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How to Keep the Fire Burning
(Or Lessons Learned from
Edith, the Kids, and "The Fear")


Voice of ExperienceIn this week's Voice of Experience essay, Max Fischer shares how, after almost 30 years as a classroom teacher, he keeps things fresh -- for himself and for his students. Where does he get his inspiration? He says it comes from the students, "The Fear," and Edith! Included: Web sites to help teachers assess and reflect on their teaching skills.

Max W. Fischer
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." --Aristotle

A novice middle school teacher, fresh from experiencing an ecstatic moment of student learning, burst into the teachers' room to share her news. The excitement didn't last for long though. A veteran staff member prematurely ended the celebration with the sardonic quip: "Don't worry, kid. This too will pass."

Sound familiar? Although the comment might have been intended as good-natured humor, it had the opposite effect. And it got me thinking; if we, as veteran teachers, look in our professional mirrors, do we see ourselves speaking such cynical words in the future?


My students are my best source of inspiration. The joy of transforming seventh graders' deadpan stares into unbridled glee as an active learning experience helps them "get" a difficult concept; the pathos of witnessing the reluctant learner struggle with concepts that others readily grasp; the satisfaction derived from heartfelt appreciation expressed by a former student in a letter or during an impromptu conversation at the local grocery -- I derive energy from those situations. Their stimulation seems to keep me mentally and emotionally churning for answers and searching for new challenges to present to them.

More Voices

Have you seen these Voice of Experience essays from previous weeks?


Another dynamic also prompts me to stay fresh, engaged, and enthusiastic about teaching. It is fear.

It has been said that many professional athletes are remembered better for their sagging performances in later years than for the successes of their early years. Having outlasted their spans of legitimate productivity, they attempt to recapture long lost glory -- only to write an ignominious final chapter to their careers.

The same can be said of some teachers.

All of us have experienced the bewilderment that comes from watching a talented teacher or administrator bottom out as he or she coasts into retirement. I believe that, in significant measure, professional educators, like professional athletes, will be remembered best for their performance in the final stretch of their careers. Therefore, I've adopted a few strategies to supplement my student-generated inspiration -- and to help allay "the fear" that I too might sink into mediocrity. These strategies propel my pedagogic drive:

  • I always keep a subscription to at least one professional journal. By reading just a few articles a month, I am able to keep current on best educational practices, and I am inspired to experiment with a handful of the most promising of those exercises.

  • I make it a point to take advantage of at least one workshop or seminar each school year. They replenish my arsenal of skills and motivators. It is even better if the sessions take place in summertime; that is the ideal time for me to attend workshops.

  • I work in close concert with four other teachers, which generates a continual current of new ideas.

  • In recent years, I've found several teacher listservs on the Web. They serve as valuable reservoirs of instructional approaches, lesson ideas, and inspiration.


Finally, to ensure that my legacy will not be that of an over-the-hill athlete in search of his youth, I remember Edith. During her career, Edith taught many grades, from primary through junior high. I was fortunate to teach with Edith during what might have been her "coasting" years. Edith, however, never coasted! Even in her last year of teaching, Edith still sought out best practices from workshops and collegial collaboration.

I observed Edith's last years in the classroom with admiration. She embodied the highest teaching standards and qualities right up to the end of her career. Watching Edith, I made a mental note to emulate her when the end of my career drew near.


I have always looked upon teaching as a good marriage. Just as a marriage doesn't romantically regenerate itself over time unless both parties work daily at learning about and adjusting to each other, neither does a teacher spontaneously grow in his or her profession. The more we put into our teaching every day, the more we will be rewarded through the years.

"I am still learning." --Michelangelo

A teacher for nearly three decades, Max Fischer currently teaches seventh graders the marvels of ancient history. A National Board certified teacher in the area of early adolescence social studies/history, Max has authored nine resource books for teachers in the fields of social studies, health, and math. You can read a previously published article about Fischer: Simulations Engage Students in Active Learning.

Article by Max W. Fischer
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