“To err is human” but to reflect is divine. Teachers are human. We get frustrated, lose our tempers, make bad judgment calls and sometimes wish for a do-over button. Unfortunately, there isn't a magical reset button—or is there?
Being an effective, successful teacher does not mean you never make mistakes. It just means we need to learn from them.
We must reflect on our teaching and vigilantly question our motives and practices. Then we can improve and become effective teachers for our students.
How does one become a self-reflective teacher?
First, you simply make a conscious effort to do so. You must review your actions, question your methods and decide where and how to improve. Effective teachers must also be students—always learning.
Secondly, find mentors who will support you. They can give you an outsiders' viewpoint as you reflect and hold you accountable for your actions. Also, mentors can offer great advice and encouragement. As teachers, our words and actions can reverberate for a lifetime. The importance of our jobs and our training cannot be taken lightly. Besides participating in professional development and reading teacher resources like Teaching Tolerance's magazine and blog, mentors are some of the best way to keep training.
Thirdly, challenge yourself. Hidden bias lurks in the darkest corners of our sub-conscious. For this reason, we must become aware of our hidden biases, prejudices and stereotypical thinking. With new awareness, we become better teachers. It can be eye-opening. If we are open-minded to the idea that we may hold prejudices deep inside, it will be effective. This willingness to admit to one's weaknesses is key to becoming a reflective teacher and ultimately, an effective teacher.
To be honest, self-introspection isn't easy. When I look back on my eight years of teaching, my classroom was a place of learning as much for me as my students.
I remember my first meeting with Vance, a seventh-grader, at open house. He burst into the room, snatched his schedule from my hands and was out as quickly as he had come in. No “hello” or “thank you.” He never made eye contact. He looked annoyed. I thought he was going to give me trouble throughout the year. I shouldn't have let my first impression prejudice me. He turned out to be smart, eager, passionate, a dedicated karate student wanting to excel. I sometimes think what if I had kept him in that box labeled “Rude, Troubled Student.”
Since then, I still have to constantly examine myself and slough off erroneous thinking, so I can see my students for who they truly are. They are just like me—learning and growing.
Thomas Carlyle said it best: “The greatest of all faults, I should say, is to become conscious of none.” If we get to the point in which we think we have nothing else to learn, that we have perfected our craft, then we have utterly failed at becoming effective teachers. Whether a fledging veteran or somewhere in between, an effective teacher does not have all the answers. Rather, an effective educator constantly seeks better solutions and continuously examines ways to improve—over and over again, throughout one's career, throughout one's lifetime.
Sansbury is a middle and high school English teacher in Georgia.