Teachers As Learners...
by Hal Portner
Teachers Have Two
Material for this article
is adapted, with permission from Corwin Press, from Portner, H. (1998,
2002). Mentoring new teachers. Thousand Oaks, CA.: Corwin Press, Inc.
and Portner, H. (2002) Being Mentored: A Protégés's Guide. Thousand
Oaks, CA.: Corwin Press, Inc.
To paraphrase the title of an article in a
1989 issue of Elementary School Journal,1 teachers
have two jobs: teaching, and learning to teach better. "What?" you
might ask. "Learn to teach better? I have already spent a lot of time
and energy -- not to mention money -- and earned lots of college
credits learning how to teach. Now you want me to learn to teach
Okay, okay, calm down. Yes, many of you are
adept at job one: teaching. Your college experience probably included
an in-depth study of a particular subject area and provided an
extensive repertoire of instructional theories and strategies. But as
you gained experience, you no doubt realized that a college degree
only takes you so far. It prepares you to become a beginner in a
complex world. Over time, as you become experienced, you acquire case
knowledge. You can go back into your memory banks, compare situations
and figure out what to do . . . you know from references stored in
your memory how to get from point A to point B.
Most of us realize, however, that years of
experience alone is not enough. Alas, although I have been a painter
for years, I am not a Rembrandt. Successful teaching is an art that
takes insight and knowledge, in addition to time, to develop. One
reason teachers find job two (learning to teach better) so frustrating
is that they are literally isolated -- or they isolate themselves --
behind classroom doors with little opportunity for feedback or help.
Another reason has to do with the nature of staff development programs
in many school districts, specifically those that rely on occasional
"professional development days" without much input or follow through
by either the district or by individual teachers.
How can you, the individual teacher, remove
the isolation and put much of your professional development within
your own control? This article is the first in a series about how to
do just that -- and in the process, learn to teach better. Each
month's article will offer suggestions and strategies that will help
you be proactive in directing your own professional growth. Focus will
be on seeking out and/or creating opportunities to get what it is you
have determined that you need in order to grow professionally. Also,
because teaching is a job demanding much time and energy, the
suggestions and strategies will be those that can be carried out at
your own pace.
First, however, a little soul searching.
Are you willing to take responsibility for your own professional
growth? Are you willing to put in the extra time and effort that
learning to teach better will take? Being willing means: (1) you
believe that you need to learn to teach better. When you are doing
something you believe in -- when what you are doing sits well within
your set of values and is relevant to your life -- you will do it
better; you will do it with passion; (2) you have confidence that you
can learn to teach better and that your efforts can make a difference
between success and failure in the classroom; and (3) you truly want
to be the best teacher you can be.
Finally, are you able to tackle job
two? Being able means you have the knowledge, skills and
understandings necessary to be a proactive learner. Being proactive
means you are not only willing but that you are also empowered.
That is the purpose of this column; to
empower you with skills, knowledge and understandings to help you
learn to teach better. Over the next several months, I will offer
specific ways that you can be proactive in your own professional
1Wildman, T., Niles, J., Magliaro, &
McLaughlin, R. (1989). "Teaching and learning to teach: The two roles
of beginning teachers." Elementary School Journal, 89,(4) 471-492.