Teachers on auto pilot are doing the same things year in an year out and not making much progress
Tips for School & District Administrators

Teachers: How to Tell if Your Career is on Auto Pilot

By Brian Gatens

Lately, I find myself speaking more and more about the “Goldilocks effect” — finding the “just right” balance of many different factors that affect our schools.

How much parental contact should we shoot for? What kind of test questions should we use? How much homework (if any at all) is too much?

Teachers on auto pilot are doing the same things year in an year out and not making much progressThat, in turn, has me wondering about teachers going on “auto pilot”: Is there a just-right way to balance class activities and goals that carry over from year to year against the many new things we could be bringing to our practice?

It’s foolish to think teachers can reinvent themselves from year to year, but it’s just as foolish to do the same thing, in lockstep, for years on end.

How can you tell if you are on autopilot as a teacher? These are the leading signals:

Your students look bored and restless

Our students’ actions, body language and engagement send clear and accurate messages about their classroom experiences. Without fail, they will act out, show little enthusiasm and submit substandard work if you’re not challenging them.

That doesn’t mean your content has to be fascinating at all times, but natural enthusiasm and worthy activities will go a long way to help keep as many students engaged for as long as possible.

Begin the year talking about the relevancy of your subject area and how greater understanding will help all students to succeed in the future. Connect the class to the world outside of formal schooling, and you’ll be on the way to keeping student interest high.

This year’s copies are copies of last year’s copies

Oh, the dreaded year-to-year copy of a photocopy! If you find your tests and quizzes are nearly as old as your students, there’s a strong possibility you’re on auto pilot.

You don’t have to reinvent everything thing every year, but you can change up your assessment strategies. What can the students now do with what you’ve taught them? If the sole way students show mastery of your content is to regurgitate low-level facts and information, then you’ll need to reassess how you’re collecting feedback on student performance.

Assessment by exhibition, problem-based learning and real-life applications are just a few of the ways that you can measure student performance.

Your lesson plans never change

Most schools use online lesson planners that allow teachers to easily carry plans over from one school year to the next. This makes it far too easy to recycle last year’s plans.

Rather than fall into that trap, take the time to make sure you are moving in the proper pace and direction for your current class.

Don’t focus on the content too much–just look to the students and their needs. Change what you have to and trust you’re making the right moves for your class.

You’re ignoring professional development

The best professional development opportunities happen inside your actual work. For too long the primary model of teacher PD was to have everyone herded into the auditorium, lectured to for a few hours and sent back to the classroom with little or no follow-up or support.

In recent years, this has changed dramatically as schools have begun to infuse professional development into teachers’ regular work schedules. You really need to take advantage of these opportunities and use them to better serve your students. And try to tune out the nay-sayers who bash the notion of getting better at your profession.

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