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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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Play the Game

"To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence: supreme excellence consists in breaking an enemys 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 dont 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.

Its 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 Ive 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.


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 didnt attend faculty meetings because the teacher union handbook stated that technically the administration couldnt 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 dont take these small steps.


Find a way to work your passions and interests into the school day. It 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 foan 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 livepolice 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.


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 their 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.


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 wont have the time or energy to join every school-wide program so you will have to pick and choose between those that you think are most effective. But its 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 that you come into contact with.

Remember~ you want to learn to swim with the tide while not drowning in the sea of education. Following the above steps have help me work within the system while staying true to myself. Please join me today atthe Innovative Teaching Group athttp://community.educationworld.comcontent/play-game-0and share your thoughts about working within the system.

Thank you~