teacher who needs to refresh your perspective, you might want to investigate possibilities like these.

1. Formal schooling

CEGEP teachers have the option of pursuing a Diploma or Masters in Education, specializing in college teaching, through a program called the Master Teacher Program.  Professional development funds pay the tuition, and teachers usually do one course per term in order to maintain a manageable workload.  The courses offer a balance between theory and practical application, something I appreciated while doing my B.Ed.

I signed up, and was lucky enough to land an excellent teacher – one of my senior colleagues – in my first course.  There’s been no looking back.  I have completed ten of the courses and intend to follow the Masters program through to the end.

Not only has more formal schooling given me the chance to train, it has also reminded me of what it’s like to be a student.  Teachers can forget how it feels to be on the other side of the desk: finding time for homework, worrying about grades, fretting over the things we don’t understand.  Spending some time in our students’ shoes can change our perception of them and help us with our patience.

2. Reading

I began reading education blogs, searching for stories and advice from other teachers who were having difficulties.  The blogs themselves were immensely helpful, but in addition, they often recommended books on subjects I was interested in investigating further.

Also, the short readings I was doing in my Master Teacher Program sometimes inspired me to seek out the original, complete texts.  I began accumulating a library of books on education.  Over time, classroom problems sent me running back to that bookshelf; there was almost always a volume I could pull down that offered me some useful ideas.

Here are a few books that have helped me in tackling classroom issues and understanding my difficulties:

…and, always:

3. Collaboration

I’d always been prone to playing hooky on pedagogical days and ignoring memos about workshops and forums.  I realized I needed to invest more in the chances I had to bone up on new or rusty skills.  I began noting upcoming training sessions in my agenda and trying to attend one once a month or so.  Workshops ranged from roundtable discussions on classroom management issues to training sessions in using classroom technology.  I learned stuff, and I got to spend time with other teachers wanting to learn stuff.  It was invigorating.

I’ve slacked away from such activities in the last year or two, but I have good intentions of investing more in them again once once some personal matters settle.  It’s all very well to focus energy on the day-to-day nitty-gritty of running our classrooms, but some time collaborating with our colleagues so we can all learn more is always time well spent.

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One of the advantages of being a teacher is that we can, if we’re open to it, learn many, many new things every day.  This happens naturally, because we regularly meet new people and deal with unfamiliar situations.  However, sometimes we need to make a more formal commitment to training ourselves.  If you need to freshen up your classroom attitude, consider a skill that you don’t have or that you’ve let stagnate.  Do you need to assert yourself more?  Are you avoiding technology in your classroom? Are you behind on trends in your field?  There’s probably a course you can take, a book you can read, or a workshop you can sign up for.  In my experience, being a student can do a teacher a lot of good.

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Leave a comment!  How have you upgraded your skills and kept learning in your job?  How would you like to?  We’d love to hear from you.

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Previous posts in this series:

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The series “How I Saved My Teaching Career” was originally published on the TimesOnline’s education blog, School Gate, in 2009.  Thanks to School Gate’s editor, Sarah Ebner, for her permission to repost.

Image by Michal Zacharzewski

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13 responses

  1. I agree with this so completely. The trouble is, where I teach (a small, private elementary school), our principal does not offer any opportunities for teacher development. He is too complacent–thinking everything is rosy even though most of the teachers here are young and inexperienced. Some haven’t had formal teacher training at all! Many are becoming burned out and we have had a lot of turnover in the last few years, resulting in the loss of some really great teachers. How does one light a fire under the administration without stepping out of place? Any advice?

    • Amanda: interesting question. What if you and your colleagues were proactive about contacting a speaker or trainer (of course explaining the situation and making it clear that it might not clear with the administration)? You could put together a tentative program and timetable, maybe in conjunction w/ colleagues from some other schools. Once you have a plan, you could pitch it to your principal (although it might be good to get some other administrators onside first.) You never know!

