A teacher for all seasons: The teaching cycle


E. Andrés Uribe-Alpízar 
Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero



Fig. 1, Teacher Andrès Uribe with UAGro  student.


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people

 can change the world. Indeed, It´s the only thing that ever has.”

                                                                                                                              -Margaret Mead


Teachers go through different cycles and phases in their professional life. Some of them may have to face serious difficulties in trying to maintain a sense of engagement and excitement with the business of teaching. Teachers who are better informed as to the nature of this cycle may be able to evaluate what phase of the cycle they are in and decide what aspects of their teaching they need to change.

Key words:  cycle, phases, veteran, novice, collaborative, self-help group, Teacher Development, disengagement.



Teachers go through different cycles and phases while they develop professionally and in due time and through a lot of “at the chalkface” type of experiences and a series of developmental activities, they may find some of the answers which help them overcome a bit of the anxiety and uncertainty inherent to the profession of teaching.

The objective of this article is to define and explain the essential features of the teachers’ life-cycle by addressing the theories and academic practices as experienced at the Autonomous University of Guerrero by professionals of English as a Foreign language. We are part of a Collaborative Self-help group called TDT, “Teachers Developing Together”, set up in 2009 and decided to address this topic in a series of “talking shop”1 sessions, based on readings by Huberman (1989),       Jarvis (1990), Sikes (1989), and Woodward (2010). The sessions were held during our fall meetings and discussions of 2012.

 What is a collaborative Self-Help Group? In a SHG teachers themselves meet once or twice a month, to discuss an exchange feelings and ideas about problems and ways to solve them based on the premise that: “No Teacher is an Island. Isolation is a barrier to professional development.”  Reed (1993).

One of the aims of establishing and attending a voluntary SHG, is to let the teachers themselves be in charge of choosing, designing, and deciding on their own how to implement the developmental activities they would like to exploit in order to improve as teachers and human beings as well.

My role in the group was basically as a participant and facilitator of self-development activities. I encouraged the teachers of the language center, myself included, to explore as many ways as possible to develop ourselves in whatever way or direction each participant may have may have chosen.  Developmental activities such as:  job swapping, work with a skilled fellow teacher, watching someone else, peer supervision or support, writing and presenting a paper, lectures, workshops, seminars, webinars, distance learning and so on. (Roberts, 1998: 224-225).

1 “Talking Shop” is a colloquial manner of speaking used to express  the idea or situation that involves people, usually co-workers,  talking about business or professional affairs.  In our case teaching-learning oriented.

Three important questions came up during one of our SHG sessions regarding teachers, their professional practice and their ages:

·       1.-How can I establish my level of development as a teacher?

·       2.-Is there a close connection between my number of years as a teacher and what I do in my classroom, my beliefs and repertoire of techniques, procedures, and approaches?

·       3.-Is my professional practice affected by my years of experience? how?                                                                                                                                                                          

In asking and answering questions such the ones above, teachers decided to start reading and doing a bit of research on the life and phases of teachers and the so called “Teaching Cycle”. Important researcher names such as Huberman (1989) Woodward (2008), Sikes (1989), and Jarvis (1990) came up. Teachers analysed the teaching cycle and learned from it: 

1.- Years of Teaching: 1-3 years  ( Novice Teacher ).

Survival and discovery are the key points for this particular group.

2.- Years of Teaching: 4-6 years ( Apprentice Teacher ).

 Teachers tend to settle down in their roles. A period of stabilization ensues. "Finding your feet", "trying out new techniques" Experience new ways for doing things.

3.- Years of Teaching: 7-18 years  ( Professional Teacher ).

This period in a teacher's life can lead to experimentation and possibly activism born out of stagnation. There is a desire to use different materials. Teachers become more interested in HOW to do their work. This leads to teachers wanting to learn more, becoming interested in professional development, and also becoming more ambitious

4.- Years of Teaching: 19-30 years ( Expert Teacher ).

