I love the idea of collegiality, of gathering with my co-workers to discuss all aspects of teaching. We have many such discussions at school and they are both challenging and inspiring. But when we teach, we are behind the classroom door with our students, and it can be a lonely place.
I’ve been wondering about something that caught my attention in these past weeks of beginning conversations with the staff members. I wrote about the conversations earlier, how rich they were and how exciting to begin the year that way. However, I’ve also thought about these kinds of talks in a different light, that they fill a void in teachers’ lives. Despite the talks that occur in staff meetings, teacher workrooms, hallways, and playgrounds, teachers can still remain lonely. It’s rare to have someone actually ask to watch students with them, to discuss instructional strategies or to offer resources they might find useful. The few visits from the head of school each year have different goals of evaluation and feedback for the record. It is sometimes not collegial, often something just to be completed. With the rather recent advent of teacher coaches in schools, conversations with a colleague that focuses on one’s teaching and the improvement of student learning can help a teacher feel less alone. Using a term that’s collegial, as a coach, I am certainly there for them!
And so, my wondering is how to continue to help the loneliness that lurks in the classroom for teachers. They wonder if what they are doing is the right thing. They wish perhaps to talk only about themselves and their questions about students and teaching, along with worries about having enough time, enough knowledge, and enough stamina to get through the week. They are lonely.
I’ve had conversations with my own students about loneliness and used poems to unearth feelings that hide underneath smiling faces. Now, with teachers, my job is to do that same thing, to encourage feelings of loneliness to emerge, and then to swirl them away through observations and conversations, to let them know we’re all in this teaching work together, that they are not alone. Naomi Shihab Nye wrote “The Rider” about a boy roller-skating his loneliness away. I wonder if teachers keep so busy that they don’t take time to consider what good talks might mean to their professional lives and their teaching? It might be time for all schools to consider that coaching can mean emotional support to a staff as well as professional development.
You can find me always behind that door.
out to each student more and more,
so I teach.
But sometimes on the harder days
And I can’t figure out why I’m in a haze,
to myself that all will pass by in the morn.
I can stop these feelings of loss I mourn.