Friends or Acquaintances
Helping your own, while avoiding the trouble
In my college graduate program, I spent a full year in a high school with a high number of teachers eligible for retirement. Many of these educators had been teaching since the 1970s, and were lost in the new teaching strategies and different students than what they’d been accustomed to the last 30 years. They were ready to go.
These teachers sat around the workroom and the teacher’s lounge each day and complained. They moaned and they groaned and they went on and on about the deterioration of education in America. After my semester of classroom observations and my semester of student teaching (with one of those ready to retirees), I was feeling burnt out myself. It was just a dreary, dead climate. It was depressing and simply not a place I wanted to get out of my warm bed to go to each and every morning.
When I finally graduated and headed out to the teaching world, I went looking for brightness. I wanted to teach at a school with a positive climate and with teachers who still taught. I wanted to be with positive attitudes and teachers who loved walking into their rooms each day.
Your colleagues in your school building can really make your life easier. They will be your allies and your leaders and your followers. They will be the shoulders for you to cry on when your lesson fails terribly and will be the ones ready to throw the high-fives when your students are blazing through the halls bragging about your latest lesson. You fellow teachers will be the ones that help you make your teaching days less like work and more like what you want to do your entire life.
At my first teaching job, I came in weeks before classes were to begin to get my classroom ready. Oh, I had no idea what a task that would be. I had replaced a retired teacher that had taught in that same classroom for almost 30 years. It quickly became apparent that he had not moved anything in that time period, and as I went to move a bookshelf to another side of the room, part of the tile on the floor moved with it. The gum and the melted hard candy was everywhere, and papers bled from every shelf and cabinet. It was a disaster.
I was almost in tears from the overwhelming mess when a friendly face peeked into my room. She was standing there in her overalls, her hair pulled back, obviously in the building to do the same as I. But instead of returning to set up her room, she pushed up her sleeves, introduced herself and came into my room to help. Before we knew it, the assistant principal was also in the room with an assortment of trash cans and the three of us were trashing 30 years of history and laughing through the whole process. Those two women gave me hope and inspiration. The teacher in the overalls became my best friend and we often laughed and cried together in the years we worked there.
Many of the other teachers in my building became good friends, and others remained acquaintances for the time I worked there. I tended to be choosey about my friends in the building, surrounding myself with the positive teachers, the ones who taught with similar methods to myself and held high expectations for their students, as well. It gave us more in common and we were able to understand each others’ needs for support when times were rough.
Another thing to remember about teaching is that you never do it alone. I have not been in a school where I am not part of a team. At the high school level I worked with my other content area teachers to plan, gather resources, and attend trainings. We collaborated on our units, working to make sure our students would be prepared despite the schedule or teacher they have in the department. In middle school, I have worked on teams, collaborating with all content area teachers to integrate all areas together for learning.
Collaborative teaching is a wonderful thing! Working with other teachers allows you the opportunity to check and develop your ideas before you ever introduce them in a classroom. Having a sounding board helps you to hear your ideas and to get suggestions or improvements done before implementation. Sharing resources is another benefit.
In my two years of middle school teaching on teams, I have been surrounded by incredible teachers. We have worked together to make activities and to introduce lessons to help reinforce our content from other classes, and the students have a richer learning environment. While this does require team planning, it makes the learning so much easier to reinforce. Here are a few simple examples that teachers can adopt and modify to fit their own teams:
- Write a math open response question using content from the Social Studies lesson.
- Building Roman houses in the Social Studies classroom using learned math skills.
- Reading supplemental books in Language Arts to reinforce the Social Studies content.
- Creating maps that integrate the Social Studies content with the Science content.
- Take field trips with activities to foster all academic areas.
- Team teach to introduce varying perspectives on topics.
- Require students to keep their own grades on a running basis to reinforce math skills.
- Teach an entire Social Studies unit within a Language Arts class using primary sources.
- Collaborate on cumulative assignments so they will earn credit in two or more classes for the completion of one project.
All teachers can be great contributors to your classroom. Experienced teachers know what works, and new teachers have just been introduced to the latest and greatest methods. Share what you know with others, and work to make your entire team or school successful. Use each other to get ideas, tweak ideas, and to implement ideas and your students will be the ones to gain.
Another excerpt from my book, A Lesson Plan for Teachers.