Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why is Teaching a Lonely Job?

This past week as I have reflected upon personal conversations, emails and posts I have come across I had a sad realization; everywhere there are teachers who feel that no one wants them to succeed, that no one cares what they do, that no one stops to listen to them.  While I had hoped that these were merely regional perspectives and not something worldwide, I see now that teaching can be an incredibly lonely job.

Every teacher wants to be the best teacher they can be.  They start out with ideas, ideals, and aspirations, truly believing that every child can learn, achieve, be something incredible.  And yet, after perhaps not so gracious welcomes, or reserved hello's, teachers learn their first lesson about teaching: don't expect a red carpet welcome.  It is not that other teachers aren't welcoming, the profession as a whole just seems to be a bit skeptical, naturally reserved when anything new enters our midsts whether it be a new idea, change, or a new person.

And what a sad lesson that is.  We are there to reach out to all students, to make them feel welcome, and we spend precious class time building community with our students and then forget the community that needs to be re-formed every time someone new enters our schools.

I discussed this with my mother, who is a college professor.  She agreed with me that this is not a localized phenomenon but something that she has encountered on various levels as well.  Her take was that it often can be attributed to jealousy, busyness, competitiveness or a combination of any of those.  I hate to say she is right but I do think from personal experience that there is room for improvement in how we treat each other face to face.  I think of how in my online PLN whenever there is a success, people cheer and ask more questions.  Now I wonder whether this happens as much in real life as we would  like to think it does.  I certainly have days where I feel as if no one hardly cares and then there are days when I feel accepted and welcomed.

So I open it up for debate.  Are teachers friendly to each other or could we improve on this?  Why can teaching feel as if it is you against the world with few people cheering you on?  Do we create this situation or is a just a cutthroat profession where people fend for themselves, constantly wary of the new person?

17 comments:

Justin Tarte said...

Unfortunately many educators work in isolation. The past 7 months have been amazing for me as I share and collaborate with members of my PLN. As I try to bring the same ideals and concepts into my building, I have been met with some resistance. Not everyone has resisted the concept of sharing and collaborating, but there has definitely been some push back. Fear of the unknown, jealousy, afraid to do something new are all reasons for educators to be comfortable with isolation. Working in isolation is safe, and nobody can judge you if nobody knows what you are doing, or what you think. We encourage sharing and collaborating in our classrooms... shouldn't we encourage the same principles for our educators? I think we must be open, patient, and willing to work with others no matter how much they push back. Let us be that unyielding voice spreading the benefits of sharing and collaborating! Great post!

bethstill said...

My eyes started to well up with tears before I even got to the end of your post. While I have a fantastic network of educators online, I do not enjoy that same support and encouragement from my face-to-face colleagues. In fact, I have been actively discouraged from growing and learning. I have been told to my face that I am not in education for the students. There have been times over the last couple of months that I have contemplated giving up my blog, Twitter account, and everything else that goes with it. (Teaching is even lonelier when you are the one who is trying to push for change.)

I can really relate to your post. I have wanted to write something like this for a very long time. Thank you for capturing the thoughts that have been on my mind lately.

MBR said...

This is an interesting question. I've seen both sides of the coin. At my school, there are lot of staff members who go out of their way to support their colleagues and volunteer for things that will benefit the whole school. However there a few staff members that do nothing and I found myself get irrationally frustrated at them. Also, I think a lot of teachers put a lot of pressure on themselves to be "perfect" and feel a lot of undue expectations to keep up with the other teachers, new or experienced. It can be too much for some people. I'm not sure what the answer is, but this post has got me thinking about how I can be more "there" for my colleagues.

Tami (Teacher Goes Back to School) said...

I am really lucky to have a core group of rockstar teachers on my staff. They are supportive, kind, funny and welcoming.

I realized early on this group of rockstar teachers was special and have kept this in mind when things are not going great (top down micromanagement etc). At least the people I work with closely rock.

And then there are the negatrons. I could do without them.

