276. Colleagues

If you’re a teacher, there’s probably another teacher next door or down the hall, doing what you’re doing, but not the way you’re doing it. Ideally, you get some time to trade successful ideas with this teacher, and warn each other about possible problems. Ideally, you respect each other and see each other as comrades in the struggle to educate children in the best possible way.
There are many teachers who do develop this kind of give-and-take relationship. But it doesn’t always start that way, or even end up that way. For one reason or another, there are teachers who avoid each other, harbor ill feelings about each other, and don’t seem to stand a chance of becoming each other’s colleagues.
As a fairly opinionated teacher, I spent a lot of time disapproving of things other teachers did. I also disapproved of some things I did, but I knew why I did them, forgave myself, and tried to stop doing them. I rarely gave other teachers credit for that same commitment to growth, but in retrospect, and as a volunteer now, I think commitment to growth is a lot more common than I’d thought.
Teachers do, in fact, have a lot to learn from each other. Even teachers who seem to be on the opposite ends of some spectra. Without competition for approval, job security, and “rightness,” it is possible for teachers to clearly see each other’s strengths, and learn from each other. Cooperative learning is not just for children.
It’s too bad that I had to retire before I could clearly see other teachers as colleagues. I know there are plenty of paid teachers who already learn from each other whenever they get opportunities. I remember my own reaction to hearing administrators suggest that I learn from other teachers. I was usually pretty defensive (Why should I learn from them? They should be learning from me!)
Nowadays, when I find myself disapproving of a teacher, I let it happen for a while, but not too long. Maybe there are teachers who are doing things I consider ineffective or destructive. But lately I’ve discovered that those same teachers are often doing things that could serve as positive models for other teachers.
I don’t think my own reluctance to treat other teachers as colleagues was very unusual. Even the best of schools, managed by the best of administrators, contain traces of competitiveness and hostility among teachers. I know there are teachers who rarely talk to each other (though they may often talk about each other). I don’t know how to deal with those walls. But I’m convinced that there’s a lot to be gained by getting rid of them.

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