Students aren’t learning. Presentations are broken. Lectures don’t work. It is time for a teaching and learning revolution. We learn in Superteachers: An Introduction (learn more here) that superteachers embody five key qualities. Part One on Creativity and Part Two on Passion For Learning cover the first of these five characteristics.
Today, we’ll examine the third characteristic: doing the work. Doing the work is the fun part for a superteacher. When the job requires 40 hours per week of work, a superteacher will happily put in 50 hours at work helping students, advising student groups and on-campus organizations, as well as mentoring students on an individual basis. Superteachers spend another 10-20 hours a week at home reading, learning, designing, and creating for class. They don’t skirt responsibilities; they want to work. The work is hard, demanding, and exhausting, but a superteacher thrives in that environment. Why? Because the work is the reward, and doing that work is what makes a superteacher happy.
First, a superteacher enjoys doing the work because he or she is committed to student learning. A superteacher’s goal isn’t to lecture like a pompous know-it-all; the goal is to ensure students get it. A superteacher will stop at nothing to ensure students get it. Even when they have a million things going on at home, a superteacher puts in the time preparing and delivers the most powerful learning experience the students have ever heard… every single class. And this commitment to learning means lectures are rarely used. A superteacher knows participation, discussion, and hands-on activities are what increase student knowledge.
You can enhance your superteacher skills by studying public speaking and presentation. Your job isn’t just about teaching a specific subject; it’s about ensuring your audience actually digests, understands, and relates to the material you’re explaining. Immerse yourself in modern public speaking and presentation material to push yourself to be a stronger conduit of information. Start with Garr Reynolds’ The Naked Presenter to develop your delivery skills. Next, read Nancy Duarte’s slide:ology to increase the effectiveness of your visual presentation. Last, study audience-centered presentation content to see how you can more effectively communicate the material you’re teaching.
Remember, teaching isn’t about you, and it doesn’t have anything to do with your degree or the years you’ve spent in higher education. You’ll never be a superteacher if you can’t actually teach students the material.
Second, superteachers enjoy doing the work because they “think systematically about their practice and learn from experience” (Source). While the preparation and in-classroom work are important, a superteacher is constantly thinking about his or her practice and how to develop into an even stronger curator of knowledge. Again, this work is the fun part. So what if you don’t like the constant learning, improvement, and personal growth? To put it bluntly, you’re probably not cut out to be a superteacher…
Teachers burn out quickly. Burnout happens when stress levels are too high to continue teaching, and this is why a new teacher in the United States doesn’t last very long. According to the U.S. Department of Education, after only 3 years, 1/3 of new teachers leave the field; after 5 years, nearly half of the new teachers are gone (Source). Even in my current job in the higher education field, I work with very few superteachers. Most of my colleagues are scholars, fantastic writers, and wonderful people. But they’re not superteachers. They don’t like teaching, they don’t put in the effort to help their students, and they complain about the work. Could they develop into superteachers? Sure! But if a person’s primary focus is being a writer, editor, poet, or artist, and they are just teaching to make money, they’ll never be a superteacher.
Sadly, these are the kinds of people hired in the school system. Education is partially broken because teachers are hired not because of their teaching ability but because of their own academic success. A PhD does not a teacher make! If you’re going to be a superteacher, you have to enjoy doing the work. The work is teaching. I love the idea of a teacher as “curator” (learn more below):
Next time, we’ll focus on the fourth quality of a superteacher: optimism.