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.
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:
- What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain
- The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer
- Teaching First-Year College Students by Erickson, Peters and Strommer
- Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov
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.
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.
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.
Previous posts in this series:
- How I Saved My Teaching Career: Introduction
- Part 1: Take Stock. Is it Worth it to Stay?
- Part 2: Take Time Off
- Part 3: Find Your Community
- Part 4: Face Your Fears
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