We are pleased to share this post by Steve Haberlin, a teacher of gifted students and an EducationWorld Community blogger. To explore classroom innovations, be sure to read all of Steve's posts and join the Innovative Teaching Group on the Education World Community to offer your own creative ideas.
"To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence: supreme excellence consists in breaking an enemy’s resistance without fighting.” Sun Tzu
Unless you plan to open your own school, you must develop the critical skill of learning to operate within this often-maddening, unfair system we call public education.
What you must learn to do is to work within the system without losing yourself and forgetting what you stand for. You don’t want to become another educational drone, like so many potentially great teachers who fall prey to the system. You must find the happy medium between expressing your individual talents and maintaining who you are, while at the same time learning to work within the confines of the education system.
It’s no different from marriage or any other relationship. You must find the balance of working together and compromising while maintaining your own identity.
Now that I’ve stressed the importance of playing the game, so to speak, let me share some strategies that I think will help you work within the system while maintaining your integrity.
Be a Team Player
If your grade level is planning an event, help out. If they are planning a dance to raise funds for your grade level, ask what you can do. If you school is hosting a Go Green event on Earth Day, inform your students about the event and bring them to see the displays. These may seem like small actions, but they say a lot about your willingness to work with others and contribute to your school.
Remember this: the more time you spend fighting with administrators or colleagues over getting your way, the less time and energy you will have to devote to your students. I knew a colleague who bragged how he didn’t attend faculty meetings because the teacher union handbook stated that technically the administration couldn’t require teachers to report earlier than their contractual time. Really? I am no fan of meetings, but what does it take to show up and sit there among the other teachers? Seriously, you may pay a hefty price in the long run in terms of goodwill and reputation with the faculty and administration if you don’t take these small steps.
Share Your Passions and Experiences in the Classroom
Find a way to work your passions and interests into the school day. This is a must if you want to remain true to yourself. Despite all the demands for standardized testing, with a little creativity, you can weave your passions into the curriculum. Do you love baseball? Create a game based on baseball to review for an upcoming test. Do you love a certain novel or series? Find a way to read it, perhaps during lunchtime with your students. I love the Lord of the Rings series, and my class always reads The Hobbit each school year, then we make connections to the Fellowship of the Ring, the first in the series. Being a former newspaper reporter, I also host an annual Newsday, where I set up the classroom like a working newsroom, complete with a messy papers, laptops, coffee (chocolate milk for the kiddies), and a live police scanner. I invite the local newspaper editor and reporters to the event and have them teach them about the industry. The students must then hold a live press conference and write a story on deadline.
When you share yourself with your students, you maintain your integrity, and that passion is also passed on to your students.
Be a Positive Force
Try your best to uplift co-workers and your school in general. Send an e-mail congratulating other teachers on a school-wide project or funding raising effort. Write a letter to the editor explaining how your school has really improved its discipline or test scores. High-five people in the hallways. Share supplies now and then. If a teacher has to leave early due to an emergency, volunteer to take some of his/her students. By being a positive force, people will want to work with you and help you. You are also making your school a better place, which in turn will make your work life better.
Jump on School-Wide Efforts
At your school will be some ambitious teachers who implement school-wide programs and projects for the students. For instance, a teacher may secure funds for an online math game that helps students learn basic multiplication facts. If this program excites you, ask the teacher what you can do to help. Maybe you can send home a letter or e-mail about the program. Maybe you can carve out a few minutes of the day to allow students to use the program in class. If you work at a high-performing school, you won’t have the time or energy to join every school-wide program, so you will have to pick and choose among those that you think are most effective. But it’s important to remember that even though you did not spearhead this program, it will still affect your students as well as children across the school where you work. As an educator, your job is to not only help your students, but all those with whom you have contact.
Remember, you want to learn to swim with the tide while not drowning in the sea of education. Following the above steps has helped me work within the system while staying true to myself.
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