Find Your Educational Niche

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Education is not a competitive sport! Educators should not look at others for comparison’s sake. 

 

Education is a collaborative practice. Educators look to others for ideas and inspiration.   

 

A Cautionary Tale: 

 

My first year of teaching felt like a competition. My principal’s observations noted comparisons to other teachers. I was asked to observe others and “be more like” a few veteran teachers. Pressures forced my teaching style not to be genuine, I was attempting to mimic teachers who were viewed as highly effective. Every lesson attempted to use a best practice listed in the school improvement plan. I desired to be the best, thinking it meant being better than others. I was competing with my colleagues as if I was attempting to make a sports team. 

 

My mindset was a product of my education and the leadership in the school. In school, I always competed with my peers academically. I rushed to be the first done, have the best grade and get into the best college. In college this remained, competing to achieve. I compared teaching to sports; there is a best way to run a play. There must be a best way to teach. My first principal made me feel inferior to others. Constantly pushing me away from my natural teaching instincts towards being the same as the more seasoned teachers in the building. Test scores and a variety of teaching methods consumed my quest to be the teacher others followed. 

 

The harder I tried, the more I struggled. Trying to be just like other teachers, focusing on outcomes was not making my classroom better. Each day was more frustrating than the last. Why didn’t my students behave the way the other classes did when I observed? Best practices filled my day but learning was still a struggle. I had fallen victim to the super-teacher myth. Best practices and copying successful teachers had ruined my first year teaching. I tried too much. I lost focus. 

 

Fresh Start: 

 

Lucky for me the summer gave a break, switch to a new building, a fresh start. Walking in for the first teacher day, I received the best advice: “Don’t copy the other science teacher, do it your way!” I slowly changed my focus to my students. Finding practices that fit their needs, not just deemed best by school improvement specialists. My principal encouraged purposeful teaching methods. Teaming was a focus in this new position. We discussed our lessons and helped each other hone our craft. I stopped comparing myself to the teachers around me and focused on making myself better each day.

 

As the years have passed, I observe other teachers to find practices that might blend well with my style of teaching. No longer looking to copy, but seeing if I can add to my tool box as a teacher. As a science teacher, I focus on creating students that question WHY things happen in the world around them. Engaging them in the process of understanding processes that cause changes in their lives. I use formative assessment practices to monitor my students learning. No longer looking at summative assessment results for validation of my teaching. My students let me know daily how successful I have been. 

 

Moving Forward: 

 

From Project Based Learning to Service Learning from Flipped Classroom to Gamification, there are too many practices and teaching styles in education for any teacher to keep up. Teachers need to find their niche, focus on students, and be genuine. Observing other teachers to gain ideas is very helpful. Just be careful to not compare your teaching to others. Many new teachers get caught up in comparing themselves to veterans. This practice can lead to devastating results. 

 

After over fifteen years of teaching and hundreds of classroom observations, I have learned, no two teachers are identical. Each develops their own style. What works for one, won’t for all. Education has many paths for success. Our students learn in many different ways. This diversity in the classroom is a necessity for ALL to succeed. Find your niche as a teacher, then get better every day!

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