Being a teacher is definitely one of the most rewarding professions, but it can also be quite lonely. Overburdened with the workload, many teachers isolate themselves, both out of choice and necessity.
Staying in the classroom to work through lunch is normal, late afternoons and evenings grading is nothing new, and walking the long way to the office just to avoid disgruntled colleagues is part of the hustle.
And while there are many who regularly visit their neighbor during every break, eat lunch in the staff room, and are present at every school social event, there’s an equal amount of teachers who only surface for staff meetings (and sit in the back corner).
Or briskly walk to and from their car with their head down in order to avoid eye contact.
And who remain relatively unknown to most, aside from their immediate neighbors.
Is this you? I understand that many of us are introverted except maybe around our families, friends, or our students. Or perhaps you suffer from social anxiety like I do. But before you retreat into your shell and shield of a classroom at school, it’s important to remember the benefits of interacting with your colleagues.
Here are 10 things to remember before you hide out in your classroom.
1) Your colleagues could actually be…nice
When I started teaching at my previous school, I was the band director, and since there were no other music classes, I was a party of one. Located literally in the back corner of the school, I was cut off from the majority of the campus.
I was lucky enough to have really cool people in the rooms next to me (including the coolest woodshop teacher ever, Jen Young), but for a while, I only knew eight people, which included my custodian and the front office staff.
This isolation went on for a few years. I was just so far away from the staff lounge, and I assumed that I really didn’t have much to talk about with the other teachers. Plus, I was honestly busy with all of the planning and outside activities for band, so my nutrition break and lunch time were spent in my office.
I can’t recall the chain of events, but I eventually started sitting next to my colleagues in staff meetings, some of whom made the trek to my room during lunch. It didn’t take long before I started to get to know more of them.
You know what? They turned out to be AMAZING, and are still some of my best friends today. I was kicking myself for taking so long to come out of my shell and bandroom, because not only are they wonderful people, but those friendships had a direct impact on the rest of my teaching career.
2) They probably have insight on the inner workings of the school
Being located in the back of the school, I was often out of the loop. I mean, I knew who to go to if I needed to order supplies or if there was yet another mouse in my office (so, so gross), but I didn’t know who to go to if I wanted to attend a conference, or that the school might even pay for me to attend the conference. It wasn’t until I reached out to my colleagues that I knew what administrators can and cannot require us to do, etc.
These are things that you won’t necessarily just pick up if you’re tucked away in your room. I cannot emphasize the importance of this fact. You need to know both what the policies of your school are, as well as the go-to people. For better or worse, there are politics within a school, and you need to know who the players are.
3) You don’t know everything, and you’ll need help, SO ASK!
While I know this is an obvious statement, I need to put it out there – you don’t know everything. Stop pretending that you do. Forget your silly pride, and ask for help already!
In general, your colleagues want to answer your questions. Just remember that they’ll be more amenable to helping you out if you’ve already established a rapport with them.
Need someone to troubleshoot technology? You better be friendly with the techy people in your school!
Did you miss a paperwork deadline? Hopefully, your front office staff like you so that they’ll push it through for you.
Dead mouse in your desk drawer? If you haven’t even mustered a hello or made eye contact with your custodial staff, that dead mouse may linger a bit longer in your classroom.
4) People want to get to know you
Are you aware that people in your school like you? Just because they don’t always sit by or walk up and talk to you, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they feel negatively towards you.
It can sometimes be such a silly cycle – they don’t say hi to you, so you don’t say hi to them. You think that because they didn’t say hello, they don’t want to talk to you. They think you’re aloof because you also didn’t say hello. While both situations may be true, it’s likely just a misunderstanding.
I’ll bet that they probably like you and want to get to know you. You’re most likely an amazing person, and you’re selfishly keeping that awesomeness to yourself.
Come on now, pay it forward. People really want to be around you.
5) You have more to offer than you know
Whether you’re a brand new teacher or a veteran, you DO have something to contribute and bring to the (staff lounge) table. Being new doesn’t mean being irrelevant. If you’ve been teaching for a while, everyone can benefit from your own trial and error.
I love picking the brains of fresh new teachers and seeing what they bring from their student teaching and observations. There’s been more than one time when I’ve told a new teacher how I introduce a particular topic, and they give me an alternate activity that worked even better.
Similarly, I’ve found myself discussing an issue with a colleague, when another, who normally doesn’t speak at all, would chime in with a suggestion that I’d never thought of before.
