Built To Last: How to Have a Long Teaching Career

About 8 percent of teachers leave the profession every year. That doesn’t sound like much, but with a workforce of over 3 million, it represents about 250,000 teachers. Less than one-third of those teachers retire. Speaking of retirement, on average, states assume that only half of teachers will qualify for any pension benefits and only one-fourth will reach full retirement age. It’s hard to last in teaching, which is why I asked some retired teachers how they did it.

The teachers:

Robin Klein taught for 42 years in upstate New York and suburban New Jersey. She presented at literacy conferences throughout her career and has been published in Booklinks magazine.

Debra Longnecker taught high school English for 38 years, retiring in 2014. She continues to teach grad classes and tutor at her local high school. She also raised two children who are now teachers.

Margaret Mason recently retired from a long teaching career in Australia.

Terry Weber, Carolyn Viereckl, and Sandra Lawrence also contributed.

What did you do early in your career to make it more likely that you would persevere for the number of years you did?

Robin:  Early in my career, I surrounded myself with positive colleagues who were supportive and did not compete. We became social friends as well as colleagues. I educated myself professionally by attending conferences and reading books in my field so that I would keep abreast of the latest trends and research in education from the beginning. I was also fortunate to have a mentor who was able to encourage me as well as provide positive suggestions for my growth.

Debra: I wanted to be a teacher all of my life, but friends were going into other fields, and I wondered if I’d chosen the wrong career. After gaining tenure, I took a “one year leave of absence” to pursue a job opportunity in sales. I got the thrill of having a company car and an expense account out of my system and returned to teaching the following year. Doing this gave me an appreciation for the teaching profession and all it offered me. I never questioned my decision again. I never complained about the long hours, hard work, or low pay. Taking that year off allowed me to compare jobs and know that I was where I should be and wanted to be.

Margaret:  I took a break of about 8 years while our children were young. I had always thought I would become a stay-at-home Mum once the children started to arrive. Frankly, I did not enjoy my first few years of teaching. New teachers were always given the lowest level classes and there was not a lot of help from Admin. Teaching science for an external exam to a roomful of some 30 completely non-academic boys was not much fun for a beginning teacher. Many of them have become well-respected tradesmen here – they were ‘hands-on’ and science at that time was very academic.

However, best laid plans…… My husband found it difficult to get employment and he suggested that I return to teaching (youngest was not quite 2) and he would become a stay-at-home Dad. This was in about 1977 – so we were almost pioneers in ‘role reversal’! Back at school, the 8 years off and kiddies of my own had allowed me to mature and to ‘learn’ some strategies. In that time, external exams had been abandoned here – so there was not as much pressure to teach for those ‘be all and end all’ exams.  Life in the classroom allowed for a little more relaxing with the kiddies.
Sandra: I did not do anything early in my career to make it more likely that I would persevere for 32 years. In my later years, I made sure to surround myself with coworkers who shared the same ideals and could laugh at the same things.
What are three pieces of advice you offer to young teachers hoping to make a career of teaching?
Terry: If I had to pick one thing that has kept me in for so long it would be changing up all the time. I am always looking for new units to teach so that my teaching doesn’t get stale
Carolyn: My advice is try to overlook as much of the baloney as you can. Focus on staying current–attend classes, go to workshops, keep learning and growing. You never know when taking the time to know and love a student will make a difference in their lives forever.

1.      Find positive people, especially veterans, who can mentor you and give you advice and support.

2.      If your state/district has a union, join it. They should also provide mentorship (we have a New Teacher Orientation as part of our union opportunities) where you can talk to veterans and get further support and advice if needed. It is also a great place to meet colleagues, including those from other disciplines/buildings in the district.

3.      Find a balance. This is very difficult, and I admit that even after 42 years of teaching, the lack of balance was part of my personal decision to retire a couple of years earlier than I planned. You need to find/make time for your family and friends as well as activities that you enjoy doing—working out, reading, going to movies or restaurants etc. If you do not find this balance, you will run the risk of burning out.



1.  Don’t be stubborn. If you stand rigid, you’ll break. If you bend, you’ll survive. No one will remember you bending. No one will forget you breaking.
 2.  Every day is a new day – a clean slate. It’s not, really, but you have to tell everyone that… including yourself.
 3.  If you aren’t happy, leave the profession. You’re doing more harm than good.



