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NYC Helpline: How To: Develop as a Professional

The Power of Passionate Professionals
Theresa London Cooper

To be a passionate teacher is to be someone in love with a field of knowledge, deeply stirred by issues and ideas that challenge our world, drawn to the dilemmas and potentials of the young people who come into class each day --- or captivated by all of them… I believe that we all have it within ourselves to be passionate teachers, and that nothing else will quite do the trick.

Robert L. Fried

The majority of teachers I know enter our profession with the “passion” Fried describes. As time transpires and we are confronted with all of the challenges presented to us by a complex public school system, we often wonder how we can maintain our passion. Through various professional experiences logged during my nineteen years of teaching, a great deal of reading, and provocative discourse with my colleagues and other allies, I decided to practice five behaviors. Perhaps some of them will work for you.

1. KEEP A POSITIVE MINDSET
Maintain a mindset that drives you to search for greater knowledge as you build a repertoire of effective practices in spite of perceived obstacles. It is important to see yourself as a lifelong learner living in a particular way – always searching for ways to hone your craft and acquire more knowledge to grow in our practice. It is your mindset that will determine your actions.

2. FOCUS ON THE STUDENTS
Focus on your students whether they are children or adults to ensure that they are actively engaged in their learning as you are actively engaged in your teaching. Maintain a conversation with them to tap into their thinking about learning and other issues that affect learning. Read their body language to help determine whether or not you are reaching them and meeting their needs.

3. MAINTAIN A VOICE
Establish and maintain a voice in your teaching practice, which allows you to be heard. Forge relationships with others who set policies enabling you to teach for learning and student achievement.

4. ENERGIZE YOURSELF
In his book entitled “The Energy to Teach” (2004), Donald Graves describes practices that give teachers energy and those that do not. After all, it is the lack of energy that often robs us of our passion.

As passionate educators we have an opportunity to influence our students and transmit a love for learning that has the potential to cultivate our next surgeon, judge, architect or educator. We cannot afford to go along with business as usual. Tomorrow’s future is at stake and everyone counts. Will we invest now or pay later?

5. SEEK OUT OTHER PASSIONATE EDUCATORS
As the adage goes, “birds of a feather flock together.” I have discovered that regular contact through study groups, a night out, forums and conferences with other passionate colleagues fuel my desire to be a passionate educator. We share success stories and experiences that have helped us realize how important it is to educate our children and the impact their lives will have on society. We provide encouragement and solutions to each other. (Intractor, S M. & Scribner, M. Teaching with Fire: Poetry that sustains the courage to teach, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, (2003)..)

Finally, I would like to mention the Courage to Teach Program, which is a seasonal program of quarterly retreats for the personal and professional renewal of public school educators (Intrator & Scribner, 2003). To learn more about the program go to http://teacherformation.org. Passionate educators change the lives of their students. What will you do to maintain your passion?

Do you have a comment or question about this article? E-mail Theresa.

 

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