I've enjoyed meeting others online and learning from them as well. I wish we had a big staff room and we could share stories over soup and sandwiches. Or at least didn't have to do all the PLN/PD at home. Damn firewalls.

Doceo said...

As a profession, teaching needs a redesign. Teachers who haven't lost their sense of purpose and efficacy are willing to examine themselves as professionals and try to build relationships. I like having the autonomy to teach how I want and to experiment within the guidelines of best practice, but I also like being challenged and being able to seek advice or support. That hasn't always been the model. Even the mentors who were selected to walk me through my first year teaching middle school and my first year teaching high school never observed my room more than once and weren't people I felt comfortable talking with about my ideas and fears.

What are teachers supposed to do when it feels like our political leaders, our school administrations, and even some parents view us as nothing more than glorified babysitters? If we keep our methods to ourselves, maybe we can survive the budget cuts and restructuring.

Mr. Macdonald said...

I have found that my PLN is what keeps me motivated. The fact that I get to collaborate and learn from so many amazing educators from around the world has given me more motivation to continue to grow and change.

Fortunately I have a Principal that sees a lot of these changes as progress and necessary steps. On the other hand, I battle with educators that want their kids to keep their noses in textbooks all day so they can "do grades" and "plan." It says a lot when a colleague tells me that he/she hates our new math series because it lacks a text book. The fact that it doesn't have a text book is change in the right direction.

I can feel discouraged at times, but I know what I'm doing will provide more meaning learning experiences for my students and the betterment of education in the longrun. I'm all for debate and healthy criticism, but when laziness and ineptitudes keep us from moving forward and blind our judgement, I draw the line. I can't let those teachers get to me. Do I feel alone in what I'm doing? At times, but I have to look at the bigger picture. I'm part of what's good in education. I'm part of the reform that needs to take place. I can't worry about making everyone else feel the same way. I do what I can and I have to be satisfied with that.

I'm no super hero (nor am I waiting for one, wink). I am confident in what I do because I know I'm not alone. I may be the "lone wolf" at times in my school, but I might also be the catalyst that my district needs to move forward, for the sake of all our current and future students.

Keep you heads high my friends. Like Justin said, we have to be patient and willing to work with everyone. Remember it's not about us. It's about our students. It's about your children. It's about my children. We're on the right path.

Deana Senn said...

I think that because historically teaching was an isolated profession, that is the culture that is still prevalent. I worked in a school for twelve years that started very isolated and ended very collaborative. What caused the change? For us it was PLC's and collaborative planning. It was a few of us being willing to share our lessons and discuss what worked and what didn't in our classes. We were tentative at first and did not want to be forced to do the same lessons and evaluations as others in our department. We were lucky because we were given freedom to modify to suit our own teaching style and classroom while at the same time discussing what worked in our own classes. What we found though was that we all have strengths and weaknesses and good days and bad. The atmosphere became less defensive and more collegial. So I know it can happen in person, and its worth the effort!

Jeremy said...

I think one of the greatest problems in our profession is that so many teachers, especially at the secondary level, stay so close to their own classrooms, methods, and ideas that there is little in the way of a culture of professional collaboration and support. That is, normative teacher culture tends to be individual and insular...isn't it so much easier to just close the door, roll out the same lesson you've done for 20 years, and be done with it? Fractions haven't changed...why should I? The Civil War hasn't changed, so why should my plans and methods? And I'm busy enough as it is - I had to learn to cope, so why should I try to explain this all to some noob who chatters endlessly about 'changing the world' or using some flash-in-the-pan technology?

I, too, work in an environment that, while professionally cordial, is hardly collegial. Collaboration happens between those who choose to go out of their way to do it - it's neither fostered, modeled, nor even explicitly encouraged. I think this is a terrible waste.

And so the job is a lonely one for those who want it to be more than a contract-mandated work day with as little spillover into the personal life as possible. Sad, indeed.

krosenkranz said...