  1. It will all be worth it. Many of the kiddies (even the little horrors) will become good friends in future years. It is very rewarding to see them grow up and take their place in the community – and admit that you helped put them on their pathway. One lass I taught when she was about 14 – just after her Mum had died from breast cancer – I used to have ‘yelling matches’ in the classroom. I see her occasionally in the supermarket and we always exchange hugs.
  2. If it all becomes too much, take some time out. Explore the world, work in a different area and then re-assess. (My daughter has done this. She had several turnings on her career path before training to teach. After a couple of years at one school, she found the culture at it just too much to take, so decided to teach overseas. She taught in both Ethiopia and Libya. Her experiences there were not all that wonderful – largely due to incompetent principals (We decided many of them got to be principals in international schools because they weren’t good enough for promotion in their own country!). She took a few years break from teaching – but has now returned to it at a regional school.
  3. Don’t be afraid to show some emotion. Kids are not as tough as they like to make out, and they might just realise you are actually human too!

What is something you wish you would have been told when you were just starting out?

Sandra: I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career that being in charge of your own classroom is nothing like the student teaching experience. There was no such thing as a mentor when I started and it was tough not knowing who I could confide some of those insecurities in.

Robin: The number of hours this job will take is staggering these days. I never thought it was a 9-3 job with summers off ever, but now, with the advent of email, I feel like I was on call 24-7, including the summers. And, despite all the hours you will put in, there are times when you will not reach every student. You can strive for that, which I did, but you have to accept that there will be things you cannot change, because you are not living that student’s life outside of school.

Debra: I wish I had been told that a teacher wears many hats, including that of social worker, prison guard, clergy, police officer, drill sergeant, nurse, day care worker, entertainer, and parent. I’m sure I’ve left some out. I wish I’d been given practical experience in how to serve in each of those capacities. (Kind of like juggling with a candle and a chain saw at the same time, I think.)

Any other wisdom to share?


  1. Don’t be afraid to seek help from those higher up the ladder. They are paid extra so they can take on the responsibility of helping you!
  2. Network with other teachers to get ideas and share resources. It is so much easier now with the Internet than when I was teaching.


-For what it’s worth, I found that 98% of all job aggravation came from sources other than the students. It usually came from administration, colleagues, parents, and the government.
    -A teacher’s job is to encourage the desire for life-long learning.
    -School is, for most students, an oasis. Let them know that this is probably the worst time of life (it was for me) and that they will make it through. But we are in it together, if they’ll have me.
    -We should not have to “jump through hoops,” but if we do have to, we can. Easily.
    -We are the most important profession in the world. Remind everyone. Remind yourself. Every morning.
Robin:  Please do not give up. We need you in the field to nurture and facilitate these students on their educational journey. It is challenging, and at times exhausting. The rewards of helping our children succeed are truly priceless. You will often go unrecognized for your efforts, but a piece of you will live behind as these students advance through school. Also, embrace the new technology. It will help make your lessons engaging and it is a way to reach many students.




How to Leave Teaching

A guest post by career coach Eva Wislow


Since you’ve been in the teaching profession for a while, you probably know of this myth: Half of new teachers quit the profession within five years. Fortunately, that “stat” is not really true. According to the latest research, it’s 17% of new teachers that leave the profession.      

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s be real: 17% still is a lot. And if you’re one of the teachers thinking about changing careers, there’s nothing to be ashamed of, and there’s definitely nothing to be scared of. It’s your decision to make.

Still, the transition won’t be easy. You’re accustomed to classroom activities, and there’s hardly any other profession that mimics the connection you make with students. It will be a big shift, and you have to be prepared for it.

We won’t talk about the reasons here. Maybe you’re ready to quit because of the low pay and long hours of work. Maybe this isn’t the ideal profession you thought it would be. Whatever the case is, it’s up to you to make a smooth exit.

How do you leave a teaching profession? How do you make this transition as effortless as possible? Let’s go through some helpful tips.

1   Be Aware of the Choices

When teachers are ready to leave, they have a few options to choose from:

  • A new career
  • A new profession that requires re-training
  • Self-employment
  • Retirement or quitting work for any other reason

Retirement is a different story, and we won’t tackle it in today’s article. We’ll talk about the career paths that people can pursue after leaving the teaching profession. The good news is that such an option is available, but you have to figure out what it will be.                                             

2   New Careers for Teachers: Without the Need for Retraining

Teachers are in high demand, even outside the classroom.

