The Four Stages of Teaching Stage 3: Mastery

The Four Stages of Teaching Stage 3: Mastery


Kevin A. Ryan, founder of Boston University’s Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character, lists the “four stages of teaching” as Fantasy, Survival, Mastery, and Impact. Insight into all the stages is useful for a teacher at any stage.

Too many teachers, disillusioned after losing the Fantasy stage, never grow beyond Survival. The hard truth that teaching isn’t easy proves too much to accept. Thoughts of progress are buried under the frustration of endless “coping,” and creative energy is spent on self-pity.

Truly committed teachers, however, are resilient and ever-growing. To them, a tough day is more than an endurance test; it’s a tool for learning and moving forward. And move forward they do—into the Mastery stage of teaching, which is characterized by a strong sense of responsibility and a passion for the work. One secret of Mastery-level teachers is that they never forget learning is for them as well as for their students.

Tips for Mastering the Mastery Stage


  • Be proactive. Regularly review how things are going in the classroom, what you’re proud of, and what you’d like to improve.
  • Don’t blame your students or “the system” if a teaching approach performs badly. Revise the approach (or the way you handle it), or try another. If you demand everyone and everything always conform to your idea of what should work, you have only yourself to blame for poor results.
  • Expect the best of every student—not in the sense of scolding them for “not trying,” but by believing in them and respecting them as individuals. Always concentrate on helping everyone discover their strengths.
  • Remember that there’s more to learning than high scores on standardized tests. You’ll always have students who get bored or frustrated with “standard” learning. Talk to them and learn where the problem lies, working with them to figure out approaches that will help everyone get the best from the curricula.
  • Don’t be afraid to hold “how could we improve this class?” brainstorming sessions for your students. Even the youngest children have helpful insights—and they’ll love you for valuing their input.
  • Don’t be surprised if some of your colleagues react to your growing success with snide remarks or “it won’t last” predictions. Many Survival-level teachers are jealous of and threatened by their higher-stage coworkers: for one thing, you make it harder for them to excuse their own lack of progress with “it’s impossible to get anywhere anyway.” Don’t take their bad attitudes personally or waste time arguing with them.
  • Spend time with your most effective colleagues. Ask them for advice on situations you struggle with. Bounce ideas off them. Just “hang out” and absorb their positive attitudes.
  • Remember that the best of us have our bad days: be ready to notice and respond when a “master” or “high-impact” colleague needs an encouraging word. This also reminds you not to get lost in futile dreams of a time when the job will always be 100% perfect.
  • Take your turn as a mentor and sounding board for less experienced teachers who are serious about progressing to Mastery.