Serenity and possibly conservatism mark these years.  Tessa Woodward (2000) explains that a veteran teacher is one who has been teaching for more than 24 years.  A "veteran" of teaching feels serene, more relaxed, more self-accepting, if a lesson doesn’t go too well experienced practitioners have learned to accept calmly that they have done their best. Some veteran teachers are reluctant to accept innovations.

5.- Years of Teaching: 31 - 40 years ( Veteran/Seasoned  Teacher ).

 The key words which mark this cycle are serenity or disengagement. Some teachers are already mentally retired when they reach this high number of years. There is a theory of disengagement whereby ageing individuals tend to withdraw, as they may feel a bit squeezed out by the younger more energetic teachers. On the other hand, some veteran teachers feel they have a responsibility to help younger teachers to set off in the right path, that novice teachers need compassion, patience and tolerance in order to start their own process of becoming the best teacher it is in them to be.

Having lived the experience of setting up a collaborative ELT self-help group,  we were able to accomplish several important things such as:

 *Getting together to talk about needs, ideas, exchanging points of view on our field and profession.   

*Ever since the SHG was set up there is a feeling of caring and sharing among its members; we learn about other teachers´ names, ages, interests, fears, common problems we share in terms of our professional practice as well as suggestions or tips on how to try and solve them.  

·       For the non-native speakers of English, attending the SHG sessions has been a tremendous opportunity to improve our linguistic and communicative competence as all of our meetings were always conducted in English.

·       We had a series of classroom observations and the teachers feel differently about the experience now, as they realize that observing other peers or being observed by them, is useful not only for evaluation purposes, but also as a truly self-development activity.

·       Teachers started to read more in English; some of them had hardly ever done that before setting up our SHG. Some teachers, like myself, have decided to try and start writing articles hoping they´ll be published one day.

·       Trying to become a genuine collaborative self-help group each and everyone of the participants took turns to lead our sessions and preparing talks or presentations, and thus, everybody felt on equal footing and equally responsible.

In setting- up our SHG we also had some setbacks as well. It´s not always easy to understand why teachers would not get involved with a project that would seem positive and rewarding in terms of professional development. Some 15 teachers showed up to our first meetings and some of them dropped out. Finally, only six of us remain in the group, and as I see it now, It`s better to have six keen ones, than fifteen half-hearted participants. I also realize now that many people instinctively fear situations which may require them to reveal more of themselves than they are  comfortable with, and therefore when setting up a SHG one must be patient and tolerant with all the members of such group.

The results of this experience and episodes as experienced in our Collaborative Self-Help group would suggest that the idea of teacher development through self-development takes many forms and is very much related to the number of years that one has worked as a language teacher. We found out that it has different contextual meanings and that it operates from a variety of implicit and explicit beliefs of the teachers, which lead them to undertake different forms of action. It would also appear that teachers involved in a collaborative self-help group, given the right conditions, can in fact, create a facilitative climate that strongly fosters the possibility of self-development. And finally that further research would in fact be necessary in order to continue studying and analysing all the implications that the cycles and phases of teachers working in their development through self-development may have in the language classroom.  



Huberman, M. A. (1989).The professional life cycle of teachers. Journal Article: Teachers College Record, Vol 91(1),   pp. 131-57.

Huberman, M.A. (1993). The Lives of Teachers. New York: Teachers College Press, Cassell.

Jarvis, J. (1991). Perspectives on the in-service needs of NNS teachers of English to young learners. The Teacher Trainer: Vol. 5.

Roberts, J.  (1998). Language Teacher Education. pp. 224-225. London: Arnold

Reed, L. (1993). Reflective Practice in Action: 80 Reflection Breaks for Busy Teachers. California: Corwin  Press.

Sikes, P. (1989). Teachers’ Career Trajectories and Work Lives. Professional Learning and Development in Schools and Higher Education: Vol. 3. Cambridge: Editorial Board. 

Woodward, T., (2010). The Professional Life Cycles of Teachers. Webinar recording [video]. Recuperado en:  http://cetqa.cambridge.org/sites/default/files/resources/Woodward%20-%20Life%20Cycles.mp4