trade secrets

Trade Secrets

Beth Maloney Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Mentoring, Professional Development

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My husband is a professional chef. And yes, I fully understand that I am the luckiest woman in the world. He was working in the restaurant kitchen when he was asked to come out and speak with a chef who had come to the restaurant to get some advice about vegan cooking. The restaurant owner walked by and semi- jokingly said to my husband, “Don’t give any of our secrets away!”

As my husband was telling me this story, I drew some connections. In teaching, we often keep trade secrets, but we shouldn’t.

Teachers identify support as one of the top five reasons they leave the profession (according to an ADE report). There were over 2,000 teacher vacancies reported this month throughout the state (according to this source ). In Arizona, 18.8 percent of teachers left the profession entirely between 2012 and 2014, nearly triple the national average.  Equally frightening, between 12 and 24 percent (depending on the source) of current teachers in Arizona plan to leave teaching in the next two years, double the national average.

The numbers don’t lie and the experience can be felt strongly throughout our schools today. The number of veteran teachers in our schools is dwindling. We are surrounded by more and more new teachers who need support. New teachers need ongoing professional development and mentoring since a lack of support is one of the main reasons why teachers leave a school or leave the profession entirely.

This job keeps getting harder and harder. More and more students enter my classroom, many of them unprepared for the level of academic rigor our current standardized tests measure. Increased class size makes it harder to see and feel that I am making a difference with individual students. Many of my students have social and emotional needs that are outmatched by my range of teaching skills. I am supposed to teach more and more hungry, world-weary kids. Even as my students’ needs have increased, and the demands for increased rigor have been raised, the school support services have been cut.

Well-intentioned but perhaps short-sighted people don’t understand classroom support services fall under “administrative” dollars.  People balk at administrative costs without really understanding the kind of services that can fall under that umbrella.

Honestly, if I were entering teaching at this time, I’m not sure I would last. I didn’t have the skill set at the beginning of my career to handle the needs of my current students. Sometimes I’m not sure I have what it takes now, after 17 years of experience! I would have left in frustration and probably, shame.

But I can do something to help the many new teachers in my building. I can help a new teacher with submitting book orders, scheduling parent/teacher conferences, finding time management strategies for the endless piles of grading and paperwork. I can stop in to say hi and listen. I can help them learn to reflect on their students and teaching.

Let’s not keep trade secrets. Find a new teacher in your building or district and buy them a cup of coffee. Ask them how it’s going.  Share your favorite lesson or technique. Boost their morale.

Sometimes I forget why I teach. But I remember the many, many reasons when I’m talking to a person who is just figuring it all out. Just beginning to see how massive and challenging this job really is.  Just realizing it takes the strongest of the strong, and the smartest of the smart to do this job well. But that is why it is so important that we are there for each other.  To do what we do best and TEACH each other our trade secrets. Our students deserve teachers who know all the tricks of the trade and who are in it for the long haul. Long enough to invent some new tricks of their own.

By the way, I’m pretty sure my husband’s trade secret is black truffle salt.


I am in my twentieth year of teaching and enjoy every minute of my time in the classroom. I have taught kindergarten, third grade, and currently teach fifth-grade science and social studies in Surprise, Arizona. I am an enthusiastic public school advocate. I am a National Board Certified Teacher and a Candidate Support Provider for the Arizona K12 Center, where I coach and mentor other teachers undergoing the rigorous National Board certification. I am the past president and co-founder of the Arizona National Board Certified Teacher Network and president and founder of the Arizona Chapter of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. I am honored to be Arizona’s 2014 Teacher of the Year and appreciate having the opportunity to represent the teachers of Arizona. I love talking with and learning from other teachers around the world. I strongly believe that teacher voice in the public education dialogue is the best way to make change for the better for all students.

Comments 7

  1. Angela Buzan

    In addition to needing support and having access to trade secrets, you’re spot on about new teachers benefitting from ACCESS to veteran teachers. These teachers offer such comfort and wisdom to younger teachers; if nothing else, it’s good to have “elders” put our crazy ideas into perspective from time to time. Since moving to Flagstaff three years ago, I have seen a number of brilliant teachers retire or leave the profession and I feel the loss of their expertise often.

  2. Angelia

    Beth, this is a fantastic post. Thank you for sharing your trade secrets (and your husbands)! I love when you said that sometimes we just need to ask new teachers how its going and show them the ropes. Thank you for keeping us mindful of what it felt like in the beginning of our careers before our tool belts were as loaded and sophisticated as they are 10, 15, or 20 years in. Let’s do our best to keep each other in the amazing profession for the long haul. Our peers and students need us.

  3. Jess Ledbetter

    Hmmm, black truffle salt…I’ll have to try that! I totally agree with this post. I think that one reason why teachers don’t share their “secrets” is fear that they might be wrong. It can feel vulnerable to expose your practices–and I think this creates barriers in teacher dialogue. However, I strongly believe (and imagine that you do, too) that National Board Certification is the key to increasing teacher efficacy and improving dialogue between colleagues who learn how to explain why their methods work in their classroom :)

  4. Christine Porter Marsh

    You’ve nailed one of the reasons that the idea of “competition” in schools is so scary. If/when “they” (whomever “they” may be) start linking pay to individual teachers, any prayer we have of sharing trade secrets will be gone. The focus needs to be on collaboration, not competition, but I fear that the education DEformers are moving in the direction of competition.

  5. Jennifer Robinson

    Thanks for sharing this post. I struggle with colleagues and educators who do not share their trade secrets. Imagine if we all looked at the end picture – successful schools and empowered students and worked together, truly worked together to create a network of teachers who supported one another and put students first.

  6. Alaina Adams

    Thanks for highlighting the need to share “trade secrets.” Even in a culture of competition, we can unite forces as professional educators to lift one another up. Rather than belaboring a negative narrative, we… WE… the adult humans that do the work every day can decide how we will react to the broad brushes and paint strokes smattered across our profession. It’s a daily decision we make as to what kind of professional we want to be – thank you for inspiring me to use my choices for positivity in the face of so much negativity friend.

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