How to Be the Best Teacher Every Day

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In Episode 81 of the Hack Learning Podcast, Mark Barnes shares a heartfelt story from James Sturtevant about being the best teacher you can be.

Look for What You Can Do Tomorrow below the story.
Listen to “81: How to be the Best Teacher Every Day” on Spreaker.

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Taken from the new Hack Learning Anthology: Innovative Solutions for Teacher and Leaders

“Good Luck,” by James Sturtevant

Bleak news greeted me in the summer of 2010. I was five years from retirement. While I had always enjoyed teaching, part of me was ready to commence a new chapter in my life. Thirty years is a long time to do anything. But thirty years doesn’t come close to representing the average American life span. I’ve never permitted my job to define me, so I was looking forward to spending the next five years planning my next professional excursion.

On our teacher workday that fateful August, the day before the students arrived, I learned that the State of Ohio’s Public Employee Retirement Systems had been devastated by the Recession of 2008. The upshot was my October 2015 retirement target would be undermined. I’m a positive person, but it was like being informed in the last few miles of a marathon that the race would be extended.

The next twenty-four hours were painful. I felt like I’d fulfilled my part of the obligation to the good people of Ohio. I like having a plan, and this development really shook me. As has happened frequently in my career when I’ve been confronted by significant personal challenges, all those feelings of turmoil evaporated at 7:30 a.m. the next day–the first day of school. A sweet fourteen-year-old girl marched up to me, smiled, and raised her right hand. I looked at her quizzically, but then I instinctively raised my right hand too. Then I caught on and we high-fived one another. She said, “I’m so glad you’re my teacher. I’ve heard awesome things about you.”

I thanked her and then quickly shuffled down the hall to the small men’s room in the faculty lounge. I shut the door, locked it, rotated to a corner, and broke into passionate sobs. It was so intense, so unexpected. It suddenly dawned on me how selfish I’d been. I remembered what an awesome privilege it is to help kids blossom.

Hack Learning Anthology

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I composed myself, blew my nose, stared at myself in the mirror, and thought If you’re going to be a teacher for the foreseeable future, be a great one.

In August of 2016 I’ll begin my thirty-second year of bonding, encouraging, and learning from youngsters. And there’s no end in sight. I’m grateful for my experience in 2010. It shamed and inspired me. Since then, I’ve become a much better teacher. I’m the old guy in the building who’s not afraid to try things. I’ve recommitted myself to compassionate teaching. I love learning new tactics from younger tech-savvy colleagues. As a result, my students have thrived.

The past five years in the classroom have been magical. I published my first book. I’ve made amazing friends with podcasts and on Voxer. And now, I’m so excited to offer this book, which wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for a sweet and tender compliment offered by a child on a late summer morning. Maybe I can be that motivating force for you.

This book is stocked with ideas that can transform your class. If you had the commitment and fortitude to purchase and then read these pages, your heart is in exactly the right place. This disposition is the most important part. The rest is just trial and error. Take the hacks in this book and give them a shot. Who knows? The next five years could be magical for you.

Good luck with engaging your students.

What You Can Do Tomorrow

Take on a passion project — Try something new that is in some way related to your career. Sturtevant wrote two books and produces a weekly podcast. This work helps him share new practices and give students a voice. Passion projects help you love your work more than you may realize. Learn more about Passion Projects in this episode.

Reflect — Consider all you do that is good. It’s human nature to dwell on the negative rather than to accentuate the positive. Think of the good you do each day for kids. These reflections will drive you to continue to be the best your can be daily.

Cry — In the story above, James Sturtevant explains how, overcome by emotion, he cried. After the tears, he reflected on what was amazing about teaching, and he rededicated himself to being the best teacher he could be every day. Don’t be afraid to cry.

For more great ways you can always be your best, check out Hack Learning Anthology: Innovative Solutions for Teachers and Leaders.

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Author: Hack Learning Team

The Hack Learning Team brings you right-now solutions for teaching and learning from some of the best educators in the world. Look inside our library at

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