By Meghan Paris(@MsParisDL)
As educators, we spend a lot of our professional lives thinking about what is best for the humans we teach. How do we help them grow into the people they should be? How do we help these students reach their fullest potential? How do we help them be happy? One thing that I rarely think about, as an educator, is how do I encourage and assist my colleagues, the humans I teach with, instead of compete with them or isolate myself from them?
Coming from a school that centered around test scores and students as collections of data, I thrived on the competition. I was good at teaching kids how to game the test, and that gave me great test scores. I was praised for these scores, given bonuses based on these scores, but the thing that fueled me was competing against my colleagues. Competition is a dividing force and it doesn’t create collaboration, but it was encouraged by my administrators as a means of gaining recognition for the school. I was a first year teacher being told that test scores made me a good teacher.
The next year of my teaching experience was spent isolating myself from my colleagues. I was the only History teacher in the network, meaning I had no school sanctioned opportunities for collaboration. Instead, my room became an island, where I taught the best I could and tried to create a culture of students showing me that they were learning. Needless to say, in a charter school that was quickly going under based entirely on the lack of high test scores, my efforts were less than appreciated.
This year, at my new school, Design Lab, I have the opportunity to truly collaborate with the humans that I proudly call my colleagues. Today, we sat in a room for 7 hours and had some gritty discussions about what it is that we are trying to do exactly. Project Foundry, a program that will enable us to further our work in transforming our school into a true makerspace, was supposed to be the topic of the professional development but it quickly devolved into a tense situation where all of our unspoken insecurities about our work found a voice. It’s easy to dismiss our colleagues based on our preconceived notions of who they are based on the interactions we’ve had. Laying bare those insecurities forced me to view my colleagues as humans, which is how we are taught to view students. It became apparent to me that I had been viewing my colleagues as I thought they were, not as individuals who have distinct needs and preferences for how they perform the act of teaching.
Our math teacher, a 22 year old TFA participant currently in her first year teaching, left the day frustrated and unclear as to what we are doing. She has never done something without striving for perfection and is forcing herself to accept the possibility of the school year not turning out as she envisioned it in August. As she’s growing, which is an inherent characteristic of being in her Taylor Swift year (22 years old), it is apparent that she is making a real effort to become a professional educator of people. The English teacher, who is a third year teacher that has taught mostly in a rural district, sought clarification on the minute details of the language of project based learning (which is shocking from the English teacher) while making the occasionally off color joke to distract from the ever present professional risk that we are all taking by embarking on our making adventure.
Meanwhile, the 10 year veteran Science teacher, who may or may not be actually as laid back as he appears, and I exchanged what was, in my opinion, witty banter to mask our insecurities and frustrations while trying to lighten the mood in the room. Being in the situation of moving into a field of unknown possibilities and pitfalls with this group of people has laid bare the essence of who we each are as a person. As the tension and conflict amongst us ebbs and flows, real, authentic conversations are happening about what is best for the humans we teach. If it weren’t for the math teacher’s need for a plan, we probably wouldn’t be doing as much planning as we should. The common vocabulary of our school would not be as precise if it weren’t for our duo of English teachers mincing and perfecting our verbiage. If not for the physical effort being put in by the Science teacher, our maker school probably wouldn’t be on the way to happening. I’m still not sure where I fit in other than I’m willing to go with what everyone else is doing.
Before you think I’m merely recounting the plot of The Breakfast Club, which may, or may not, have inspired this post, working with these humans who have no preconceived notion of what learning through making will look like at Design Lab Early College High School has helped me grow as a human. I’ve become less focused on competing with my colleagues and more intent on growing in my profession with them. Before today, I had been seeing the humans I work with in the simplest of terms, the perfectionist, the humorist, the linguist, the support. But what I learned is that each of us, in even the smallest way, is a combination of all of those roles. As we begin to see each other as humans first, teachers second, we will each be more effective at both.