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It takes a village to raise a teacher



It takes a village to raise a teacher.

A warm and fuzzy thought, yes, but in this day and age, not particularly insightful. Try naming a teacher prep, grad school or internship program that doesn't emphasize inclusion, co-teaching and team building.

Given all that, as a new teacher, I was super-duper eager to work with veteran teachers, learn from their experiences and share what I knew. I was lucky. I found teachers who became my surrogate mothers, observed my teaching, gave me strategies and workbooks, and listened to me cry. They made me feel immediately supported.

And then, there were the less-than-supportive colleagues. The ones who rebuffed my attempts to collaborate and help do inclusion, and told me they didn't have time to show me how to teach a reading skill. They were the ones who openly shunned me in front of students, spread rumors about me leaving in the middle of the school year, and switched to Navajo when I walked in the teacher's lounge and laughed in my direction. Those were the ones who made me very, very angry. Angry and unwanted.

I remember going back to my classroom after school and slamming a chair against the wall. Or running to a secluded part of the mesa and scream as loud as possible into the blustery wind. One time, I started crying in school. It was awkward. (For the record, I am not usually a violent or dramatic person.)

Doing those things sometimes made me feel kind of good, at least for a few minutes (except when it felt really awkward.) But for the most part, it didn't really do anything. Nothing changed. I had to step back and gain perspective on the situation. It was easy to get really angry and accept that there wasn't anything I could do about it; but then I really would have hit a dead end. I wasn't intentionally disrespectful to anyone, but I guess some people would interpret my extra-hours after school and suggestions on differentiation could come off as know-it-all-ish. No matter how well-intentioned I was, I was still an outsider going to their community school to "do good." It was as much my job to build relationships with the adults as it was with the students.

I actively had to amp up my respect and humility, as well as my will to not give up and realize it was all within my control. I made a point to hang out with more than just the "non-Navajo" staff members on campus; my natural friendships could be interpreted as cliquey and I had to be aware of that.

I needed to check that I was operating with utmost humility at every corner. For the teachers who yelled at my students and then at me, because I disapproved at the way they were treating them, I couldn't dare just assume they didn't care about the kids (I really did find myself thinking that way, without realizing it). I needed to assume they cared about all the children and that we needed to collaborate on a way to improve the situation.

For the folks who switched to a Navajo when I entered the room, instead of assuming they were talking about me and walking away hurt, I needed to smile and sit down in the conversation and ask how their kids were doing. I needed to approach teachers I respected with specific compliments about their work and asking if they could teach me. I also needed to put myself out there; it helped to be open about being "different" and teaching them about my culture as well as learning about theirs.

As in any village, every school has people we get along with swimmingly, and people we don't. But I knew that already, like I knew about collaboration, before I went in. What I didn't realize was that the people we don't immediately click with are sometimes the ones who stretch us even further as teachers and people.


How do you know exactly what I'm going through when I'm going through it?? How do you DO that?

I am going back to school tomorrow after a long (and needed) winter break, and just before we left, I made an enemy of our music teacher, who was disrespectful to me, and to our kids, to a parent of another of my students. I felt it wasn't professional of her, and asked for help from my principal. He confronted her on the situation and now I have an enemy who has gone to several fellow teachers and told them (one of whom is my mentor) to "watch me" because I'm a troublemaker. Sigh.

I'm looking forward to seeing my kids--I've missed them. I'm not looking forward to any sort of confrontation with her though. I just don't know what to say...do I apologize? Do I let it go? Do I douse her with sweetness? I didn't intend to make an enemy halfway through my first year of teaching...

I've been in this business for 27 years and am now a superintendent, but I remember keenly these same slights and dramas from my first two years as a teacher. I think the mid- to late-career teachers are often threatened by someone who comes into the field with new information. Their actions show they're feeling vulnerabe somehow. For Teresa, I think the principal erred in revealing what you shared. It would have been better if he/she had mentored you on a next step instead of swooping to the rescue (which made it worse). Try telling the music teacher that? It's one option.

