My first year of teaching, I worked on a teaching team with the two other teachers who taught 8th-grade literature. They were extremely kind, and we got along fine. But I never asked for help. In fact, I thought the meetings were a waste of time because I had so many things to do.
As we neared the mid-year break, I walked into one of our meetings reluctantly, hoping it would end quickly so that I could get back to my stacks of papers and hours of planning. I was drowning, overwhelmed, and holding a handful of crushed expectations of what teaching would feel like.
But when I sat down, they handed me a gift. It was not wrapped up in shiny paper, nor did it have a big red bow on it. But it might have been the best gift I got that season: my teammates, who had noticed that I was drowning, had created the entire benchmark exam for our department.
Translation: HOURS of work that I did not have to do.
I may have shed a tear on that stapled copy of the literature exam. And as my eyes cleared, I saw my colleagues in a new light. They wanted to help me. They had years of experience to share. They had mounds of collective wisdom and advice under their belts.
And they knew how to recognize a struggling teammate and swoop in without needing to be asked.
I never looked back after that moment, always eager to help out, eager to learn, and willing to ask for help. Pride has nothing to do with it; teaching is simply easier as a team.
Here’s what I learned over the years:
Working on a team can save you oodles of time.
I mean oodles. Divide and conquer the tasks you have to complete as a team according to your individual skills. Strong writer? Compose team emails and letters. Creative thinker? Add some flair to units or lessons that the kids will love. Diplomatic speaker? Approach your administrator about department-wide concerns. You’ll be like the Avengers: each with your own superpower ready to take on the tasks that are suited for you.
Working on a team does not mean you have to give up autonomy in your classroom.
You can (and should) share fundamental systems across different classrooms (like school-wide rules and procedures), but you can teach the same curriculum as the person next door without parroting each other. You can (and should) maintain your own individuality and creativity.
Working on a team can help you step out of your comfort zone.
I used to watch my fellow teachers try something and think, There’s no way I could pull that off. But I got to the point where I figured I may as well give it a shot. Sometimes I would surprise myself, and other times I’d learn that with a little tweak here and there, I could make it my own.
Working on a team can make you a stronger teacher.
You can learn so much from one another. Seasoned teachers know the shortcuts and best practices. Be ready and willing to step up when someone needs you, because it will be reciprocated at some point. So help that colleague craft an email about a difficult situation. Step in when you see a newbie struggling. Or put together a rubric for a project that everyone will teach.
Working on a team will help you find your voice.
As with any group situation ever in history, there will be times when your team won’t be your teacher besties. There may even be some contention. It’s a part of life, learning to work with people we don’t agree with. Have the courage to find your voice. But also, take the opportunity to compromise or even “agree to disagree” and move on. Finding middle ground will help you work through difficult circumstances that could come up later.
So really, don’t be an island. Step proudly onto your team of superheroes and find your own superpower along the way.
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