As a pre-service teacher who is very excited to begin my career and loves using Twitter/blogs to collaborate and share with other educators, it is very disheartening to hear that this isn't the same or as easy, to collaborate face to face. I actually wrote a blog post about something similar a little while ago. http://bit.ly/awiqOT
Why are we not as open to sharing and learning with each other in person as many of us are online? As educators we should feel comfortable asking any of our colleagues for lessons, activities, ideas, tools, or resources, and vice versa. I believe teaching is truly all about sharing and participating in the life long learning of ourselves, our colleagues, and our students.

Mrs Ripp aka 4thGrdTeach said...

I have been reading all of the very insightful comments and reflecting even further on this topic. As suspected, this touches all of us in some sort of way whether on a personal level or through the community of teachers.
Once again, I agree, we must be the trail blazers for how we want to treat others and be treated ourselves.

When Justin said that working in isolation is safe, he hits the nail on the head. If we shut the door and do not share anything we do than no one can judge us or make us outcasts. But is that the way forward? I say open the doors and let others judge. Some may be more open than to be expected and sometimes a friend can be found in a place one never thought to look.

This is an important debate, i feel, and one that helps me treat others as I wish to be treated. Thank you all for your comments, I will continue to reflect on this topic, please keep the comments coming.

Chris Wejr said...

I believe that the teachers that stray away from the traditional methods of extrinsic rewards and grading in schools face more loneliness that someone who "fits in" with the system.

I remember being the only teacher in my entire math department to refuse to do a standardized final exam with my grade 8's because there were topics we did not cover and I refused to rush through to get to. I left the school that day and felt disheartened with very few people to stand beside me in my stance against standardized testing.

Ironically, I believe that this stance was one of the highlights that I was able to use in my interview for a Vice Principal position a few months later. I was asked, "describe one time when you stood up for kids". BOOM! There it was. I felt so happy to be able to speak about this instance and I was excited to be entering a world of admin that would feel the same as I did.

After a few months as an administrator, I soon realized that being in admin was exponentially lonelier than being a teacher. During staff room lunches, I was supervising. I was not part of the union anymore. Some felt it was my job to support the teachers rather than the students. When I walked through the staff room, the conversations quieted or changed.

To be honest, after 6 months as admin, I was seriously questioning whether I could handle it. I was lucky that I had an amazing principal to help me get through. At the same time, a good friend of mine (who is the same age, 34) had moved to become a principal in a different district. In this school, he had no vice principal. Within 2 years, he has since left admin and gone back to teaching - due to being the target and extreme loneliness.

I strongly believe that, now that I am a principal, without Twitter, I am not sure I would love my job so much. Through SM I am able to share great things and celebrate with others. If I am having a lonely day, I know exactly where to go and who to contact in my online PLN.

I am not trying to say that one has it worse than the other as I am sure people who are challenging the status quo as much as you are, Pernille, will find it extremely lonely (see what Joe Bower is going through at his school). I respect any educator - admin or teacher or support staff - who feels lonely because they are probably taking a stand against the current system.

Chris Wejr said...

I believe that the teachers that stray away from the traditional methods of extrinsic rewards and grading in schools face more loneliness that someone who "fits in" with the system.

I remember being the only teacher in my entire math department to refuse to do a standardized final exam with my grade 8's because there were topics we did not cover and I refused to rush through to get to. I left the school that day and felt disheartened with very few people to stand beside me in my stance against standardized testing.

Ironically, I believe that this stance was one of the highlights that I was able to use in my interview for a Vice Principal position a few months later. I was asked, "describe one time when you stood up for kids". BOOM! There it was. I felt so happy to be able to speak about this instance and I was excited to be entering a world of admin that would feel the same as I did.

After a few months as an administrator, I soon realized that being in admin was exponentially lonelier than being a teacher. During staff room lunches, I was supervising. I was not part of the union anymore. Some felt it was my job to support the teachers rather than the students. When I walked through the staff room, the conversations quieted or changed.