A career in online tutoring, for example, is a nice option if you want to work from home. The online tutoring industry is growing fast. Many of today’s students have difficulties meeting the standards of the educational system. They need assistance in all subjects, so you could use your expertise to help them succeed.

Academic writing is another great career that allows you to benefit from the skills you already have. Roberta Sanchez, part of the writers team at CareersBooster, explains: “When you start working as an academic writer for a reputable service, you’ll get a regular flow of orders, but you can still manage your own time. This is a great alternative for teachers who want to work from home, but it’s also a great way to make extra money while working on re-training for a different profession.”

Teachers already have the soft skills for many other professions, too. They may work in recruitment, counseling services, retail, or any other job based on face-to-face interaction.

3   You Can Opt for Any Other Career If You Get More Training

The Guardian listed five very attractive alternative careers for teachers leaving their jobs:

  • Museum educator
  • Education liaison roles
  • Work for an educational supplier
  • Tutoring
  • Corporate learning and development

Your work as an educational supplier or tutor will hardly require re-training. However, if you want to become a museum educator or corporate trainer, you’ll need some reschooling. These professions are not what your options are limited to. You can pursue any career if you get the needed training. You may even opt for online courses. Coursera gives you tons of opportunities for affordable certification.

Speaking of Coursera, online education is a great career to consider, too. You just need to gain the skills needed to plan, design, and promote an online course. When you’re ready, you can start creating your own educational materials.  

4   Self-Employment Is a Thing to Consider, Too

Many teachers decide to leave their jobs because they want to start their own businesses. Starting a small business is a huge step, but it’s also a wonderful experience.  

But be careful; the adventure may turn into a disaster if you’re not prepared.

  • Did you do your research? Do you know what it takes to start a small business? You need the perfect business plan, one that is realistic but motivating at the same time. You have to know what the competitors are doing. You have to be aware of the laws you’re subjected to. You have to keep all expenses in mind.
  • The world of taxes is quite complicated. You can take some online courses to figure out how accounting works, but it’s always easier to hire an accountant.
  • Are you prepared to get into a career full of risks? Your job as a teacher was relatively secure and predictable. You had a plan and had some control over the course of each day’s events. When you start your own business, the decision-making processes may be more challenging.


Take this last tip into consideration: don’t leave your job as a teacher before you know exactly what you’re going to do. You may work on re-training or develop a business plan over the summer. When you’re absolutely sure that you want to pursue a different career path, go ahead and good luck!                                                                                                                

About the author: Eva Wislow is a career coach and HR expert from Pittsburgh. She is focusing on helping people break down their limits, find a dream job and achieve life and career success. She finds her inspiration in writing and peace of mind through yoga. Follow Eva on Twitter.

How to Be a Great Principal Without Spending a Dime

I know two excellent mid-career teachers who left their districts this summer to teach in more affluent communities next year.  They weren’t looking for raises, “easier” kids to teach, or newer buildings and flashier technology. They weren’t even especially attracted to their new districts as much as they were repelled by their old ones. Both teachers resigned because administrators in their districts didn’t do the simple things that cost absolutely nothing to keep good teachers happy.

Here’s a colorful and relevant graphic:

The bottom left corner didn’t apply in the instances of the two teachers I know. They were mid-career professionals who were willing to take a pay cut to get out of their current districts. They had also managed a reasonable work-life balance and had taken advantage of opportunities to grow professionally. The work was obviously challenging; I don’t know any teacher who thinks it isn’t.

It’s said that people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. That was certainly the case for the two teachers I know. Without getting into specifics about what drove each teacher from her job, I can say that had their bosses done a few simple things, these teachers would be returning to their buildings and classrooms next year.

Some administrators who work in schools that serve students of low socioeconomic status like to blame their lack of money or the challenges that come with teaching students in poverty for their trouble in finding and keeping talented educators. And while there are teachers who will avoid working in certain districts because of those factors, those who have already been doing it for a while are unlikely to leave if they’re treated with respect. Leaving mid-career is risky. You lose your tenure. You’ll likely make less money. It’s a pain in the ass to pack up your stuff. You have to meet all new people and learn all new processes, curriculum, and online platforms. You have to rebuild your reputation. You trade in knowns, however unpalatable, for unknowns. Veteran teachers don’t make the decision to change districts lightly. So if you’re losing teachers like this, someone or a small group of someones is screwing up.

