A Decisive New Teacher Quality

By Petra Claflin

In a profession that is so high stakes and with such a steep learning curve, the single most important quality you can bring to the table as a new teacher is humility.

It may sound extreme to put so much emphasis on this single attribute, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration.  As a teacher, you are ‘on’ every single day, teaching something new every single day.  You have to be able to reflect and change your practice on a regular basis while you’re moving at light speed to keep up with all your lesson planning and other responsibilities.  If you are not open to hearing the feedback people have for you and you’re not actively seeking out help, you’re not going to grow as much as your kids need you to.  Professionally, this also has implications because it makes you hard to work with, discourages people from giving you the feedback you need, and could limit your future leadership options, should you want to go that route.

For some of you, I’m preaching to the choir, but for those of us who are not naturally humble, we typically don’t know we aren’t humble.  (Some of my former colleagues are probably getting a good chuckle out of this right now.)  So here are a few behaviors that may signal a lack of humility:
 

  • You spend a lot of time sharing the great things happening in your classroom, but not a lot of time asking people for feedback or new ideas.

 

  • After your evaluator/coach/dean gives you feedback on something, you make excuses to yourself or others for the situation or you come up with all the ways that the feedback is wrong. (Hopefully you didn’t also spend a lot of time telling your evaluator/coach/dean how their feedback was wrong)

 

  • When you try to identify what went wrong in a failed lesson, you usually determine that the problem was with the students or another staff member (person who created the handout, teacher they had last year, etc)

If you cringed a little while reading that list, don’t worry, you’re not the only one.  It could be a play-by-play of every time I received feedback when I first started teaching.  But lacking humility is not an immutable quality.  Your students will probably give you a nice-sized dose of humility this year and there are also things you can do to increase your humility. 

A great first step is asking for help or feedback – on a lesson plan, your syllabus, your bulletin boards, anything.  When you ask for feedback, it’s much easier to accept it.  And if you start making that a weekly habit, it will become increasingly easy to accept feedback, whether you ask for it or not.  You’ll probably also get some good feedback and realize it improves your teaching.  As you continue this cycle, your craft will quickly improve, your lessons will get better, and your students will reap the rewards. 

How do you stay humble and open to feedback? 
 

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