To be honest, after 6 months as admin, I was seriously questioning whether I could handle it. I was lucky that I had an amazing principal to help me get through. At the same time, a good friend of mine (who is the same age, 34) had moved to become a principal in a different district. In this school, he had no vice principal. Within 2 years, he has since left admin and gone back to teaching - due to being the target and extreme loneliness.

I strongly believe that, now that I am a principal, without Twitter, I am not sure I would love my job so much. Through SM I am able to share great things and celebrate with others. If I am having a lonely day, I know exactly where to go and who to contact in my online PLN.

I am not trying to say that one has it worse than the other as I am sure people who are challenging the status quo as much as you are, Pernille, will find it extremely lonely (see what Joe Bower is going through at his school). I respect any educator - admin or teacher or support staff - who feels lonely because they are probably taking a stand against the current system.

Chris Wejr said...

I believe that the teachers that stray away from the traditional methods of extrinsic rewards and grading in schools face more loneliness that someone who "fits in" with the system. I remember being the only teacher in my entire math department to refuse to do a standardized final exam with my grade 8's because there were topics we did not cover and I refused to rush through to get to. I left the school that day and felt disheartened with very few people to stand beside me in my stance against standardized testing.

Ironically, I believe this stance helped me to move into admin. After a few months as an administrator, I soon realized that being in admin was exponentially lonelier than being a teacher. During staff room lunches, I was supervising. I was not part of the union anymore. Some felt it was my job to support the teachers rather than the students. When I walked through the staff room, the conversations quieted or changed.

To be honest, after 6 months as admin, I was seriously questioning whether I could handle it. I was lucky that I had an amazing principal to help me get through. At the same time, a good friend of mine (who is the same age, 34) had moved to become a principal in a different district. In this school, he had no vice principal. Within 2 years, he has since left admin and gone back to teaching - due to being the target and extreme loneliness.

I strongly believe that, now that I am a principal, without Twitter, I am not sure I would love my job so much. Through SM I am able to share great things and celebrate with others. If I am having a lonely day, I know exactly where to go and who to contact in my online PLN.

I am not trying to say that one has it worse than the other as I am sure people who are challenging the status quo as much as you are, Pernille, will find it extremely lonely (see what Joe Bower is going through at his school). I respect any educator - admin or teacher or support staff - who feels lonely because they are probably taking a stand against the current system.

Vladimira said...

I really like the post even though it's not very positive. However, most of what was mentioned seems to be true no matter where you teach. I know that it is especially difficult in a larger schools with many teachers. Yet, sometimes it happens also in small ones like is mine. We are 15 teachers but there are some conflicts (not direct or open) from time to time. Especially if one goes against the stream. It happened to me when I started blogging and tweeting. Some of them thought I am playing and wasting my time and later I learnt they complained to the director. Yes, teaching is often a lonely job and sometimes it seems that there is no one to listen to you...but then there is the internet, blogging and twitter to help from the misery.
Vladka

Vladimira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jackie H. said...

I remember starting off teaching and feeling completely ALONE. I have friends who shared the same experience like a friend who later became my teaching partner. She was handed a huge curriculum binder and when she asked her "Mentor" where to begin she was told, "That should be obvious." Later we implemented plcs and sometimes things went well and other times not so much. I think the main thing I saw was we were put under so much pressure to perform and there was a spirit of competition. I'm "taking a break" from teaching for just a few years but I hope to build up an online community of people that I can rely on when I return to the classroom. I really hadn't thought about other teachers being disagreeable about your PLN. That's crazy!

Carolyn Foote said...

This post is sadly reflective of the experience of too many educators--

It's funny that we support children so much but it's hard to support our colleagues sometimes.

And even if we do, how often do we celebrate their classroom successes?

There's a lot school leaders can do also to help foster more of a community atmosphere in the school and in departments.

But I notice we celebrate a lot as a school, but rarely just something like "great lesson--well done". What would that feel like?

 

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