Teacher change matters. But the idea of change is much more popular than actual working on changing. It’s actually really easy to not change.
You really want to change something, but then life happens and you get too busy with other things.
You read something that makes you think you should change something, but then you see others who do the same thing you had been doing before – or worse – in your opinion. So working on change becomes less of a priority.
You start changing, but it’s hard. So you quit.
And so on …
Does that really matter? Yes, it does! If you, as a teacher, can change yourself, then maybe, you can also make the world a better place. Let’s look at 3 examples.
Teachers suffer from burn-out so often that it has been called ‘an international epidemic’1. The reasons for that are manifold, many originating in the environment, not the teacher. To name a few: things like too much to do in too little time, lack of support from the community and administration, lack of resources and difficult student behavior can all play a role1. Lots of teachers leave the profession every year1,2. Some argue that “[i]n challenging schools, teachers’ job requirements and the intensity required to meet them are not realistic to sustain for more than two to three years (Riggs, 2013)”2. Teacher stress and burn-out can in turn impact the students – and even have wider impacts e.g. on the economy2.
When there are already so many other demands, it’s hard to take time to eat healthy, exercise and decompress – to take care of yourself. However, taking care of yourself can not just be beneficial for your own health, happiness and life-expectancy, but also for your students and society as a whole.
Becoming a more effective teacher
There is a lot of research on effective education, and it can seem overwhelming to have to put that all into practice, especially since research often isn’t easily accessible to teachers. For instance, Hattie’s list contains 192 factors with an effect size of 0.2 or higher, although not all of them can be influenced by the teacher3. And that’s just Hattie! In addition, there is also subject specific research, and so on. Yet, differences in effectiveness of a teacher can make a considerable difference in student performance, and ultimately, for society4,5,6, 7, 8. As Malala Yousafzai said “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world”9.
While research seems to be very clear that teacher effectiveness can have a huge impact, it seems less clear on how teachers can become more effective4, without adding to the teacher burn-out epidemic.
However, even just one thing can make a big difference. For instance, teacher expectations in Hattie’s list have an effect size of 0.433. From the famous 2009 “Kevin is not a name – it’s a diagnosis” study10,11, to a 2018 study in which the work of a fictional student named Murat received a worse grade than that of the fictional student called Max – despite being exactly the same12 , studies have shown that teachers are often biased in their expectations against certain groups of students. If you’re one of them, just working on that one aspect can make a huge difference.
Once the first aspect you’ve picked – whatever that is – has improved and is your new ‘normal’, you can move on to the next aspect. As it’s argued in the area of habit building: “It’s impossible to change multiple habits at the same time”13. Yet, over time, the small individual new habits amount to a huge change.
Teacher personality attributes might only get an effect size of 0.23 in Hattie’s list3. However, there are numerous examples that a teacher’s soul traits can have a big impact. As the 2017 Global Teacher Prize winner, who is from Canada, highlights: ““There’s a suicide crisis where I work so we can talk about graduation rates all we want, but, literally, if kids are killing themselves they’re not going to graduate.””16 Soul-traits like kindness can have a huge impact and be what is remembered even long after graduation. For instance, a former teacher found out that the spontaneous kind words he wrote in a student’s journal still help “”to get her through the tough times”” years later14. Bill Gates says a kind librarian “pulled [him] out of [his] shell” and “stok[ed] [his] passion for learning” when he was 9, and credits the experiences with her as influencing his philanthropy in 201615.