It’s easy for us to get stuck looking through the same lens day after day, and it’s so helpful to get multiple perspectives on everything from lesson planning to classroom management.
6) You can’t just interact with kids all day – your brain needs grown-up time
While I know that you love your students, you need to get away from them and away from just yourself. It’s important to be around other adults and interact with them in order to maintain your sanity.
I remember when I started going down to the staff lounge to eat lunch. Not only was it great to briefly vent about this incident or that, but it was also fun to talk about what was happening in our lives. We supported each other, brought food to share, offered advice, and overall allowed ourselves to reset.
After those lunches, walking back to my classroom always left me feeling rested and energized. Don’t underestimate the power of just being around your colleagues!
7) Your family, significant other, and friends need a break
I’m confident that your friends and family will always, always be there for you, but you shouldn’t abuse that. They can only stand so much discussion about that one teacher who makes 160 copies of packets 10 minutes before school, the student who never has a pencil, or the angry parent emails.
My husband isn’t a teacher, but he’s met my teacher friends and has listened to all of my teacher stories. I’ve learned to tone it down because, while he now know who the characters are in my stories, he’ll never quite understand the complexity and politics that play into any kind of school drama.
You know who doesn’t ever need a break from that kind of talk? Do you know who to best commiserate with?
YOUR FELLOW TEACHERS! Lean on them!
8) You’ll avoid teacher burnout
Trying to navigate teaching on your own is not only daunting – it’s unnecessary. There’s only so much you can do effectively, and there comes a point when your passion and drive plateau and dwindle from the obligations of teaching.
Without the support of your colleagues, you’ll quickly put yourself on the path to burnout. You may eventually leave the profession early despite all of the time, work, money, and energy to be a credentialed teacher.
Will conversing with a colleague fix the issue of having to grade 180 assignments? No, but it definitely makes it more bearable knowing that there are people who understand and empathize!
I’ve even had colleagues offer to help with other things piling on my plate, like a laminating project sitting in the corner, hanging up student work, or even inputting scores in the gradebook.
Yes, we’re all ridiculously busy, but if you create a network of teachers on your site, you find that you help each other when it counts the most.
9) Opportunities will open up
You never know when you’ll stumble upon that perfect teaching assignment, consulting, speaking, or professional development position you’ve always wanted. Many times news of a position opening up goes around by word of mouth.
This is actually how I learned about the position at my previous school. Before that, I was a high school band director at another site, and I was biding my time until a middle school job became available. Luckily, the band director at my previous school was ready to go full time at a high school, so she gave me a heads up.
A similar transition occurred when I switched to English Language Arts. There was a shift in personnel, and one of my friends at the site encouraged me to get my Supplementary English Credential. She also helped convince the principal that I’d be a good fit, and after taking the California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET), everything fell into place.
Fast forward to about two years ago, I became friends with an ELA teacher at my current site. She knew of a job opening in the department and gave me a heads up. She also put in a good word for me with the principal, which helped me secure the job.
I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have been aware of either of these opportunities if I hadn’t made connections with my colleagues. I may have eventually learned of them through job postings, but I had advance knowledge and was better prepared as a result of my colleagues and friends looking out for me.
10) It’s easy to connect with people beyond the walls of your school
Aside from the colleagues in your school and district, there are hundreds of thousands of teachers within your reach on the Internet! I’ve connected with so many amazing educators on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
I can’t even describe how much I’ve learned after discovering and reading other teachers’ blogs on Facebook, seeing photos of classroom and lesson ideas on Instagram, or from participating in a Twitter Chat.
I’ve embraced standards-based grading, which I learned about through Twitter chats, blog posts, and a Facebook group that Ken O’Connor frequents.
I connect daily with teachers across the world and am regularly developing my knowledge base as a teacher as a result of joining in on digital conversations with other teachers.
Right now I’m lucky that at my site, my colleagues are so friendly. It definitely has a family feel to it, and it didn’t take long for them to pull me in.
Perhaps you’re not at a site that has a warm environment. Maybe nobody has reached out to you yet. But it’s important to emphasize that sometimes you have to make first contact.
Say hi to people in the staff lounge.
Ask your neighbor a question or pop in during nutrition break.
Sit next to someone new at the staff meeting and ask them how their weekend was.
You may have social anxiety like I did in the beginning. But I assure you that both you personally and your teaching will benefit from that contact.
Your students get out of your classroom and interact on a daily basis. Take a cue from them and do it too.
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