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NYC Helpline: How To: Develop as a Professional

Professionals as Problem Solvers by
Theresa London Cooper

After twenty years of teaching, I believe what I have always believed – problem-solving is essential to being an effective and efficient professional. During my first year of teaching there were few mentors and a great deal of my learning took place through my initiative to solve the problems I encountered.

There are a number of ways to be a problem solver. It is important to identify the problem, brainstorm solutions, choose an intervention, and try it. I use several strategies that work for me.

  1. Ask three before me. Before I asked my administrator for help, I asked three other people or tried three other strategies. I made a mental note of those strategies that were successful and shared them with other colleagues.

  2. Listen carefully. As a new teacher, I did a great deal of listening. I still do. I listened to experienced paraprofessionals, veteran teachers, speakers in seminars and most importantly, to my students. Listening to their needs helped me understand how to teach them.

  3. Ask questions. It is almost like being a detective. Asking the right questions helped me get the information I needed. Being specific about your problem helps you focus your questions.

  4. Research. I spend many hours surfing the Internet to gather information I need. I have created my own reference materials by gathering information from the Internet. Teachersnetwork.org has a wealth of information. Visit the For New Teachers page or try using the Google powered search.

  5. Connect with a seasoned colleague. Throughout my career, I sought out veteran teachers who were willing to share some of their pearls of wisdom. Some of these teachers were in my building, some I met at a seminar, and some I met while standing on line at the bank. Take time to engage others in conversation. You never know who is standing next to you. Professional conversations often yield a great exchange of ideas.

  6. Attend seminars. From my first year of teaching to this day, I have always spent time gathering information to build my content knowledge. But that is not enough. You must also findways to implement the ideas. Application is an important part of the problem-solving experience.

    The UFT Teacher Center is currently sponsoring The Urban Educators Forum for several Saturday meeting from 9AM – 1PM. I attended last year. The speakers were provocative and I learned a great deal regarding critical issues to our profession. Call 212 475-3737 to get more information.

  7. Read. Although I did not always have time to read the New York Teacher from cover to cover, I established a routine of browsing through the paper. I found many of the articles helpful and the advertisements made me aware of workshops that, after attending them, would invariably answer many of my questions. I have always read the notices posted over the time clock and on the UFT bulletin board. I have received free materials for my class and joined several organizations that have helped me hone my skills.

These strategies amount to one thing, being open, to you colleagues, to the people around you, to everyday research tools, and to your surroundings in general.

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


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