Secrets for Secondary School Teachers: How to Succeed in Your First Year (2004)

Chapter 17. Planning for Your Future

Teaching is an ongoing activity that requires continual professional growth; that is, if you want to avoid becoming like some of the burnouts you see going through the motions in your school, counting the months until retirement. Don’t kid yourself—once upon a time, they were just like you: Filled with enthusiasm and excitement. Determined to change the world. Convinced they would be different from the older teachers they made fun of. Look at them now.

What distinguishes those teachers who remain passionately committed to their jobs from those who have all but given up is that the former group has worked hard to keep themselves fresh and vibrant. They love what they do because they teach what they love.

If you hope to have a long, distinguished career as a teacher—not as someone who does a credible job but rather as one who strives for excellence—then the seeds for this passion must be planted now. Much depends on who you choose as your mentors, who you surround yourself with as a support system, and how hard you are willing to work on your growth and development. Just like an athlete who works out every day, practices skills religiously, studies new innovations, and keeps himself or herself in peak physical shape, you, too, must devote yourself to superb conditioning—not only of your body but your mind and your spirit as well.

In this book, we have presented constructive advice, from the perspectives of a teacher, a teacher educator, and a student, on what it takes not only to survive your first year in the profession but also to truly flourish. This may help you get through the first year, but what happens after that?

Ironically, in some ways, your first year is the easiest one in the sense that you have no worries about keeping your excitement and enthusiasm at peak levels. Unfortunately, as some teachers gain experience, they also lose some of the spark they once had, the innocence that led them to believe anything was possible.

Right now, you have something very, very precious: your own strong belief that you will be different. You will be the kind of teacher who keeps the momentum going, who continues to commit yourself to future growth, who is always learning, always reinventing yourself. You will be the kind of teacher whom students revere and admire, not just for what you know but for who you are as a human being. Your love and compassion and empathy are transparent, for anyone to see. The kids know how much you care.

This image of the kind of teacher you wish to be can indeed be your reality. Much depends on how committed you remain to following through with your intentions.


If you want your students to become fearless, constructive risk takers, show them the way by how you lead your own life. If you want them to venture into the unknown, do so yourself. Share the ideas you read about, the new skills you are learning, the travel that has changed your life. Talk about the issues facing the community, the state, the nation. If you would like them to be the kinds of people who are honest, truth seeking, and sincere, then be that yourself. More than anything you say, kids pay attention to who you are.


There is only so much that you can learn from school and books and movies. See the world or as much of it as you can. Expose yourself to different cultures. Collect stories of your adventures that make your classes come alive. Integrate the pictures you take and the artifacts you bring home into your lessons.


Most states require continued education as part of an ongoing licensing process. You must receive a certain number of university credits or professional development education credits to recertify. Some school districts offer their own professional development courses. Through continuing education, you will learn new ideas, develop new skills, broaden your knowledge base, and keep abreast of the latest developments in your field.


Join teacher organizations on the local, state, and national levels. Your content area professional organization will provide you with social contacts and educational programs. These organizations sponsor annual conferences with sessions on best practices, innovative strategies, how to teach difficult concepts, and integrating technology. Their publications—newsletters and journals—are a great way to keep current on issues in the field. Often there are themed issues. The organizations’ Web sites also offer excellent resources and references.

Table 17.1 Professional Organizations

General Professional Organizations

American Federation of Teachers

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

National Education Association

Phi Delta Kappa


Specialized Professional Organizations

American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages

American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance

American Alliance for Theater and Education

American Association of Teachers of French

American Association of Teachers of German

American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese

American Choral Directors Association

Association for the Advancement of Arts Education

Council for Exceptional Children

International Reading Association

Music Educators National Conference

National Art Education Association

National Business Education Association

National Council for the Social Studies

National Council of Teachers of English

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

National Science Teachers Association


In 1987, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards was created to establish standards identifying what teachers should know and be able to do. It provides a voluntary system for certifying teachers who meet rigorous standards. Following demonstration of five core propositions, teachers receive National Board Certification that is valid for 10 years and is renewable in one of 24 certificate fields, based on student developmental level(s) and the subject(s) being taught, with more being developed all the time.

As of this writing, there are 23,937 teachers holding National Board Certification across the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and overseas. During 2002–2003, an additional 15,000 teachers applied for this advanced certification. The application process takes place over the course of one school year. Teachers demonstrate their knowledge and skills through performance-based assessments that include a teaching portfolio, videotapes, student work samples, and analysis of the candidate’s teaching and student learning. Timed written exercises call for the demonstration of subject area knowledge and how to teach.

In order to qualify, you must have a B.A., a minimum of three years’ teaching experience in either public or private school, and a valid state teaching license for those three years. The fee for National Board Certification is $2300. The National Board Scholarship Program was created to make sure that all teachers who want to become candidates for National Board Certification have that opportunity. The resulting certification complements your professional license. In recognition of this accomplishment, many states are offering bonuses of $5,000 for each year a teacher holds a National Board Certification.


Do you see yourself staying in the same position in the same school for most of your career? Are there other positions you have in mind, such as coach, administrator, counselor, or school psychologist? Will you sponsor a new club or coach a different sport? Will you turn to another area of education, curriculum development, or administration? Will you share your expertise with others as presenters at conferences? Will you write articles for a professional journal? Are you interested in research? Will you teach at a local university?

Do you want to teach abroad for a period of time? If so, there are a number of opportunities for exchanges, teaching in American schools abroad, and brief sojourns organized by various organizations.


Teachers who thrive in the profession are those who keep themselves fresh and energized. They keep abreast of developments in their fields. They are constantly tinkering with their methods. They make changes in the ways they operate. They seek new ways to reach children more effectively.

One way to avoid boredom, burnout, and cynicism is to look for changes you can make in what you teach, how you teach, and where you teach. You can change grade levels or specialties. You can go back to school to change the focus of your work. You can team teach with others so you can learn about alternative strategies and styles. You can switch teaching assignments or schools. Or you can do it a more difficult way: You can stay in the same position but make significant changes in the ways you do it.

In spite of all the specific suggestions we have made and how hungry you are for even more detailed advice, there is a bigger picture to think about. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Your main priority during your first year of teaching is to successfully complete it with your sanity, health, and enthusiasm intact, taking pride in what you have accomplished. Without that, you won’t have a second year or a third.

The best teachers you ever had were able to convince you, on a primary level, that you had something important to offer others. That is your real job—to find the best that children have to offer and help them to discover this potential for themselves.