I heard a presentation several months ago about different types of organizations and how the culture of those organizations can impact their success. It seemed to me that these descriptions might be applied to teachers as well.

Jaded Mrs. Krapappel from "The Simpsons"

The Under-taking Teacher – Always Looking Back

The under-taking teacher is someone who is always looking backwards. All they ever seem to talk about are the “good old days.” They miss out on all of the good things happening today in education because they are always looking back to yesterday.

The kids were better. We didn’t have NCLB. Parents were supportive. I only had two preps.

The problem with being an under-taking teacher is that any decision teachers like this make are based on what has worked in the past:

it was good enough then, it’s good enough now.

And, yes, we can learn from the past but you can’t live there. You have to live and adapt to where you are. Kids are different, parents are different, technology integration is important and the world is different.

Too many teachers today are spending their time and resources lamenting the past when they should be adapting to the future. What has worked in the past may not work in the present because the audience has changed. The question most under-Taking teacher asks is “why can’t we do it the way we used to?”

The Care-taking Teacher – Always Looking Present

Satisfied econ teacher from "Ferris Bueller"

The care-taking teacher is always concerned with pressing issues. They are busy and often have decent lessons but that they can only focus on the here and now.  Decisions by these kinds of teachers are based on immediate needs. The number one question seems to be “what do I need to get done today?” Much of what they do revolves around the demands of NCLB and state tests.

For the most part, care-taking teachers are pretty comfortable. And they’re not necessarily bad teachers, but as long as they have enough supplies, support from the administration is just okay and no one bothers them, most care-taking teachers seem to settle in and count the days until their 85 points.

After all, they’re tenured. Why worry too much? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The problem is that they are seldom very excited about teaching and so their students aren’t that excited about learning.

The Risk-taking Teacher – Always Looking Future

Erin Gruwell of Freedom Writers fame

The risk-taking teacher is always looking forward. They believe that the best is yet to come. They invest a lot of time and effort in learning new things today so that they are better prepared for doing better in the future.

Risk-taking teachers seek to be cutting edge. They want to learn more about how kids learn and to use all available resources to make kids more successful. They’re almost always involved with local, regional and national history organizations, they look for better reading and writing strategies and they wrestle with technology questions.

One of the reasons that we as teachers don’t take risks is our fear of failure. We’re afraid that our state tests scores won’t be good enough or that we’ll look silly in front of kids or that the technology won’t work or that we’ll get calls from parents or . . .

But we also know that failure is often a prerequisite to success. Teachers take risks because they understand that screwing up is not necessarily a bad thing. Risk-taking involves possible failure. If it didn’t, it would be called Sure Thing-taking.

The question a risk-taking teacher asks is “what do I need to know so that both myself and education in general are better in the future?”

I think we’re probably all three at different times of the year. I can still remember years ago complaining that the district was trying to install some sort of new-fangled network laser printers when my handy-dandy 9-pin matrix printer was working just fine. And in the middle of January, it can become very easy to just assign worksheets.

But I also think that we all know which teacher we’d want for our own kids.

So . . . what risks will you be taking next year?

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