By Teachers, For Teachers
Last week I was in a teaching strategies pinch. I wanted to create a unique Google Form for each student whereby every other classmate could leave comments. How do I set this up? I panicked. I didn’t know if any other teachers in my building would know an answer, and even if I wanted to ask them, they were busy in class. The tech coordinator could probably help, but he was slammed with people, too.
Thankfully, I turned to my Twitter PLN and tweeted my question. Within seconds, a helpful teacher responded with two tweets that solved my issue (“Have each student create their own form and create a spreadsheet with links to the forms on it … ”).
This teacher had no reason to help me, it seemed. He saw my tweet, knew he had an answer, and took time out of his day to help a relative stranger with his teaching strategies. After pouring out my gratitude, he responded with, “We’re all in this together.” I don’t think he could have said anything more accurate or inspiring.
Sometimes it doesn’t really feel like the teachers you share your building with are your teammates. Every now and then we feel petty, competitive, or defensive around one another. Even worse, we can ignore others completely and we assume a “my students, my class” mentality that casts a shadow over the rest of our school.
As guilty of all these offenses as we may be, it’s good to remember that we’re all teachers together. Whether in your grade, within your building, or across the country, we all share the same responsibilities. And the more we adopt the “We’re all in this together” mentality, the more we (and our students) will grow.
Let’s be honest—a majority of us didn’t join the profession to get rich, famous, or glorified. We knew what we were getting into and how much hard work would be involved. We became teachers because we inherently love kids, enjoy passing on what we know to them, and helping them achieve scholastic milestones. We relish those “A-ha” moments, the transformations from underdog to top dog. Ultimately, we’re helping young minds bloom into independent adults and despite the hardships that come with that, we love the job.
Admittedly, there’s a lot more that goes on outside of the classroom, too. We have a duty to collaborate with parents to ensure that their child is developing well, academically and socially. We’re also instinctively connected with our community’s needs and can facilitate those changes within our four walls.
Pretty big and exciting responsibilities, then, for us teachers!
Since we teachers collectively share these roles and the privilege of training our nation’s youth, it should be obvious that we aren’t the adversaries we sometimes pit ourselves to be—we’re teammates. From the inner city to the rural countryside, from grade schools through post-secondary institutions, we have a shared interest in the success of our youth.
When one teacher fails or falls down, it’s tempting to think, “Glad it wasn’t me!” But the truth is that when one of our colleagues fails, we all do. Our shared interest in the success of the next generation doesn’t permit us to feel superior to our teammates or believe we don’t need them. We all need each other.
There’s freedom in embracing each other as teammates—we’d all have a huge support system we can lean on and learn from. We won’t need to hesitate to ask for help, and we will look forward to taking a few extra moments to offer what we can to struggling teachers.
Start by letting your fellow teachers know that you’ve got his or her back and support them wherever possible.
When you know you need something—a tool, a resource, an idea, or a strategy—don’t hesitate to ask. It’s ultimately your responsibility—not just to your students—but also to your fellow teachers, your students’ parents, and the community that you do your best and use the appropriate tools to get you there. Remember, sometimes the right tool is actually asking for help from your colleagues—there’s no shame in leaning on others.
And, more importantly, when you have a chance to give, then give. Be the one who personifies the “We’re all in this together” mantra and model the team mentality around your school. Be open with your resources, your time, and your successes. Never push them on anyone, of course, but definitely make sure to share what you have. If you do something well, your students benefit. But if other teachers learn from you, then the effects of your expertise are amplified and chances are, they’ll also start sharing a trick or two with you.
As you seek out teachers to support and learn from, it’s easiest to start with the ones right next to you. You see one another every day, work with many of the same students, and understand your specific context better than any outsider could. These are your first teammates.
Once you’ve built your “Inner circle,” expand your community with the rest of your building. Teachers in your school might instruct other grades or subject areas, but they’re just as much invested in students’ success as you. Begin to connect even further by getting to know teachers in your area or district—whether they may be upper crust or lower tier schools in comparison with yours—or just at local conferences.
Don’t forget that with today’s abundance of digital tools and social media, we can connect to thousands of fellow educators who share the same passion and responsibility as we do. Once you feel comfortable in your local community, try your hand at expanding beyond the miles you’re willing to drive. The more you expand your network of teammates, the more opportunities you have to lean and give.
In this day and age, there’s absolutely zero benefit in trekking the journey alone. Avoid feeling competitive, ignorant, or adversarial toward your fellow teachers. We are teammates with the same objective and remember, we are all in this together.
How do you lean on and give to others? Who has leaned or given to you? Leave a comment and tell us your thoughts!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website ACTWritingTips.com.