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Outstanding in Your Field: What It Takes to Be a Great Teacher

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: JULY 29, 2014 | UPDATED: AUGUST 17, 2016
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Teacher standing alone in classroom reading off a clipboard
Photo Credit: Edutopia
Steven Covey wrote a book, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, to he
lp organizations and individuals find their own voices. Covey describes voice as
the internal drive to face challenges and rise to overcome them. He explains th
at each of us has a voice that lies at the central confluence of talent, need, p
assion, and conscience. The premise of the book was that if you didn't find your
own unique significance (voice), neither you nor your organization would be abl
e to achieve greatness. After I read this book, I considered the word "greatness
" for a long time. Of course, being an incessant analyzer, I asked myself this q
uestion, "What does greatness mean in education?" Then I began thinking about my
own career.
I know I was a good teacher, but I never thought of myself as a great teacher. I
certainly had passion, enthusiasm, and creativity, but I never thought I had th
e stuff for greatness (though I did the best I knew how with the resources that
were available). As a teacher, I found myself naturally drawn to thinking about
what I could do to improve my lessons, to overcome negative student behaviors, o
r to encourage individual students. I went to conferences, saw other teachers wi
th more experience, verbal acuity, and style, and I wanted to be like them. Whil
e I was well aware of my own shortcomings, I never quit trying to improve, grow,
and learn to be a better teacher.
I achieved tremendous success in getting my students to take and pass the AP Spa
nish language tests and to actually speak Spanish, but my strategies and skills
were not unique. Aside from a little bit of personal flair (my daughter Mercedes
would say fifth-grade humor), these strategies were the compilation of wisdom a
nd experience gained mostly from other teachers.
Although I was not a world-renowned educator, I would like to believe that I eve
ntually found my voice (or unique significance) and achieved a moderate level of
greatness. During this whole process of becoming great, the varied experiences
in my career as a teacher deepened my knowledge and skills, strengthening my res
olve to improve my craft. In that process, I went through the typical three-stag
e teacher-attitude cycle (this parallels research done by Frances Fuller and Joh
n L. Watzke):
The 3-Stage Teacher-Attitude Cycle
Shock: "Whoa! This is too much, and I want out."
Cynicism: "The students don't care. The administration doesn't support us."
Self-Actualization: "I can do this. This is fun. If I help just one student, it'
s worth it!"
In each of these steps, I was lucky to have other caring individuals helping me.
As a new teacher, I benefited greatly from the patient ministrations of several
seasoned teachers who showed me the ropes of grading, discipline, effective les
sons, and ways to manage the volume of work. Without their help, I would not hav
e made it past the first year.
I was overwhelmed my first year, and I looked for anything to help me. As teache
rs are required to do, I attended workshops and teacher meetings in which I was
inspired to be great. I saw Stand and Deliver, which depicts how a high school m
ath teacher, Jaime Escalante, challenged the mental and social limitations that
his students had placed on themselves, thereby bringing them to greatness. I fel
t that if I could be that passionate about teaching students, I could do anythin
g. Then I went back into the classroom and faced the reality that I had only a c
ertain amount of time, strength, and energy. I seriously doubted my own capacity
to teach and my decision to become a teacher. I struggled through another year

He helped my find my voice. I marveled at the relationships forged by teachers. second grade. I learned to criticize the administration for not provid ing me with the best tools. as well as their excitement and enthusiasm. As I approach a new school year. When Negativity Set In In my third year. It wasn't long until I became cynical like them. I have to ask. www.edutopia. enthusiastically anticipating a crop of new students. helped m e most of all. Mr. I not iced that some of the other teachers thrived on loudly complaining about their s ituations and bemoaning their deplorable students. I came to believe that all of the problems I faced were not my fault. the Spanish department head. attending all of their classes with them. and not concentrate on the pebbles in my shoes. please share your thoughts about becomin g great and your plans on how to reach greatness this year in your classrooms. Devereaux. without the "voice " or passion. My attitude became extre mely negative. He helped me enjoy the excitement and challen ges of the journey. I learned that the parents weren't participating in their ow n children's education.in which things improved to a moderate degree. and ninth grade. Perhaps he needed to write The 8th Habit first because. I ve seen that spark of greatness in teachers w hen observing classrooms and watching teachers interact with students. I learned to blame middle school and elementary teac hers for not doing their jobs in preparing my students. while spending hours at campuses and in teacher classrooms in all gr ades levels and in nearly every type of school. The Great Shift When I decided to become an administrator. that spark of desire for greatness wa s rekindled and refocused: I wanted to inspire other teachers to be great and th us pass that on to their students. In each. "What am I going to do differently in order to achieve greatness this year? How am I going to inspire the passion for learning in my st udents?" In the comments section below. He taught me that I first had to be the solution rather than add all my complaining to the problem. Covey's eight habits are designed to help individuals become highly effective pe ople. I saw thi s greatness through students' eyes as I shadowed one student each from first gra de. few of us are motivated to improve or least of all pursue greatnes s. when I visited the teacher lounge or attended department meeti ngs. Reflecting on my teaching career.org/blog/teacher-excellence-part-one-ben-johnson . eighth grade. I was finally able to escape that trap of negativity in the second stage and mov e into the third stage of self-actualization only because of wonderful mentor te achers who helped me understand that complaining and blaming resolved nothing an d just inhibited my growth. I've witnessed similar elements of greatness firsthand. I don't think I was an effecti ve teacher until I became self-actualized.