Principals do not need to spend a dime to keep their best teachers. They just have to do the following 9 things.

Get to Know Your Teachers

A story I was recently told: A newly hired principal was talking to a local preacher about how he should go about building relationships with his staff. The preacher recommended that the principal get a stack of index cards and give one to each teacher. On the card, each teacher was to write her name, the names of her spouse and children, a few personal interests, and one thing the principal could do that would help the teacher in the coming year. Then, the preacher explained, the principal should study the cards so that when he passed a teacher in the hall he could ask about her kids, or casually use her husband’s name in conversation, or pass on something he saw relating to her hobby. He would also have a list of things he could do that his teachers would value.

It’s is a simple activity that costs nothing but a little bit of time. And the real genius of it is that just asking teachers for this information shows the principal cares. Even if he never looks at the cards, he’s built some goodwill by caring enough to ask.

(Incidentally, the principal didn’t take the preacher’s advice. He never passed out the cards or asked the questions. He came back four months later, frustrated that teachers didn’t seem to like him much. The preacher offered no further advice.)


If you’re treating your best teachers the same as you’re treating your rookies, you’re doing it wrong. If there is one clear lesson to be learned from the failed experiment of teacher evaluation reform it is this: Treating every teacher the same will lead to resentment from your best teachers. We get that the state or district requires you to observe us x amount of times. Fine. But you don’t need to be in a 20-year veteran’s classroom as often as you need to be in a second-year teachers’ classroom. Also, not all of your teachers need an email reminding them about the dress code or what time they are to be in their classrooms in the morning if only two teachers are having a problem meeting those expectations.

Use Their Passions and Expertise

I work with a teacher who does all of the district’s specials scheduling for two elementary schools. Every summer, I get the schedule emailed to me and I can’t imagine the number of hours it takes to put together given all the different things that must be accounted for. The task seems impossible. But this teacher does it for free because she’s really good at it. Her brain just works that way. And somewhere along the way, an administrator noticed how good she was at it and asked her to do this work.

I know another teacher who will spend hours coming up with creative ideas for March is Reading Month. She’s not paid. She does it becomes she’s a creative person and creativity is a reward in and of itself. Another teacher I work with is a talented artist. She donated hours of her summer one year to repaint the cafeteria because her principal knew she would do an excellent job and gave her the freedom to paint what she wanted. I have a number of times on this blog advocated that teachers not donate hours to their employers. However, if my principal sends me a document, I can’t help but revise it. I like writing, so I’m willing to do it for nothing because it’s fun. Smart principals learn their staff’s talents and passions and they utilize them. They are often rewarded with free labor and excellent work because their teachers appreciate that their bosses know them well enough to use their passions and talents.

Ask Teachers’ Opinions and Then Listen

I know a lot of administrators who will pay lip service to the idea of teachers as experts. When they don’t feel like spending money on PD, they’ll butter teachers up with the old, “We have experts right here in this district” line. When they feel the need to form a curricular committee, their pitch will convey the respect they have for our professionalism and expertise. But when big decisions need to be made, the kinds of decisions that impact large numbers of teachers and students, many administrators don’t ask their teachers’ opinions.

If you’re going to revamp your school’s entire schedule, ask teachers what they think about that. Then listen to what they have to say. It might save you some headaches in the future. If you want to change how your Title I people intervene with at-risk readers, run that by staff first. If you don’t like the behavior system, let teachers tell you what they think of it before making wholesale changes. A lot of teachers have been around for awhile. They have reasons for doing what they’re doing and they may have already tried it your way in the past and can tell you the challenges you can expect. You don’t have to do what your teachers want you to do, but if you ask and listen you’ll at least be aware of some potential pitfalls.

Tell the Truth

We get that you’re a middle manager. You have the sometimes monumental task of keeping both your bosses and your teachers happy (to say nothing of parents and students). We understand that not every decision you make is yours. You are sometimes told to do or say things that go against your beliefs. When this happens, tell us. Respect your teachers enough to explain the complexities and external pressures. Tell them who is actually making the decision.

