The Four Stages of Teaching Stage 4: Impact

The Four Stages of Teaching Stage 4: Impact


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.


The teacher who reaches Impact level has largely fulfilled the Fantasy-stage dream—tempering it with experience and sound judgment. This is the teacher whose class all the best students want to be in, the teacher who stands out as not only effective but exceptional. Impactful teachers are full of energy, never lack for original ideas, and can engage almost anyone’s full attention. They love their work, and students love learning from them.

That isn’t to say such a teacher enjoys a problem-free career. There are still days when bad weather snarls up the commute or the DVD projector fails. Occasionally, there’s a serious problem: parents who complain about “abuse” because a teacher had the audacity to ask their spoiled kid to sit down, or an administrator who judges all teachers by how exactly they follow some outdated by-the-book regimen. But Impact-stage teachers know how to let minor annoyances roll off their backs, and how to deal effectively with tough problems. Teaching, with all its ups and downs, is something they couldn’t not do.

Tips for Making the Impact Stage Last

  • Keep up with educational and societal trends.
  • Network with other teachers, on and off the job. Keep learning from what they’ve experienced and created. Share advice and encouragement.
  • Choose optimistic and effective colleagues to associate with; encourage negative ones as you can. By this stage, you’ll have built up a fair level of immunity to catching bad attitudes from others—but even so, don’t spend too much time with complainers. Anyone’s effectiveness can be slowly poisoned by bad company.
  • If someone is truly antagonistic—student, parent, fellow teacher, or administrator—and if your best attempts to resolve it or live with it fail, you may have to consider outside arbitration. In any case, determine to keep a win-win mindset and not let your pride blind you to all goals beyond “defeating the enemy.”
  • Understand that a standout teacher will likely face at least one major problem during a career—the price of success is drawing some fire simply by standing out. Don’t waste time worrying about it, but don’t slide into complacency either. Keep your effectiveness a matter of ongoing record; save copies of all good reports and awards.
  • Guard yourself at all cost against the creeping overconfidence that says you’re doing so well, nothing could possibly hurt you—not a “small” compromise of your integrity, nor starting to take your friends for granted, nor letting one tough student know who’s boss. Star performers in any field can catch this attitude after a few good years, and it ruins more careers than any outside enemy ever did. Do regular self-evaluations and nip problems in the bud immediately. Ideally, join with two or three other teachers to hold each other accountable for sticking to values and goals.
  • Promise yourself to keep learning and growing for the whole of your career and beyond.