Some of you may have read our post about the glory of Teacher Relationships and wondered “Where do I start growing teacher friendships?” Never fear! We’ve got ideas…
The good news is that, as a teacher, you tend to form bonds pretty quickly over shared experiences. No matter the grade(s) or subject(s) you teach, kids will be kids, parents will be parents, and admin will be admin. I’ve taught students from ages 10-19, and there are a surprising amount of commonalities among them. (The year I moved from 8th grade to 12th, I was amazed to learn that seniors still used the same excuses as their middle school counterparts; they were just a lot taller.)
That doesn’t mean you’ll get along with everyone you work with. That’s just a part of life – much like when you pair students with someone they normally wouldn’t work with (excellent life prep, by the way). My advice for these situations is just to find some common ground, be clear with your goals, and stand strong in your convictions while being willing to compromise on the smaller things. Accept your differences and make the best of it.
But sit in a teacher workroom among a group of teachers, and you’ll quickly learn that the things about your job that drive you bonkers or make your heart swell with pride are experienced across the board.
So what about fostering those deeper friendships that are honestly vital to making it through day-to-day life as a teacher?
Start with people you will be working most closely with. Maybe you’re in a certain academic department or a team teacher in middle school. Don’t shy away from people in different age brackets as you; one of my dearest teacher friends is almost a full generation above me. When I taught the year I was pregnant with my first child, my admin threw a new prep at me at the last minute. I panicked, but this wonderful woman stepped in and took me under her wing. She had taught the class for a few years and was a beloved teacher by all. She shared her lesson plans, deep wisdom, new ideas, and even her copies with me. I learned so much from her along the way. By the time I had my baby, she called him her “at school grandchild.” We were bonded for life.
What she did for me was huge, and I learned to do the same for others. Be willing to step up and fill in gaps when you can. You may find yourself once in a while with Actual Free Time (gasp!) at school. Check in on your friends and see if they need to use the restroom. Make some copies for them. Or snag them a snack from the vending machine.
Similarly, use your strengths to balance your coworkers’ weaknesses. At my last school, I worked on a team with two other teachers. We were a well-oiled machine by the end of our first year together: one was great with coming up with creative ideas that our students loved, one had mad spatial skills and a knack for the logistics of everything (i.e. schedules), and one handled most of the communication duties, crafting emails and letters that we all could use. So we divvied up our collective responsibilities and ended up saving each other copious amounts of time, the one commodity teachers never seem to have enough of.
Celebrate one another. In a building full of faces, it’s nice to be noticed one single day of the year. Learn each other’s birthdays, and plan a mini celebration. It doesn’t have to be huge. Just squeeze in a little happy time to make that person feel special. Celebrate other little victories as well! Did your normally meek colleague assert herself appropriately to a parent? Get her a piece of chocolate. For larger wins, toot your friends’ horns, making sure that your colleagues and leadership are aware of the innovative, creative, or successful things going on in your classrooms.
Be on the lookout for times when someone is struggling. You can see it in the red-rimmed eyes: the wild, over-caffeinated, underslept look that screams, “Help me!” Intervene if you can, even if it’s just to provide an open ear. Fend off negativity as much as you can while that teacher recovers from whatever may be going on.
Teacher friends are the best because they will understand your work life more than anybody else. So just like any other relationship in your life, be sure you give and accept support equally, and you’ll reap the benefits and enjoy your career so much more.
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