I had a principal one year who was quite obviously told by a higher-up that he had to focus on student contact time. Admin didn’t want a second wasted. Because this principal was normally pretty laid back and had in the past commented on how impressed he was by teachers teaching right up to the final bell, it was incongruent when he sent a curt email to the whole staff reminding us that recess was 20 minutes and that we had to be faster getting students out and bringing them back in. Some of us suspected he was just passing along the concerns of his boss. Others thought he was becoming a bit of a nitpicking doofus and nobody wants to work for a nitpicking doofus. It’s not that hard to say, “Hey, everyone. Central office has asked me to remind you that recess is 20 minutes inclusive of transition time.” Don’t own stupid policies and decisions unless you made them. You don’t have to throw your boss under a bus to tell teachers where decisions originated.

Trust Your Teachers

I can’t say it any better than Alice Trosclair did in an article published by The Educator’s Room:

“Trust, pure and simple.  Trust that we want the best for our students and society. Trust that 95 percent of us are here for our students and want the best for them, so in turn we give them our best every day. Trust that we study pedagogy and spend our “off hours” searching for fresh perspective or a new way of doing something. Only teachers would spend their meager paycheck on classroom supplies to make a lesson more exciting. Only a teacher would go back for a masters degree (which only increases our pay check by a few hundred dollars a month if we stay in the classroom) to improve our teaching and understanding of content. Most of us will always keep learning because we want the best for our students.”

Give your teachers the benefit of the doubt, and if you want to know why they're doing what they're doing, ask. Click To Tweet

Bonus Read: A Letter to Principals Regarding Walkthroughs

Write Thank-You Notes

Teachers are rarely thanked, so it means a lot when we are. Show some gratitude and acknowledge your teachers’ hard work. Emails are nice, but actual cards can be tucked away in a folder and saved for years. They can be hung on bulletin boards as reminders that the work we do is noticed and appreciated by someone. Although we are surrounded by students, teaching is a solitary job. Hardly anyone knows what it is we do all day and we can go weeks wondering if anyone other than our students is even aware of our hard work. Writing a thank-you note is a two-minute task that can pay big dividends.

Respect Teachers’ Time

Cancel the meeting. Don’t take advantage of your best teachers and their willingness to pitch in by asking the same ones to join committees, attend after-school events, and help you with some silly report the state needs. Be very selective about asking your teachers to do anything extra because doing so pulls them away from their most important job of educating the students in front of them. Leave them alone on weekends. The emails can wait until Monday (or least late Sunday night). Teachers never have enough time. Anything you ask your teachers to do better be more important than the things they would do on their own.

Anything you ask your teachers to do better be more important than the things they would do on their own. Click To Tweet

Don’t Forget What It’s Like to Teach

Part of respecting teachers’ time is remembering what it’s like to be one. I know you think you’ll never forget the challenges of the classroom. You did it for years. You’ll remember.

No, you won’t. I know you won’t because after two months of summer vacation, I forget what it’s like every single year. Our memories are faulty. They pick and choose. They highlight. When you’re not stressed out, it’s hard to recall the actual feeling of being stressed out. When you’re not constantly pressed for time, you can’t recreate the feeling of being constantly pressed for time. When you aren’t incessantly needed by your students, you don’t remember how it feels to be pulled in six directions.

There is only one way to remember what it's like to teach and it is to teach. Click To Tweet

There is only one way to remember what it’s like to teach and it is to teach. Observing teachers won’t cut it. Sitting in your office won’t work. Only teaching is teaching. Fortunately, there is a simple way for you to do this: substitute in your teachers’ classrooms. The sub shortage provides ample opportunity and even if you’re in a district without that infuriating problem, every teacher I know would be happy to check papers in the staff lounge for 45 minutes while you refresh your memory on just what teachers experience day in and day out.

You’ll be a better principal and your teachers will love you for it. With a leader like you, the best ones will come back year after year and keep giving their all for their students. You don’t need to spend a dime to keep your best teachers. You don’t really need to spend all that much time, either. But you do need to treat them like the professionals they are.


I write books, too. They’re like really long blog posts.