  2. I agree with numbers 2 and 3, but not so much with number 1. I may be alone here, but I’ve never gotten much out of teacher training days, pro-grow opportunities, education seminars, etc. Once in a while there’s a gem, but more often than not they’re too long, too hands-off—either too theoretical or too specific, too trendy, too easily forgotten, irrelevant, etc, etc. I attend these conferences with an open, eager mind, but then my mind often wanders as I make mental lists of all the work I have to do. I’d probably say that in almost two decades of teaching high school English, formal training has affected my practices by about 5%. (I do not have a teaching credential—only BA and MA in my discipline.)
    All that said, I’m constantly learning and growing in the classroom. I change texts often; change and refine assignments; tinker with approaches; develop new classes; read scholarly articles and books, etc—I try my hardest to keep things fresh. For me, most useful of all has been creative collaboration with my amazing colleagues. I love observing their classes, using their successful ideas/materials, brainstorming with them, trouble-shooting with them, etc. Their good teaching inspires me to be the best teacher I can be.

      • Of course you’re right, Siobhan—I hate to be negative. One seminar I attended, maybe four or five years ago, was so inspiring, so meaningful, that I still carefully review my notes on it before the start of every school year. (It was given by Dr. Robert Brooks about the “power of mindsets.”)

  3. I am with you! Sometimes the professional development offered by my district is awful, but I spend a lot of time reading online about new trends in Education and looking for new and innovative ways to teach the content. I just finished my master’s in 2010 so I still have that “student” experience fresh in my mind, but I think going back to that from time to time can be great. As you said, being a teacher means that we are always learning. There is always a new idea, a new technique, a new lesson to teach. Being prepared and getting fresh ideas can make a world of a difference.

  4. I love professional development! It gets me excited and taps into my creativity. Who you attend with can make a big difference. If you sit with Negative Nelly’s, it can be hard to get into it. Attending with other excited participants however, can multiply your enthusiasm.*

    • Amy: A couple of years ago I attended an out-of-town conference with a delightful colleague, and it was so fun! Another colleague advised us to go together so we wouldn’t be lonely, and she was totally right.

  5. Good post. A few years ago I made a conscious shift from teaching on autopilot to adopting a deliberate strategy to transform my teaching. I had a clear intention to become a better, more effective teacher. This attitude made it possible for me to find and try all sorts of things which did transform my classes so that even the least interested would leave better off. It was really about embracing the practice of teaching not as a task to be done but as a constant learning and development opportunity. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know already, it’s just my angle on things. Cheers.

    • James: “It was really about embracing the practice of teaching not as a task to be done but as a constant learning and development opportunity.” Exactly. Some days, when things are really rough, I try to think of it all as a big experiment in sociological observation. It helps me lighten up.

  6. This series is very timely for me. I’m about to finish my graduate studies with plans to enter the teaching profession at the university level. My field (theatre) is only popular with students because it is thought to be “an easy A” despite the fact that many of them have never seen a live production, and have no interest in doing so except to get their A and go home. The unfortunate nature of the resources our department and university has means that the bi-annual workshops offered for graduate students tend to be filled up quickly IF we can attend them at all due to scheduling.

    My three years at grad school have involved a lot of soul searching on my part, and a genuine effort to learn from my previous mistakes, but I haven’t taken it upon myself to seek out accessible resources. Our teaching options have been limited here, and many of us are leaving either unprepared or unwilling to teach. I am passionate about teaching, particularly in my field, and don’t want to quit yet. This post has given me a good idea about where to start on my own now that my time in school is winding down. I wish I’d had the foresight to do some of this the last three years, but I’m glad I’ve started now.

    Thank you for helping me not give up. I was seriously having a crisis moment tonight as I thought about the daunting task of meeting with students tomorrow, and went to Google in desperation. Thankfully, your blog popped up. I’m still feeling a bit reluctant, but am much more hopeful than I was before.

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