Dear Future Teachers
Advice for the Next Generation of Educators
At this point in my career, I’m working as a consultant and my sphere of influence is not in the classroom. I still consider myself an educator, albeit a non-traditional one. I feel my role right now is to inspire, empower, and cheerlead for educators and the field of education.
Today I have the privilege of meeting with students at my alma mater, Beloit College. As part of outreach efforts of the College’s Alumni Association Board, this inaugural “Board in the Classroom” program has board members visiting classes, sharing a bit about their work, and letting students know about the Board and how it can support them, particularly in light of Beloit’s career channels program.
I am assigned a class in the Department of Education and Youth Studies. The professor has reached out with information about the course and topics that the class would be interested in, “ The goal of our course is to understand how students learn, how trauma impacts learning, and how we can move towards radical healing in learning spaces to increase academic achievement. We hope to talk with you about your engagement in healing-centered practices in the classroom (rather than disciplinary practices).” While trauma-informed practices are not my specialty, I am interested in this critical topic.
The first thing that came to mind, given the class’s focus on trauma, is the documentary Resilience. I read about this film years ago, and the headline struck me: How childhood stress can knock 20 years off your life. I had the opportunity to see the film, and it resonated with me as I’ve personally wrestled with childhood trauma. Before viewing the documentary, I didn’t fully understand the topic of trauma and its potential impact on one’s physical and mental health. The bottom line is that unless trauma is addressed in a person’s life, it can make learning very difficult. I plan to chat with the students about this film and how to design classroom experiences that facilitate relationship-building and are not based on fear and intimidation.
In that context, I plan to share a bit about my journey as an educator and the lessons I learned. Here are a few points I hope to convey to these future teachers.
- Our profession needs you. Specifically, we need energetic, caring, hopeful individuals committed to working with young people. Consider teaching as a form of public service. There is also nothing more satisfying professionally than seeing students thrive and watching them grow up. It’s even more thrilling if you have the opportunity to meet your students as adults.
- Working in the field of education does not mean you need to be in the classroom for the entirety of your career. Classroom teaching is hard work. At some point, perhaps your experience can be better utilized as an administrator or in other specialized roles. Another route is entrepreneurship in education. Maybe at some point, you’ll want to design a product, create a service, or lead an education-related organization.
- Plan accordingly and specialize in areas of education for which you are passionate. At some point in your early career, you will feel confident enough in your basic teaching skills and may want to explore other areas. For me, it’s been global education, educational technology, and innovation in education with a dash of policy. Developing such interests and expertise will allow you to choose your career path.
- Do not allow yourself to become isolated in your profession. Join professional associations, attend professional development events, and connect to other educators via social media. You will learn a lot and get just-in-time support as a result.
- Select your future workplaces carefully. Find schools aligned with your values and beliefs about how children best learn. Then, when interviewing, look for concrete evidence in the school that it is a healthy environment for adults and students. Make sure your schools are a good fit for you.
- Consider working in various settings. Independent schools often provide great resources and opportunities for both students and faculty. Often perceived as elite, many of these schools are working very hard to become anti-racist. Another type of school to consider is international schools which can offer you the opportunity to see the world.
- Think about teacher residency programs and other ways to serve as apprentice teachers. At the ASCD conference last spring, I heard the superintendent of Evanston, IL schools and his team discuss their two-year program to prepare teachers for working in their district. This type of program seems to be a trend. Also, many independent schools (and some public) offer teacher assistant positions which is a terrific way to learn from veteran teachers.
- Look for opportunities to become a teacher leader. Find schools where there is a distributed leadership model. Also, consider ways to give back to the education community through service and support your colleagues. Practice professional generosity because we are all in this together, and it leads to serendipitous professional opportunities.
- Go to graduate school fairly early in your career. It’s difficult to go back to school when you have a family, so do this work ahead of that intense portion of your life.
- Design learning experiences for your students. Keep experiential learning at the core of what you do. Always think about how to bring the learning home for your students and take into account what interests them. If possible, work in an institution that empowers you to design curriculua.
- Never stop learning. Model life-long joyful learning for your students by remaining curious and playful. In addition to taking advantage of professional development offered by your school, look to outside sources. For example, there are teacher affinity groups hosted by a myriad of companies and organizations. Teachers have also come together for Twitter chats and EdCamps. I also highly recommend visting other schools whenever you can; “learning voyages,” as my friend don buckley calls them, are powerful learning experiences.
More ideas will occur to me today as I reflect upon my own professional journey, and I’ll update this list at some point. I just wanted to get a few ideas down before my class meeting today.
Veteran educators out there, what advice would YOU give new teachers? New teachers, does anything resonate with you here? Add your thoughts in the comments.