Can Socialization Be Taught? 5 Useful Resources

Guest writer: Joseph McLean


School years are a crucial period in the personal development of each child. It is the time when kids learn and adopt basic values in life and try to socialize with their peers, which means their teachers have to be careful and delicate.

It’s a very difficult task since educators need to pay attention to dozens of pupils simultaneously. They are supposed to meet each kid individually, pay attention to their behavior, and notice if anything goes wrong in the classroom. This also means instructors should be good psychologists who know how to instruct children and teach them the basics of human interaction.

But how is this possible? Where can a teacher learn more about children’s socialization? In this post, we will show you 5 useful sources that can help you understand kids a lot easier. Let’s take a look!

How to Develop Children’s Social Skills

Before we present you our top learning choices, we should explain the simple process of teaching kids a specific skill. The procedure consists of 5 basic steps:

  • Discuss social skills: The first stage is all about discussing social skills and explaining what makes them so important.
  • Choose a specific skill: This is where you need to make a list of different skills. Once you’ve done that, you should select a specific skill such as apologizing or asking peers for help.
  • Explanation: Now you need to explain in theory what makes this skill so important and helpful.
  • Practice: The fourth phase of the process involves practical lessons. You can organize role-playing sessions to simulate real-life situations among children.
  • Discussion: At the end, you should discuss the entire process to make sure everything is clear and to sort out potential misunderstandings, if any.

Top 5 Websites to Learn About Classroom Socialization

According to psychology advisors at Assignment Masters, most teachers try to manage classroom atmosphere on their own: “Sometimes they fail, sometimes they succeed, but they rarely ever consult professional literature or utilize best practices in this field. It’s a bad habit that really needs to be changed”.

The only way to make the change is by learning more about socialization in the classroom environment. The 5 sources we describe below will help you to improve your knowledge of pedagogy and child behavior.


  • Child Development Info


Child Development Info is a comprehensive online resource of children-related blog posts and how-to guides. The website frequently publishes expert articles about the personal development of a child, socialization, and parenting.

Although it’s not primarily designed to help school teachers, Child Development Info can really help you understand the mind of an average kid. Due to its immaculate reputation, the website deserved the attention of numerous stakeholders in this niche, including universities, school districts, professional organizations, and public agencies.

  • Tolerance

Tolerance may well play one of the crucial roles in teaching kids how to socialize with one another. Besides that, Tolerance is also a great starting point if you want to learn how to train kids to build healthy interpersonal relationships.

It’s a website that offers tons of materials “with a community of educators committed to diversity, equity, and justice”. Tolerance provides educators with a variety of professional development tutorials dedicated to the classroom culture, teacher leadership, school climate, and community engagement.

  • Kenyaplex

Kenyaplex was primarily developed with a purpose to provide free educational information and resources to the people of Kenya, but it turned out to be surprisingly useful to school teachers worldwide. This website can help you understand how schools perform the function of socialization, but you can find many other interesting articles along the way.


  • LD Online


LD Online covers pretty much the same topics as the previous three websites, but it does come with a little twist – it gives educators the guide to learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

This is still a critical and even controversial topic that demands more attention, which makes LD Online a perfect choice for teachers who get to deal with it on a daily basis. The website basically represents a wide base of learning materials: from LD basics and expert advice to studying ideas and instructional strategies.

  • Psychology Today

The last website on our list is not strictly related to school and education, but it’s one of the most prominent online sources of psychology lessons. Psychology Today often publishes posts that can help you help children become comfortable and competent in social situations. This site follows the latest trends in psychology, so you can stay up to date and learn state of the art classroom teaching techniques.


An outsider may think that all school kids look alike, but teachers know that each child is a different person with completely different traits. This means school professors have to be careful and patient enough to help each pupil develop social skills.

In this post, we showed you 5 useful sources to read if you want to learn more about the classroom socialization. These websites offer a variety of tips and tactics that can make you a better pedagogue – don’t hesitate to check them out and use their lessons to ensure easier socialization and communication among students.

Understanding the Process of Learning through the Conscious Competence Model

A guest post by Silvia Woolard

Teachers keep exploring different methods of learning. Not only because they are life-long learners, but also because the best learning methods lead to the ultimate teaching methods.

Today, we’re going to explore a model we’ve all relied on in one way or another. Still, most of us are not even aware of the theory behind that practice, and we haven’t been implementing all stages properly. I’m talking about the conscious competence model, AKA the conscious competence matrix or the conscious competence ladder.

