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Teaching Opinion

Teachers Shouldn’t Work in Isolation. Kids Need a Team.

By Starr Sackstein — July 25, 2017 3 min read
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Educators talk about wanting autonomy in the classroom, but that is different from isolation.

Although we can be a one man/woman show in the classroom once the door shuts, we hardly work in isolation and shouldn’t.

Teachers need each other. We must rely on our colleagues for collaboration and support, so we can best benefit our kids.

Behind every closed door, learning happens. The door is the portal to our sanctuary of shared space with our individual classes, quiet from the noise of everything that transpires beyond the wall.

Despite the feeling of solitude during the period behind a closed door, every teacher needs a friend, a colleague and an administrator on his/her side; this is the only way to make for a happy and long educational career.

Since the beginning of my career, I’ve been fortunate to have mentors and friends eager to help me grow. The second day I was in my first teaching job, Lori, the Teacher Center teacher, accosted me and dragged me into this veritable paradise of resources and lifelines. It was here that I made my first friend/colleague and developed my love of teaching.

Lori diligently planned lunchtime workshops that we newbies ate up. There were ten of us that year and we all became a cohort of friends who supported and cheered each other. If the Writing Project was coming to do a 12-week seminar, Lori convinced us we should all do it; not only would it satisfy our PD credit hour requirements but it would teach us how to bring writing into all contents. Boy, was she right.

In addition to the wealth of knowledge she shared with us, we had each other to discuss classroom challenges, students whom we didn’t feel we were reaching, and the amazing successes that made everything else bearable.

At my next school, it didn’t take long before I realized that being alone wasn’t going to make it easier. I was pregnant and new and very different from everyone else. Luckily, I was placed in a classroom with a veteran of the district who took me under his wing and clued me into the secrets that admin wouldn’t share.

In addition to my roommate, I grew close with the technology specialist and another English teacher. These friendships made the transition into the new school smoother. They kept me in the loop when I left on maternity leave and made me feel missed in my absence, which made it easier to come back when it was time.

The two years I spent at that suburban school were more challenging than the inner city, but the few close friends I made inspired me to keep pushing on.

Being a teacher is hard work. It requires camaraderie. It demands support. Although we may want to be alone in our sanctuaries for 40-60 minutes at a clip, we will always want to be connected to share what happened within it when it’s over.

Teachers always need to be united above personal differences—especially within a school, a department, a classroom. This isn’t only true of teachers—school leaders must work together as well to do what’s best for the students.

Ways to increase collaboration in your building:

  • Create a weekly grade-level team to discuss student progress—do it because you want to and not because it is required.
  • Intervisit teachers with whom you know students respond well.
  • Develop lessons and units with teachers in different disciplines on your grade-level team.
  • Work with folks on your vertical team to align standards and avoid replication across years.
  • Ask to share a classroom with a person who either teaches in your discipline or who is on your grade-level team and on one of your free periods, stick around to see what their learning space looks like.
  • Share best practices on a pineapple chart (you can read more about this in Hacking Education).
  • Use technology to increase how and when you can collaborate with applications like Google Docs and/or Voxer.

Although the act of teaching is often done alone, teachers are all on a team in a school; we work together for the mission and for each student we teach. It is helpful to realize that we are a team and although there may be moments of isolation, we all want what’s best for the community.

Who has made an impact on you at your current job? Why? Can you say you are this person for someone else? How do you know? Please share

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