Monday, June 16, 2014

In This Together

People think teaching is a solitary profession.   “You don’t have an assistant?” they ask with a look of pity on their face.  What they don’t realize, looking in from the outside, is that teaching is most definitely a team sport whether you are lucky enough to have an assistant or not.    More and more, we’re encouraged to view students in our school as “OUR students”…all of them… not yours, mine, and hers.  OURS. 

In my corner of my building, I’ve never known it any other way.  They have always been OUR students, and we have always been in this together.  When I started teaching fourth grade, every regular education teacher on my grade level had 1.5 or less years of experience.  Talk about the blind leading the blind!  We didn’t just teach together…we learned together, we planned together, we laughed together, we tried not to cry too much together, and we shared EVERYTHING…together.  And somehow, seven years passed…and we kept coming back for more, and so did our students.   How and when did we become experienced teachers, together?

What people don’t realize is that you can’t do this job alone.  Well, you can try, as I know from experience (see If I Knew Then), but it won’t end well.  We need feedback, we need other perspectives, we need support, and we need meaningful contact with a human being more than four feet tall.  We need someone to proofread our newsletters and look out for our kids when we need a quick restroom break.  We need someone to laugh with over what little Johnny did that day or listen when we’re concerned about what’s going on for little Johnny at home, and we need that same person to take little Johnny off our hands for half an hour when we’ve reached the end of our rope in our power struggle with him.

For me, I’ve been fortunate to have one of those “someones” right across the hall for seven years straight.  She’s never said a cross word to me, always helped with a smile, been honest when I needed honesty and gentle when I needed gentleness.  Somehow in the midst of loud cafeteria lunches, tedious staff meetings, stressful National Boards attempts, and hours yelling back and forth between our rooms after school, we’ve become good friends and not just co-workers.  We’ve grown into experienced teachers together, and next year, we’ll keep on growing separately, as she changes grade levels and possibly even schools (willingly, but not easily). 

As she’s packed up boxes this past week, it’s made me think about the pieces of her that are tucked away in my heart.  That’s how it is with teaching; we are modeling for each other even when we don’t realize it.  From her, I’ve gained an appreciation for patience with students and creativity in the classroom.  In another co-worker, I admire organization and forethought in her planning.  In yet another, I try to emulate the way she truly connects with her students.  Another of my original 4th grade level colleagues moved away a couple of years ago, and there are things that I still do in my classroom that I learned from her.  We are stronger as a team than we could ever be individually, if only we’ll allow ourselves to learn from each other and not just teach our students.  Who benefits the most?  The students. 

It’s been easy for me to “team” with my coworkers the last few years.  We came into this together, and we needed each other to stay afloat.  But as the “beginner” years of my teaching career draw to a close and I enter into a new phase of at least somewhat knowing what I’m doing, I hope not to lose the spirit of cooperation that has been the theme of these last seven years.  There will always be someone next door who has an idea my students could benefit from and someone across the hall who might need a listening ear.  
...May we never close the doors to our classrooms and forget.

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” 
–Proverbs 27:17

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