Thanks for the advice, Jan :) I'll see if that works...she won't even look me in the eye at the moment, much less speak with me. We'll see how it goes though!

You know how I do it, Teresa? Because you're not alone!!!! =) I'm hearing stories from so many teachers about these issues... I spoke to a seasoned principal a few weeks ago. Two of her new teachers made a few blunders in professionalism and with relationships with other teachers. One of these teachers had skipped professional development twice, another skipped out hall duty and made unintentional enemies with her team teachers. The principal was wise, though, and took it upon herself to coach the new teachers through these situations-- also explaining to them why they needed to follow the school rules of development and how they should practice speaking to their colleagues, even if those colleagues lack the same caliber degree as she did. Basically, you're not alone. The important thing is to be respectful back (even when others can seem so, so disrespectful)... and that probably means doing what Jan suggested: Being honest and opening up about being a young teacher, a newly minted working adult, and that you're still learning. Thanks for sharing your experiences! KEEP UP THE INSPIRING WORK!

I don't think it matters if you are a "brand-new" teacher or a veteran in a new district, you run into the cliques. I smother them with sweetness and light for the most part, but then again, I learned my lesson about teachers' lounges as a brand-new teacher 18 years ago.

The clique ran the school, not the principal, and I was the outsider who taught the "special" kids who weren't wanted and weren't included. To make a long story short, I basically told the clique they could treat me badly if they chose, but treating my students badly would be detrimental to their careers after my kids were left out for about the 4th time. The kids weren't left out any more, but I wasn't talked to for the rest of the 2.5 years I was there. That was life.

Sweetness and light goes a long way, but you also need to stick to your guns some days. Right is right.

Jessica, This blog was one of your best, but take it further. Situations as you described will unfortunately always exist in my opinion, and more so in the female arena. I believe that the behaviors you described are more representative of female behavior than male behavior. It would be great if "Teacher for America" would incorporate this aspect of teaching into their program (navigating the challenges that may occur when working with fellow teachers and staff) as soon as possible. Prevention is best. Head off the pitfalls, stresses and frustrations that (as you now know) the new teachers will encounter. Give the new teachers good strategies and tools from the start and then have on going discusses about the challenges as they occur. If not, new teachers will become short-term teachers; when in fact, they could have become long-term teachers. I do not say this idly. Remember, these new young teachers while learning to teach are probably living in a new state, miles from home, learning the rhythm of a new town and culture while their friends and family are miles away.

Jessica....how about you spearheading workshops before the teachers start a new year?

I look forward to your next blog. Gail

This is my greatest fear about teaching - encountering cliques. It paralyzes me and I have so many questions about teaching especially since I am a change of career person into this field.

Alison, I was a change of career type too. Went from selling insurance to teaching. Really though, it's no different than what happens in the business world, but I think we feel it is so much worse in teaching because so much more is at stake. The kids can tell! They sense when you're upset, confused, frustrated, angry, and hurt. And it affects more than just you sitting at a desk working on your own--it affects how you teach, what you say, how you say it. Remember tho (and this is a whole whopping semester of experience talking...) that all the negative ninnies were once first year teachers, just as excited, idealistic, and open to learning as you are. Somewhere along the way, they may have lost their spark...or fallen into a clique that wasn't supportive of that excitement. Instead of believing in their own fire, they allowed it to be quashed...but they still have valuable information to share! Just take the information they give you with a grain of salt and use what you can that still works with your excitement towards teaching and your style.

Dear Ms. Shyu,

In response to your experiences as a teacher on the Navajo Reservation, I can relate to how frustrated you were. I only lasted one year there. Of course, there were major cultural differences between myself (Anglo) and them, but the real problem was social-economic disparity between us. The politics of the U.S. government is a close second.



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Recent Comments

  • Scott: Dear Ms. Shyu, In response to your experiences as a read more
  • Teresa: Alison, I was a change of career type too. Went read more
  • Alison: This is my greatest fear about teaching - encountering cliques. read more
  • Gail: Jessica, This blog was one of your best, but take read more
  • Lisa Riley: I don't think it matters if you are a "brand-new" read more




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