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20 Year Reflection: What I Have Learned


This is a guest post by Kathryn Laster, who teaches math in a suburb of Dallas, TX. She writes:

This year was my 20th year of teaching, so my humble opinions qualify as part B of your “call for guest bloggers.” I really started working on my formal philosophy as a grad school assignment, and I have been slowly tweaking it for several years. Since this was a milestone year for me, I thought it would be appropriate to really re-think and re-visit my philosophy, and your call for guests inspired me to do so. My brief resume: this year, I taught ESL algebra 1, pre-calculus, and AP calculus AB, and this is also my 10th year to sponsor StuCo. At school, I am our campus staff development leader, mentor new teachers, participate in our school leadership team, and work on the AVID site team. I must confess that I have never before contributed to a blog (but I am a regular reader of lots of blogs!) and I just last week joined facebook and Twitter. (I’ve always been so worried about the whole student/teacher line…)

I’m glad she contributed and proud of her for stepping out of her comfort zone! I’m sure you will get much out of her wisdom as I know I sure did!

My views of education are constantly evolving, so I have learned that teaching is actually all about lifelong learning. H. Jackson Brown’s book Live and Learn and Pass It On has inspired meaningful discussions in my Student Council Leadership class; we have presented essays on some of the things we have learned and wanted to pass on to others. Therefore, I felt it was very appropriate to use the format in Mr. Brown’s book to reflect on my years as an educator and to offer a few words of wisdom to those new to education.

Students learn best in positive surroundings
Make your classroom one of your favorite places. I want students to walk into my classroom and feel a nurturing, comfortable, and encouraging learning environment. Posters highlighting kindness respect, character, and citizenship cover my walls. My shelves are decorated with photographs of current and former students, and my windows are covered with college pennants, donated by past students. How do you encourage your students? How do you make them feel comfortable in your classroom?

It’s important to “keep it real”
Not all of your students will love your class and/or subject, so I have learned I have to make some connections with the students on a level that may not necessarily require your content area (math, in my case). For that reason, I like to attend school sporting events, fine arts programs, or sponsor club activities. I enjoy running into students who are working when I’m grocery shopping or eating out. I want students to know that I’m interested in their hobbies or extra-curricular activities. When students are struggling in math, I want to see them experience successes outside of the classroom. Seek out students at their jobs, performances, and even in the halls to make those connections!

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It’s important for a teacher to occasionally sit in a student’s chair
Several years ago, I returned to school for a master’s program. Attending classes on the weekends and in the summers, taking tests (and having test anxiety!) writing papers, studying vs. spending time with friends—all reminded me of some challenges my students face. I love being a “life-long-learner,” and each time I am student again, I know I am a much better teacher. Keep learning, either online, or during school or district professional development, or state/national conferences, or graduate school.

You must know your subject
Be prepared to answer difficult questions! If a student does not understand a particular topic or question or objective, I want to be able to find another way of explaining something to him/her until I see that “light bulb” appear, until I see that wonderful expression of comprehension, or until I hear him exclaim, “Oh, now I get it!” I hope that my students are inspired to ask the types of questions as “Why does that work? Why does x0 = 1?” or “Why is a negative times a negative a positive?” (And this is another reason why it’s important to keep learning!)

It’s also not always just about the math
I hope to be a role model to my students and exemplify only the best character traits. I expect my students to follow the “Golden Rule” in our classroom and treat all others—adults and peers—as they wish to be treated. Furthermore, I have high expectations in my classroom, and I often must teach students to take pride in all that they do. I hope this attitude transfers to other classes, outside work, and in their future. Students learn about responsibility, a good work ethic, and respect for themselves when they take such pride in their work. Kindness, caring, and respect rule in my classroom! What else are you teaching in your classroom? What kind of role model are you?

Teachers need to take care of each other
Teaching is a difficult job, so it is crucial to help others whenever you can, whether it is helping someone with his/her computer, teaming with other teachers to create lesson plans, or just listening when someone needs an ear. As a new teacher, it’s also important to ask for help! There are people in your school who are willing to mentor you, either formally or informally. Seek out those who can help you with your classroom, content, or other struggles.

I must do whatever it takes to ensure that students have a successful, positive year
As Benjamin Disraeli wrote, “The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” I teach to share my knowledge of mathematics, to instill a love for learning in my students, and to model kindness and caring in my classroom. I also want my students to experience successes, to encounter those “Ah-ha!” moments, to feel confident enough to question, and to discover their strengths and gifts. When I teach, I hope I help “reveal riches” in each and every one of my students. What do you want students to experience in your classroom?

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2 thoughts on “20 Year Reflection: What I Have Learned

  1. Great encouragement for me, Kathryn–especially after a trying year! I totally agree with you. I hope you don't mind if I use your quotes in my room. What a great exercise for all teachers to complete every few years.

  2. Your words of wisdom are excellent. Thanks for sharing your thoughts so that others can profit from them and your valuable experiences.

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