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Becoming a Master Teacher
April 25, 2013 | Volume 8 | Issue 15
Table of Contents
Facts and Fallacies About Master Teachers
Scott D. Farver
As new teachers enter their classrooms each year, many look desperately for a quick fix to help them achieve teaching mastery. They often come to me looking for the answers that will quickly transform them into a master teacher. I believe two fallacies exist for these teachers.
The first is that there is a magic "silver bullet"—one strategy, concept, or notion is the end-all answer. Instead, new teachers need to learn that master teachers incorporate a "silver shotgun shell" mentality when addressing concerns in their classrooms—a strategy with many different ideas converging to address such problem areas as classroom management or instruction. Management is something that nearly every new teacher struggles with, and it is not solved by having a wonderful attention-getting technique or finding that perfect seating chart. Good classroom management consists of a plethora of approaches that work together. This includes creating a positive and respectful teacher-student relationship and incorporating interesting and relevant activities in a lesson.
The second fallacy is thinking that mastery is some sort of tangible goal that educators "reach" after achieving certain milestones. It is frustrating for a new teacher to hear, but becoming a master teacher takes a lot of time, hard work, and active reflection. I believe the definition of a master teacher is someone who constantly strives to improve one's practice. Sitting back and declaring oneself a master teacher with no room for further growth would be the antithesis of a master teacher. With this in mind, I believe true master teachers, even though they excel in theory and practice, continue their journey toward mastery as if it were a mirage.
These fallacies can be roadblocks. But once new teachers understand there are no simple fixes and that mastery is an ever-evolving process, mentors and school leadership can help them as they begin their journey. Here are three things that will assist new teachers on this never-ending journey.
1. A Strong Philosophy of Education
Since all teachers have different backgrounds and experiences and unique personalities and beliefs, it is vital that all teachers know what they really believe to be true about education. What is school for? How do they see their role in students' lives? What educational theorists do they align with?
Without a strong philosophical base, new teachers often latch on to any new idea thrown at them without first examining how it fits with their overarching professional and personal beliefs. Having a strong philosophical foundation to build day-to-day practices will help new teachers grow personally and professionally. School leaders should help push new teachers to develop and define their beliefs.
2. Exposure to Master Teachers
Reading or talking about best practices, theories, or strategies is great for any teacher to grow, but seeing these ideas in action is even more effective. Allowing new teachers time to watch master teachers as they work paints a crisp picture to go along with the abstract ideas that constantly inundate new teachers. In merely going about their days, master teachers can demonstrate effective group work, positive and respectful teacher-student interactions, and myriad procedures that new teachers may not even be aware are lacking in their own practice.
Perhaps what is most important in this activity is carving out time after the lesson to allow for a debriefing. This allows new teachers to dig deeper into master teachers' own philosophies and figure out why they did certain things or where they got certain materials. These types of discussions with master teachers will help new teachers develop their own personal philosophies, and observing master teachers in action will help give them concrete ideas to try in their own classroom.
3. The Chance to Be Heard
Many new teachers enter their classrooms full of energy, excitement, and passion. So it is distressing that the national trend leans toward initially enthusiastic new educators leaving the profession within five years. I believe one way to change this trend is to ensure that new teachers have a legitimate voice in what happens in their school.
New teachers are so busy with the day-to-day challenges (lesson planning, classroom management, grading papers, etc.) that it is often logistically difficult for them to offer their own ideas. School leaders should make sure to offer time and space for new teachers to add to discussions about school regulations, policies, and events or to solicit new ideas these new teachers might want to pursue. Even if some of the ideas might seem farfetched or unachievable, I would ask administrators to hear what new teachers have to say; sometimes just having a forum where new teachers can be heard helps them feel respected and valued. Other times, really good things can happen that can help transform a school. Let's hope that when new teachers feel they have a legitimate voice in their school, they will be more invested and stay in the profession longer.
There is no single, all-encompassing, quantifiable formula that everyone can follow to become a master teacher. Rather, there are many aspects that need to be examined before teachers can begin to approach the idea of mastery. Though this is not a comprehensive list of what to do, helping teachers build their personal philosophy, exposing them to master teachers, and listening to them will help new teachers develop and begin to approach mastery in this magnificent profession.
Scott D. Farver is a visiting assistant professor in the elementary and secondary M.A.T. program and program director of field experience at Western New Mexico University-Gallup.
ASCD Express, Vol. 8, No. 15. Copyright 2013 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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