If You Aren’t Trying to Improve, You Really Aren’t Doing Your Job

29 Dec

A brief thought on the cusp of a new year:

Our job as educators is to actively work at getting better. If you are a classroom teacher, like me, and your job is to cause learning, but you aren’t actively searching for ways to better cause that learning, then you aren’t really doing your job. If you are an administrator and your job is to help support teachers cause learning, but you aren’t actively searching for ways to help those teachers, then you aren’t really doing your job.

After a decade in the profession, I feel like there are really just two types of teachers: One wants to learn. The other believes she knows all she needs to know. One is generally optimistic about learning. The other is generally cynical. One never finds enough time in the day to accomplish all he wants to, but he still finds the time to meet with a concerned parent, write that college recommendation letter, chat with a teary student about her grade, and sit down with a colleague to discuss the best way to assess an upcoming project. The other just doesn’t have the time. One asks for feedback from students, parents, and colleagues. The other shuts his door and eschews it.  One welcomes working in teams to design and assess student assessments so that they are as fair and well-rounded as can be. The other designs alone, needing to have the sole input. One tries a new task or approach in class, reassesses, and tries again. The other is forced to try a new approach in class and then goes back to her tried and true way of doing things. One gives feedback many times, in multiple ways, with both low and high stakes. The other gives a grade. One aims to cause learning. The other is trying to cover all the content by June.

Yes, it takes an incredible amount of time, energy, and effort to be the first kind of teacher — it’s true. But that’s your job. Really. And I truly believe that if you aren’t actively working to be better at it — questioning your methods, challenging yourself, seeking feedback — then you simply aren’t doing your job. You’re just a body in a chair but not really an educator, not really someone whose job it is to cause learning.

Every teacher and administrator should take the opportunity of the New Year to make a resolution that he will use every work day as an opportunity to grow and be better at his job; that she will actively seek multiple forms of feedback on how she’s doing that job; and that he will cast off the fear of change and honest feedback and embrace the rocky road of self-improvement. This is what it means to be a professional educator.

May 2013 bring wonderful things to you and education the world over.

7 Responses to “If You Aren’t Trying to Improve, You Really Aren’t Doing Your Job”

  1. Chris Smeaton December 29, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    What a great and honest perspective! In the end it has to be all about causing learning and quite frankly we can’t do it like we’ve always done it. Educational change will always begin with the attutude and work of the teacher in the classroom.

    • alexisswiggins December 31, 2012 at 9:14 am #

      It’s true, Chris. I feel like this message needs to get out there more — as a truly positive one for us teachers to embrace. It’s easy to be defeatist at times in this profession, but we sometimes miss the forest for the trees.

  2. Jennie Snyder December 29, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. The dichotomy you pose reminds me of what Eric Hoffer said: “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”

    We are certainly living in a time of drastic change, and you have challenged us to do, we need to continue to learn and grow.

    • alexisswiggins December 30, 2012 at 1:02 am #

      Great quote — I agree it’s true and will try to remember that one myself when I’m struggling with something new.

  3. Lisa December 29, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

    Great article, one every teacher should read!


  1. Be Better « Models By Design - December 31, 2012

    […] my last post I suggested that you should always try to improve your craft as a teacher or administrator. I do […]

  2. some articles of note. « Teach2Connect - January 2, 2013

    […] Alexis Wiggins: If you aren’t trying to improve, you aren’t really doing your job. […]

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