Off the Beaten Path

Let teachers be students in areas that invigorate and energize them outside of the school walls.

Photo of Ann Hamel
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We become teachers in our disciplines because we were passionate about our subject area. Then we spend much of our career focusing on becoming better teachers. It is easy to lose passion for the topic, or at least not remain engaged in the content area because we have run out of time. If we could find some money and time (and time is money, too) to reconnect with our passions or give attention to some new ones, we become more passionate in the classroom and our students benefit. Wouldn't you want your students to listen to your recounting of the opera you were able to attend last night than the last episode American Idol? While we need to connect to our students' world, we need them to connect to the bigger world we live in. It takes effort to step outside of our small orbit of school and home. Sometimes we can include the students in our adventures but sometimes we just need to spend the time nourishing our own intellects and curiosities and let ourselves be the students, let ourselves be coached. If you could do anything what would you do? Zipline? Skydive? Learn a new language? Knit a sweater? Build a table? When is the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone as a student? You ask this constantly of your students, shouldn't you do the same for yourself?

Having professional development time and money set aside for pursuing passions will be a powerful influence on the whole community. Fountain Valley School of Colorado awards professional development money to applicants who meet certain criteria for just this reason.

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Photo of Dan Blake

I love this idea, as I think it's critical for teachers to remain energized and "nourished" over the course of their careers. We often talk about "work/life balance," but how often do our systems actively support this balance? In most districts, it would seem blasphemous to spend money on allowing teachers to pursue a personal interest outside of school as a way of keeping their internal fire lit and their mental and emotional state balanced. Yet perhaps this is exactly what we need to devote at least some of our resources to in order to address the all too frequent issue of teacher burnout. I know of a local independent school that allows teachers who have been at the school for more than five years to apply for funding to pursue a personal passion during the summer with the only expectation being that they will share the impact of their experience with their school community at some point the following year. Perhaps this is an idea whose time has come.

Photo of Ann Hamel

I've also seen an independent school that provided $500 per faculty member to be used to see plays, go to the opera, etc. That is very expensive, but I like the idea that money is put aside for that. Perhaps just having the time and encouragement from administration is all that is needed.

Photo of Dan Blake

Yes, while funding for these "extracurricular" endeavors is great, time and encouragement are equally important (and are easier to offer). Teaching is a rewarding AND challenging profession, and those in leadership positions need to remember that teachers are human and need opportunities to recharge, refresh, and reenergize.

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