I have been visiting and supporting a number of new art teachers at the start of this school year. This work always seems to shine a light on what is most important. Here’s my most recent conclusion…
There are six things you need to be a successful teacher. These are not the ya-have-em or ya-don’t-have-em sorts of things. These are understandings, abilities, and characteristics of teachers, all of which can be developed and refined. No one starts teaching with even most of these areas well-developed, and some of us who have been teaching a long while may still need to work on one or more of them. (This is what they mean by a lifelong learner, right?) As you read on, think about what areas you have developed well, and which could use some work.
Let me start with a set of three that are a little more concrete than the next: Content Knowledge, Pedagogy, and Classroom Management. Perhaps because they are more concrete, these three are often addressed to a fair degree in teacher preparation programs.
Content Knowledge is knowing your subject. In the art world, content knowledge and skills are infinite and ever changing. Few of us are truly proficient in a full range of media, and even those who graduate with advanced studies in Art History can very quickly become out of touch with trends in contemporary art. New teachers are often faced with a harsh reality when they realize they are expected to teach content and processes that they, themselves, don’t yet know.
Pedagogy is about having a tool kit of strategies for HOW to teach content, and knowing which of these are highly effective methods. I consider pedagogy to include a full cycle of planning, teaching, and assessing practices, as well as an ongoing reflective practice which includes the teacher as researcher. Like content knowledge, pedagogy is a constantly changing field with a regular influx of new studies. Teachers should take every advantage of professional development opportunities to continue learning about best practices in teaching. New teachers often have a few tools, and must work to develop and refine their practices through experience and continuous learning.
Classroom Management is frequently a barrier to being able to even consider content knowledge and pedagogy, and despite the best efforts of our friends in higher-education, there will always be a need for more practice and more experience managing student behavior. As much as I would like to meet with new teachers and talk about the content and pedagogy in their classroom, there is often an urgent need to develop classroom management skills first. Only after some semblance of order and routine is established do I start to focus attention on what is being taught and how.
The next three are a bit more abstract and a bit “deeper,” if you will. To be a successful teacher Passion, Philosophy, and Mindset are every bit as necessary as the concrete classroom skills we have already discussed.
Passion can come in a variety of forms, but without it, you won’t last long as a teacher. Some are deeply passionate about their subject area (common in art), others for children, or for teaching itself. No matter what passion brought you to teaching, one is a must. You must love children. I give props to Dr. Brabrand, our superintendent, for reminding us all of this regularly. New teachers rarely lack passion, but we need to support them in other areas so this passion does not suffer.
By Philosophy, I mean to suggest that a successful teacher must have a philosophy of teaching. An idea of what is truly important to them in the classroom, what they really want their students to learn, and how these ideas come together to form instruction that aligns with that philosophy. Many teacher preparation programs address philosophy or at least encourage their graduates to write one. Many schools and divisions promote a philosophy of their own. It’s not important where the philosophy came from. What’s important is that the teacher knows what it is.
Mindset refers, here, to the teacher’s mindset about teaching and learning. How can a teacher possibly be successful if he does not believe that his students can learn? How can a teacher possibly be successful if she does not believe that her actions are what makes that happen? A teacher must believe BOTH that ALL students are able to learn, and that the teacher’s planning and implementation are what allow the learning to happen. That’s how this works.
There you have it folks. My take on what it takes to be successful, after spending time with a number teachers helping each make progress in one area or another.
Which do you need to work on?