By MI Fellow Mike Lerchenfeldt
Why do I teach? I teach because it’s a highly rewarding profession. Teachers have some of the most important and meaningful jobs of anyone today. I teach because it is rewarding to watch Alex grasp the relationship between frequency, speed, and wavelength. I teach because it’s fulfilling to see Sophia help her classmate with their science lab conclusion.
I doubt I have to convince you. Teachers impart valuable knowledge and important skills to their students. They encourage a love of learning that will serve students for the rest of their lives.
However, the education policy landscape has been bleak for teachers in recent years. Today's teachers need perseverance, passion, and hope. But they also need more preparation, support, and pay.
Teachers today need to maintain a nearly untenable positive outlook in order to combat the negativity that so often defines conversations about education. But more than that, teachers need more mentorship and growth opportunities.
New educators can better confront the challenges of teaching by having a positive mentor-mentee relationship with an accomplished teacher. These types of relationships are essential to help retain our top teachers and better support new teachers as they grow their skills.
I faced many challenges in my early years of teaching, including how to implement project-based learning, facilitate classroom discussions, and use technology effectively. Thankfully, I was one of the few teachers nationwide who had access to a strong teaching internship and great mentoring programs. These opportunities helped me become a successful teacher.
My mentor teachers encouraged me to explore my curiosities, supported me through my struggles, and celebrated my successes. They cared about my students, my learning, my life, and me. They wanted me to find happiness within myself in order for me to be capable of helping others. I am now trying to pay this positive influence forward to my students.
Better, high-quality professional development is part of the answer. To this end, TeachStrong, a national coalition of over 60 diverse education organizations, released a policy proposal last month calling for states and school districts to create improved professional learning systems that foster cultures of feedback and improvement. The group has also released recommendations for how to ensure that all new teachers have access to strong residency and induction programs, much like new doctors.
Teachers are lifelong learners, whether they are embracing new technology or an innovative teaching strategy. Mentorships between accomplished and novice teachers can show students that their teachers have a growth mindset and are passionate about seeking knowledge. After all, the more information and knowledge you have, the better decisions you can make. Communication, organization, and humility are vital traits of highly effective teachers.
Now, as a mentor teacher myself, I have enjoyed the benefits of a career pathway that most teachers do not get to enjoy. Outside of the classroom, I have been a guest panelist reflecting on my teaching career, I advocate for the teaching profession as a Teachstrong Ambassador, and I represent the Chippewa Valley Schools at the Macomb University Center in Clinton Township.
Why do I keep teaching? I remain in the profession because I am committed to having a positive impact on the future of each student that I serve on a daily basis. I love being a role model, for my students and teacher colleagues alike.
Mike Lerchenfeldt earned his Bachelors of Science Degree in Elementary Education from Oakland University and his Masters of Education Degree in Educational Leadership from Saginaw Valley State University. He taught in New Zealand through a teacher exchange program. Since 2008, Mike has been a math and science teacher in the Chippewa Valley Schools. He is a member of Michigan Education Association and Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning. Mike is dedicated to student success and enjoys being an active member of the community. He is a Blogger at The Light Bulb for Digital First Media. Connect on Twitter @mj_lerch