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NYC Helpline: How To: Develop as a Professional

Read! Read! Read! A Professional Imperative for Effective Teachers
Theresa London Cooper

Recommended Book of the Month:
Yardsticks Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14: A Resource for Parents and Teachers  by  Chip Wood

"Read the literature. Subscribe to at least one professional journal. This is the easiest way to know how, who, and what is happening in education." 
Harry Wong

Reading is one of the most powerful strategies teachers can employ to build a repertoire of ideas that will energize a classroom. As teachers, we know this, but I think we grapple with two major challenges: selecting the materials that will best meet our needs and finding the time to begin and maintain a professional reading life. I will share with you a few routines that have worked for me. I invite you to try them and let me know what works for you.

You may ask the same questions I asked when I began teaching, " When one cannot read everything, how does one decide what to read?" "And, how does one find the time?" Over the years, I have learned the importance of balancing what I read to support my work in the profession. I read the bulletin board above the time clock at work to find out about courses, trips, free materials and conferences. I read newspapers to find out about free materials and workshops. Teacher magazines provide ideas, reproducibles, and strategies that I use immediately or with little preparation. Professional journals and books focus on the research and theory that support effective practice.

Let us begin with our work environment.

Teacher #1: " How did you find out about those free materials?"
Teacher #2: "The flyer was posted on the bulletin board next to the time clock."
Teacher #1: "Oh, I never have time to read that bulletin board."
Teacher #2: "Gee, that's too bad."

Does this conversation sound familiar to you? Principals often post worthwhile information over the time clock and/ or on a bulletin board near it. I incorporated what I call my "five-minute reading routine" as part of my daily schedule. I take five minutes just before line-up, lunch, or a preparation period and five minutes at the end of the day to read what is posted. Sometimes, opportunities occur on a first-come, first-serve basis. Usually, there is an impending deadline. Just by implementing this routine, I have gathered the following information:

  • Trips and transportation for classes

  • Workshops providing free materials

  • Conferences featuring well-known authors

  • Substantial savings on children's literature

  • Networking opportunities

Next, think about the materials that are mailed to you because you are union members. We have three newspapers at our fingertips: New York Teacher, American Teacher, and American Educator. If I don't have time to read the entire paper, I spend five minutes skimming the table of contents and noting anything that piques my interest and will provide me with new ideas to try with students or teachers. At a later time, I will peruse the articles. In five minutes, I found a website (http://intel.com/education/math/) that features an online course with various algebra teaching techniques (on the back page of American Teacher, September issue) and a website for resource materials to celebrate Hispanic Heritage month (see page 23 in the September issue of American Teacher).
After thumbing through the New York Teacher for five minutes, I spotted information on grants for teachers and information on free books (see page 10, October 8, 2003). Lastly, the spring 2003 issue of American Educator focused on strategies that build support for struggling readers. I think it is a "must read" for every teacher in grades pre-kindergarten through twelve (http://aft.org/american_educator/spring2003/index.html).

A few years ago, while browsing through a magazine entitled, Learning, I found a coupon for a free science program for grades K-4. It included a video and hands-on activities for the students. The Mailbox is another magazine that offers creative teaching ideas and reproducibles across the curriculum from pre-kindergarten to grade six.

I apply the same reading routine to professional journals that pertain to my expertise. It is important as professionals to know what the research says about effective teaching practice. As professionals, our practice should inform research and research should inform our practice. Our classrooms can become places where action research occurs to confirm and extend the findings or provide another perspective to the findings.

We must know that what we do is developmentally appropriate, research-based, and inviting to our students. To that end, I recommend Chip Wood's book Yardsticks Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14: A Resource for Parents and Teachers. Students' physical, social, language, and cognitive needs play a critical role in creating the dynamic learning environment. Woods provides helpful guidelines.

Now let us think about how we can find time to read in spite of our hectic schedules. When do you find yourself waiting for something? Reading is a proactive strategy that will fill the time and focus your attention on something beneficial. I always carry a book with me just in case I have some unexpected time to wait. I read when I am waiting in the doctor's office, standing in a grocery line or bank and riding on the train or bus.

However, I have also made a commitment of a minimum of one hour a week to read a professional journal, newspaper, or magazine article for the purpose of collecting strategies and information to enhance my knowledge and build my repertoire of skills. Additionally, I take at least fifteen minutes to search the Internet. I may not have a particular site in mind, but I type in my topic of interest and decide to visit one or two of the sites that appear. If I find useful information, I will record the name of the site for future visits.

Time or the lack thereof is always a factor in the lives of teachers regardless of where we find ourselves on the continuum of experience- new, intermediate, or seasoned. Nonetheless, reading is a professional imperative for effective teachers who want to create a learning-centered environment that motivates and engages students. Throughout my teaching career, my colleagues have often asked me," Where did you get those free materials? How did you find out about that seminar? How did you think of that idea?" I have often responded, "I read about it." If you don't have a professional reading life, take a few minutes to decide how you will begin. Start with a practical and simple routine similar to one I described. See where it takes you and your students.

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


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