Let’s set terminology aside and focus on what’s really important: how can this model help you become a better teacher?

It all starts with understanding.

Understanding the Conscious Competence Model of Learning

Whenever we’re into the process of learning new skills, we go through different emotions at various stages of the journey.

If, for example, you’re trying to teach your students how to write research papers, they might underestimate the challenge at first. They think it’s enough to go through a few resources and sum up their findings. When they realize what a great research paper should look like, their emotions shift. They get overwhelmed and disheartened. Most of them would love to give up at this stage. They will complain about not having enough time, not having enough experience, and not having enough skills.

If you understand the conscious competence model, you’ll be able to encourage positive emotions and help the students get out of the negative mindset.

This model, initially founded as “four stages of teaching” was established by Martin M. Broadwell back in 1969. Later on, Noel Burch from Gordon Training International developed the theory known as “Four Stages for Learning Any New Skill.”                   

These are the four stages of learning a skill:

1. Unconscious Incompetence

At this point, the students are unskilled, but they are not aware of that fact. Just like when you present them with a new assignment and they assume it’s easy. They are blissfully ignorant of the fact that they don’t have a skill.

If you let them stay in this stage, the results won’t be pretty. They will simply assume they can do it in a day, just like they do with their usual homework assignment. So they will procrastinate and they will fail to deliver.

That’s why you need to move them out of this level. You’ll do that by showcasing the true nature of the challenge and introducing them closely to the type of work they need to do.

How do you do that?

  • Ask specific questions about their skills. If it’s a writing project, for example, ask if they have written something similar before. If it’s a social service project, ask them if they are aware of its goals and challenges.
  • Set objectives! Whenever you push your students to learn new skills, you have to introduce some expectations within a timeline. How will you measure those skills? When will you do that? This shouldn’t scare them away. You should set objectives as incentives that will push them to the next stage of the conscious competence model.

2. Conscious Incompetence

By this stage, the students realize they have to make an effort in order to learn a skill. If we continue with the research paper example, they realize that it will take way more time and way more research than they initially assumed.

This stage will be demoralizing for many of your students. They will lack the motivation to proceed. That’s why you have to push them forward.

  • Rely on affirmations. “No one was born skillful. Everyone can learn! There’s plenty of time by the deadline, so you can do it if you start today. You can do it!” When you approach the process with such a positive attitude, you’ll inspire your students to get out of this stage.
  • Develop a progressive schedule. A goal such as “write a research paper” seems overwhelming. If you break it up in smaller goals, it suddenly seems more achievable. For example, they can start by going through five resources that you’ll provide them. They will take notes. Then, they will extract the most important information. Then, they will develop an outline. These smaller goals are not that overwhelming.

3. Conscious Competence

At the conscious competence stage, the learner realizes they have the skills and knowledge needed for achieving particular goals. As they continue on the journey, they keep gaining more self-confidence.

It’s not the final stage, though. You want to keep your students moving forward!

  • Keep them focused on the progress. Remind them how they started and make them aware of the point they are currently at. Progress is a never-ending process, so you should keep pushing them to get better.
  • Give them opportunities to use the newly-acquired skills. If they wrote a research paper, the implementation of their research and writing skills doesn’t end there. Inspire them to start their own blogs and work on their own research.

4. Unconscious Competence            

At this stage, the students are able to use the new skills without making serious conscious efforts. These skills become part of who they are.

This is the stage when the students need to push themselves towards growth. How can they use this skill to build a successful career? Maybe they can use it for a personal project? Maybe it will be the starting point of the higher education journey? Many people become teachers when they reach this stage. They have skills and knowledge that they are ready to pass on to others.

From Unconscious Incompetence to Unconscious Competence – The Journey to Success

When you understand the emotional conflicts that your students face in different stages of the learning process, you’ll be able to take proper actions to motivate them.

There’s a lot of theory involved in this model, but its practical implementations are immense. You’ve probably noticed these stages before, but maybe you weren’t fully aware of them. Now that you are, it’s time to bring the theory to practice.

My Bio:

Silvia Woolard is a young passionate writer at Superior Papers from Phoenix. In her free time, she writes and works in a field of popular psychology. Feel free to contact Silvia at Twitter.