589. When Colleagues Aren’t Collegial

It’s great when people who are trying to do similar things can work together, learning from, teaching, and supporting each other. Together, they can move mountains. Or if mountains won’t budge, defeat involves a little less agony if it’s not lonely. I know that teachers have lots they can learn from and teach each other. And they have some obvious bonds: they all work with people younger than themselves, trying to help those people learn. They may have different reasons, goals, methods, and styles, but they usually do have a lot in common.
If teachers don’t focus on what they have in common, and/or if they focus too intently and/or frequently on what they don’t have in common, they can end up really getting on each other’s nerves. And there are many ways teachers can be different from each other – ranging from heartfelt religious beliefs to simple matters of taste. I know that some differences seem insurmountable: you’re probably not going to get along very well with someone you consider evil. But I also know that some people who could benefit by relating with each other avoid each other’s company.
I’ve encountered my share of teachers I wanted to have nothing to do with and who wanted nothing to do with me. My thoughts about teaching sometimes clash with someone else’s thoughts. My thoughts about politics, religion, sports, and many other topics sometimes alienate another teacher. My sense of humor bothers some people. When I’ve disliked another teacher and/or been disliked by him or her and we’ve consequently avoided each other altogether, I’m pretty sure we’ve both missed out on some good learning.
For example, I once worked with a teacher who really bothered me. We were on a teaching team, and both she and I got along fine with the other members of the team. But my respect for children annoyed her and her lack of respect for them annoyed me. She told me that children had to EARN her respect, and from my perspective, the way to earn her respect was to do exactly what you’re told to do. And there were some children who did that, and she did respect them. But other children suffered.
I could go on and on about what I didn’t like about this teacher. In fact, I did, when I got home. I was married to a woman who didn’t yet have a paying job, and she spent a lot of time listening to my complaints. The poor woman! I never spoke with the teacher in question about what was wrong. And she never spoke with me about it. We just avoided each other, acted polite when we had to spend time together, or made snide comments now and then. But that teacher knew some things I didn’t know about teaching children to read. Over the years, she had developed techniques I didn’t develop until years later.
Now, I still encounter teachers who bother me. But it’s easier to notice what’s good about them. I guess that’s partly because I don’t HAVE to work with them. And there is good to notice. As far as my hostile thoughts about these teachers, the worst I do is not write much about them. And they don’t seem to mind that.

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