Ode to my Colleagues
New teachers receive a bevy of advice—classroom management tips, flexible seating suggestions, etc. As a veteran teacher who is now transitioning out of the classroom, I would offer only one other important—though less common—directive.
Get to know your colleagues. Better yet—love your colleagues.
When I began teaching in 2008, I was an island. I wanted to show everyone that I could do it on my own, that I had the creative capacity to dream up my own lessons and manage my own (albeit roving) classroom. But as the year wore on, I realized that I couldn’t do it alone. Even if I managed to create everything from scratch, to be completely self-sufficient, I needed my coworkers.
Teachers need other teachers. They don’t tell you that in college.
There are practical reasons, of course. Teachers need collaboration. They need someone to watch their class while they run to the bathroom. They need to know whether that one particularly unruly kid only acts out in their class. Much like their students, they need friends to join them at lunch.
But here is something that is just occurring to me as I prepare to say goodbye to my co-workers: while my high school and college friends are still important and still very much cherished, they no longer know me in the way that my teacher friends do. I have been shaped and changed by my occupation, for better and for worse.
Teachers need teachers because, sometimes, you face a personal crisis, but you still have to juggle five classes of needy teenagers as though nothing were amiss. And that sort of pain is unique. Years ago, I lost two pregnancies mere months apart. I felt like I was shattered and incoherent and beyond hope. I went about the motions of teaching, but I didn’t think I was doing it well, which only added to my grief. But my teacher friends were there to buoy me along. And, because they were with me each day, they understood my anguish in a way that many people didn’t. There were friends who offered me their condolences but then quickly began sending me baby shower invitations. But my teacher friends knew that I needed tenderness. They shielded me. One of my co-workers called to quietly reveal her pregnancy over the phone, not wanting me to find out on social media or through the grapevine. I’ll never forget that gesture of love.
Good teacher friends become family, and, like family, sometimes you squabble and disagree and become frustrated with one another. But, when your co-workers are remarkable people (like mine) your bond is unconditional. Nothing really changes.
Days ago, my coworkers threw me a going away party. Every detail was elaborate and thoughtful and, above all, showed that my colleagues truly knew and appreciated me. When you’re around people who think that highly of you, the hard days are easier to bear. Confiscating cell phones and vapes or grading several stacks of essays feels easier because there are people you can commiserate with, people you love.
So, new teachers, as you begin to painstakingly arrange your classrooms and type up your syllabi and Google ice breaker activities for the first day of school, take some time to get to know the people who populate your hallway. If you’re lucky, it will result in friendships that will last a lifetime.
And today, I feel very, very lucky.