I recently wrote a new blog post for “The Standard” – the blog for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. I’ve provided an excerpt below. Finish reading at NBPTS if you’re interested in the rest!
Congratulations, or belated congratulations, on starting your new (still relatively new) career! While teaching could certainly be a more lucrative profession, it offers a variety of rewarding experiences you can’t find in any other work. The relationships we build with students, families, and communities can be powerful, even transformative. Knowing the work our fellow teachers are doing, we also have the opportunity to make contributions to our profession, and indirectly affect the learning and the lives of even more students.
If your teaching preparation was like mine, and like that of most teachers I know, you may have focused so much on students, classroom, and curriculum, that you have not yet given much thought to other ways to grow in your profession. So, here are seven recommendations for experiences you can seek out in order to enhance and extend your career.
1. Visit other classrooms and schools
I had assignments in graduate school that involved observing a fellow student teacher, and had supportive mentors during that year who encouraged me to observe more than necessary in the school where I was student teaching. During my first year as a teacher, I taught grades 6-8 at a private school and went to see one of the high schools my students often matriculated to. When I started at a public high school, the principal gave me two days to observe classes at other high schools in the district.
Eventually, I grew so invested in seeing other teachers and schools that I took a year off from my own teaching to write a book based on my visits to about 70 schools in 50 cities and towns. That’s obviously taking a good idea to an extreme level, and it’s impractical for most people, but hopefully every teacher can find a way to observe other teachers and schools. The benefit is not only in learning from the similarities and differences and generating new ideas, but also in the reflective conversations that follow.
2. Pursue National Board Certification
The value of reflection is difficult to overstate when it comes to learning- our students’ learning, and our own. Reflection is one of the hallmarks of the National Board Certification process, and I definitely recommend pursuing certification to every teacher eligible to do so. It’s a demanding process designed by teachers for teachers, and it helps teachers who are a few years or more into their careers to refine their understanding of the architecture of accomplished teaching. It’s also a rewarding process that benefits both teachers and students.
In addition to improving your own career, you’ll be helping advance the teaching profession. Other professions expect practitioners to demonstrate advanced skills and knowledge; if you need legal, financial, or medical advice, you’re most likely to seek it from a board-certified professional, and we need board-certified teachers to become the norm rather than the exception if we are going to take control of our profession. Physicians did the same thing once upon a time. We should do the same.
3. Participate in your union
For many years, I had a limited understanding of my union’s structure and function in the district and state. When teachers are new, they are often advised to “lay low” and stay away from union activity until they’re “tenured” (the common but somewhat mistaken term for teachers with “permanent status” and full due process job protections). I wonder if that sets many of us on a trajectory where inertia might just keep us from ever really engaging with our unions.
I’ve found in the past eight years or so that there are many different ways to engage with my union, some as simple as just participating in activities and giving feedback to my representatives. The next step for me was serving as a site representative, then a member-at-large for the executive board, a delegate to the NEA Representative Assembly, and a member of the negotiations team. There are almost always jobs or committees for willing volunteers, not always requiring a willingness to deal with the details of contracts and benefits. I sincerely believe stronger unions mean stronger schools, especially if we have more people involved who approach the work mindful of the full potential of unions to advance the interests of labor, professionalism, and social justice.
What are the remaining four experiences to seek out for a more satisfying teaching career? Read the rest of the post at NBPTS.org!