Collaboration and the New Teacher

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I believe that it should be mandatory for every new teacher to collaborate with a more seasoned one. Honestly, I believe that every department should work together and collaborate as a unit. This is not always a feasibility, unfortunately. But this post is not about department learning communities. It’s about collaborating with another teacher successfully.

When I first began the year, I felt overwhelmed, underachieved, and that I was largely failing as a teacher. Often, I didn’t know what to say, how to present it, or what activities might engage students the most with the material. Upon reading this comment, I’m sure you are saying yourself, “Shouldn’t she have learned that in college?” Well, to a certain extent, I did. But teaching is not something you do one time and then you know it.

Like every art, teaching takes practice–and mentoring, modeling, and apprenticeship. Now, this is something that is not necessarily easy to come by. A lot of districts have a first-year mentoring program, but the one I work in cut that last year due to budget shortfalls. At the beginning of the year, I felt that I could have really used that program. I tried to compensate by trying to find help within my department, but nothing seemed to stick. Everyone else is busy with their own classes. They needed work time to work on what they needed to be doing, not hand-holding the new kid.

I floundered for several weeks, trying my best, feeling like I couldn’t ever get the material I was teaching across the way I should be. I did have some help here and there from a couple of other teachers, and also from the curriculum specialist, but I also knew I needed to find a style that felt right to me.

I began to talk to the other teacher in my department who had been hired the same time I had. She had an interesting take on the material we were working with, and did things much the way I knew I wanted to do them but never really knew quite how. So I began watching her. And then emulating. And then we began to work together in our lesson planning. Honestly, I feel for the first time like I have found my stride. I am lucky to have found someone so compatible with me, but compatibility is not the only factor here.

My experience thus far tells me that this is something every new teacher should get. Without the help of this teacher, I would feel like a colossal failure right now, but I don’t. I wouldn’t say I feel completely successful yet, either. But I definitely think I have more of a handle on teaching, classroom management, and just generally being at ease more because of the support I’ve gotten from this one teacher. It’s a feeling every new teacher should have.

What do I mean by collaboration? Well, my new friend (we will call her P, for the sake of anonymity) and I have been planning out our classes together. This saves us more time, because we put our heads together and only have to plan one class instead of two. It also saves money, since we are sharing a lot of materials. Collaborative planning makes it easier as well. Because there are two minds looking at something, mistakes that might have been made by just one of us are avoided because we have a built-in proofreading system! Another important aspect is that we know what our students will have learned across the board when they come to us next year (at least I will, since I also teach seniors). Not to mention the fact that it is so much more enjoyable to work with a friend than by yourself.

Why would you not want to collaborate with your peers? Some find that collaboration takes away the autonomy some teachers like to have in planning. Some feel that having to cultivate a collegial relationship is just too much effort, and some don’t like to have to have regular meetings. Collaboration can be tricky when you don’t have a meeting of the minds. But there are so many benefits that outweigh the negative aspects that it seems silly not to want to work in a collaborative manner with the other teachers in your department.

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