Key to a Growing Teacher

A friend of mine just posted this meme on my Facebook wall:

Key to a growing teacher

I had just started a blog idea entitled “Teaching is a Lonely Business”… because it is.  From the outside teaching may seem like a job in which we spend time with people all day long, so how could it be lonely? Spending time with students all day is not the same as spending time with colleagues. It’s different. Most of my day is spent in my classroom with my students. The only time I see other teachers is in the hallway between classes… and only those who are my immediate neighbors. We work through lunch, and we could spend the entire day planning, grading, and doing paperwork, yet we will would have things to take home with us. We just don’t have time to chat…much less collaborate on lesson planning.

However, this year I have made a commitment to myself to do a better job of connecting with my colleagues… especially those who are younger than I am. I feel that veteran teachers have a responsibility to encourage the new or relatively new teachers to keep them in the building!  So many teachers leave within the first five years of the career, that if we want to keep our teachers, we all need to get on board and help them!  Does that mean that we never mention our frustrations or vent about our annoying days?  Of course not, sometimes they need to know that even after 20 years, we still have bad days… but the awesome ones keep us coming back.

Communication. Teachers on a faculty – especially a large faculty – may not even know each other’s names. The students are surprised to find out that the teachers don’t know each other… but when they do figure that out… they can pit us against each other. When we are friends, we will more readily keep in touch and provide a united front when student issues arise.

Consideration. All too often people have a greater tendency to think badly of a stranger rather than a friend. We assume the best of a friend and the worst of a stranger. If the teachers get to know each other on a personal level, not only will we make sure that we all are reminded of the faculty meeting, but we will assume an error rather than a theft when our favorite snack disappears from the fridge in the teachers’ lunch area.

Cooperation. We need to help each other. We need to share technology tools – computer labs, computer carts, iPads – and library time. Often we are the ones who train new teachers on the quirks of the copy machines and the internal phone system. We advise the newbies to the unwritten rules of the building and explain the acronyms that would mean nothing to people who don’t work there. When you see a frazzled teacher, just a simple, “How can I help you?” could be like sending a life-line to a drowning person.

Collaboration. Over the years I’ve known four kinds of teachers when it comes to collaboration.  First is the non-collaborator – simply refuses to work with anyone else on anything.  Second is the giver-only. This teacher is pleased with the work he has done over the years and is willing to share, but has absolutely no interest in anything you have to offer. Third is the taker-only. This teacher has no interest in doing any of the work herself, she would prefer just to benefit from everyone else’s work. She says, “Just let me at your files so that I can take what I want”… well, maybe not in those words. Then fourth is the true collaborator – give, take, talk, plan, share… together. The more of us who will strive to be a true collaborator, the happier our work lives will be.

Connection. I don’t know anyone who says, “I really prefer to work in a building of strangers… that way I’m never expected to make small-talk… I keep to myself… do my job… and leave” although I’m sure people like that exist. It has always seemed to me that if you enjoy the people you work with every day, you will be a happier person… and a better teacher.  I am very fortunate right now to be in a very social faculty. We get together as often as we can – small groups, large groups, girls’ night events – we just enjoy each other’s company. It is in the after school time in a relaxed atmosphere that the true connection occurs. If you are a person who is intimidated by groups…especially at first… get to know one person. Go to dinner.  Hit a favorite coffee shop after work. Meet for the home football game.

Years ago I was a part of a small group of teachers who got together on our planning period. We had a four period day, so our planning was 90 minutes.  We could get our work done (or as much as we wanted to get done), head to the teacher’s work room… and make popcorn. We would pop a bag, spread it out on paper towels, and munch while we simply talked about life, and school, and stuff. Some days we had so many people gathered that we would go through 2 or 3 bags. These days we have only 45 minutes for planning… but we occasionally have popcorn Fridays – the administration pops popcorn for the whole faculty – and just the aroma of the popcorn reminds me of our little group.

Everyone wants to be a part of something. At work next week, make some popcorn, share it with someone you don’t know very well, and ask if there is any way you can help. You may just make a friend… but even if you don’t… at least you’ll be sharing the calories in that bag of microwave popcorn!