In our school this year we have exactly one first year teacher. ONE. That means we have lots and lots of veteran teachers. The new teacher just so happens to be my friend, and she often expresses to me a feeling of being judged or looked down on. My question is this: where does this attitude stem from? Why are we, as teachers with more experience, not rallying around the newbie in our school to support her?
I’m going to tell two stories, one from her perspective and one from my own. My first year teacher friend is (no surprise) having some issues with classroom management. How difficult it is to learn how to manage 5,000 different decisions a day overlapping with 30 children’s unique personalities. Making the right choice all the time is impossible for all of us, especially for someone with less experience.
Recently, my friend told me a story of how another teacher invited herself into my friend’s classroom while she was teaching. From there, she proceeded to dominate the situation. She completely took over classroom management, demanding everyone get back on task. At one point, she leans over to my friend and reassures her. “I’m here to help and support you.” When my friend told me the story, it was obvious that the situation made her feel small. Since when was undermining another teacher or commanding their classroom a form of support? In this day and age of informed consent, would it have not been better to whisper a question first? Something along the lines of “Do you mind if I correct some children?” or even “How would you like me to support you?”
The second story I witnessed for myself. My friend bravely called a meeting of all the teachers who have a certain group of kids. The hope was that management strategies could be shared for everyone’s benefit. The meeting was to begin right after school finished. The first to arrive was a seasoned veteran teacher, exactly 45 seconds after the bell. As I happened to be the only other person standing by and no one had shown up yet she directed her question to me.
“Is this the room we’re going to be meeting in?”
“Probably?” I responded.
“Oh. I guess I’m the first one here then,” and then she leaned in and whispered to me, “I guess it’s because my class actually had their act together to be able to leave on time.”
Now, maybe I’m reading too much into things, but that comment sounded extremely judgey to me. I could be wrong, but I’m going to continue this blog post as if she meant what I think she meant. I think she was taking a stance of superiority in the fact that her classroom is more well run than someone’s who has been teaching for approximately 1.5 months. You don’t say?
As experienced teachers, I’m sorry but we’re going to have to do better. We’re going to have to stop using the failures of new teachers to build up our own egos. We’re going to have to remember what it felt like to be new and terrified. We’re going to have to create an atmosphere where vulnerability is SAFE and not rewarded with judgement. We’re going to have to look more critically at ourselves and stop assuming that just because our room is silent that we’ve got it all figured out. We’re going to have to be critical of ourselves too. We haven’t arrived. We’re still learning too.
I can’t believe that in a building full of experience, our only new teacher is afraid to speak up about her struggles. I am shocked that the “support” she does get feels more like a form of bulldozing or “watch what I can do.” I find it even more ironic that we are TEACHERS. Read that again. TEACHERS. Isn’t our passion supposed to be helping people improve? Are our egos so fragile that we genuinely think this is a zero sum game? If someone else succeeds then I must be failing? It’s time to drop the competitive mindset and build each other up.