Education Opinion

It takes a village to raise a teacher

By Jessica Shyu — January 03, 2008 3 min read
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It takes a village to raise a teacher.

A warm and fuzzy thought, yes, but in this day and age, not particularly insightful. Try naming a teacher prep, grad school or internship program that doesn’t emphasize inclusion, co-teaching and team building.

Given all that, as a new teacher, I was super-duper eager to work with veteran teachers, learn from their experiences and share what I knew. I was lucky. I found teachers who became my surrogate mothers, observed my teaching, gave me strategies and workbooks, and listened to me cry. They made me feel immediately supported.

And then, there were the less-than-supportive colleagues. The ones who rebuffed my attempts to collaborate and help do inclusion, and told me they didn’t have time to show me how to teach a reading skill. They were the ones who openly shunned me in front of students, spread rumors about me leaving in the middle of the school year, and switched to Navajo when I walked in the teacher’s lounge and laughed in my direction. Those were the ones who made me very, very angry. Angry and unwanted.

I remember going back to my classroom after school and slamming a chair against the wall. Or running to a secluded part of the mesa and scream as loud as possible into the blustery wind. One time, I started crying in school. It was awkward. (For the record, I am not usually a violent or dramatic person.)

Doing those things sometimes made me feel kind of good, at least for a few minutes (except when it felt really awkward.) But for the most part, it didn’t really do anything. Nothing changed. I had to step back and gain perspective on the situation. It was easy to get really angry and accept that there wasn’t anything I could do about it; but then I really would have hit a dead end. I wasn’t intentionally disrespectful to anyone, but I guess some people would interpret my extra-hours after school and suggestions on differentiation could come off as know-it-all-ish. No matter how well-intentioned I was, I was still an outsider going to their community school to “do good.” It was as much my job to build relationships with the adults as it was with the students.

I actively had to amp up my respect and humility, as well as my will to not give up and realize it was all within my control. I made a point to hang out with more than just the “non-Navajo” staff members on campus; my natural friendships could be interpreted as cliquey and I had to be aware of that.

I needed to check that I was operating with utmost humility at every corner. For the teachers who yelled at my students and then at me, because I disapproved at the way they were treating them, I couldn’t dare just assume they didn’t care about the kids (I really did find myself thinking that way, without realizing it). I needed to assume they cared about all the children and that we needed to collaborate on a way to improve the situation.

For the folks who switched to a Navajo when I entered the room, instead of assuming they were talking about me and walking away hurt, I needed to smile and sit down in the conversation and ask how their kids were doing. I needed to approach teachers I respected with specific compliments about their work and asking if they could teach me. I also needed to put myself out there; it helped to be open about being “different” and teaching them about my culture as well as learning about theirs.

As in any village, every school has people we get along with swimmingly, and people we don’t. But I knew that already, like I knew about collaboration, before I went in. What I didn’t realize was that the people we don’t immediately click with are sometimes the ones who stretch us even further as teachers and people.

The opinions expressed in New Terrain are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.