Friday, July 22, 2011

Rethinking the Collegial Dynamic

Looking back at the photos from my very first classroom must have given my brain a bit of a jolt this week.  I've been reminiscing, remembering "new teacher" experiences, and rethinking the why's and wherefores behind my reasons for teaching, all while stapling up new bulletin board paper, trim, and thematic posters.  Despite my many years of experience, I'm yet again bruising my shins as I arrange short tables, chairs and learning center furniture.  Some things never change.

My thoughts have jumped between remembrances, a-ha's, criticisms, and affirmations.  Hindsight being what it is, I've even managed to come to an understanding about how important it is to continue to just be myself, despite changes at work.  My upbringing will always be that of a "teacher's kid."  I've taught in four different schools and districts in three different states, so my perception, interests and practice will be affected by those locales as much as the present one influences me.  Nothing will change my past work experiences, be they successes, bungles, or exercises in sheer endurance.  Most importantly, *I* have changed, and acknowledge that I am likely to continue to do so.

Like many new teachers, I didn't want to seek out help from my colleagues that first year out of college.  In fact, I didn't even want to admit that I wanted or needed input from a mentor!  I recreated the wheel, I stumbled, and I had to do everything myself, a hands-on learner to the very end.  I couldn't use a colleague's lesson plan template because I had to go through the motions of creating my own piece by piece. Yes, I lived at school, early mornings, late evenings, long weekends.  I had to learn by doing, not by taking the advice, patterns, or master copies from others.  It was a long year.  A long two years.  Three years.  Four.

Class sizes changed, curriculum materials changed, computers invaded the building en masse.  After a decade in the same school at the same grade with the same colleagues, I fell in love, married, and was relocated thanks to Uncle Sam.  I was called to interview for a job in a district I hadn't even submitted a resume or application to, and was hired immediately.  I learned that district's edu-acronyms, taught, and partnered with my only other grade level colleague, and learned first-hand what it meant to be part of a military family and what it meant to teach the children of our nation's armed forces.  I also learned to avoid taking the trash out at night because the sight of tarantulas cooling themselves on our walls creeped me out to no end.

Another military move and I found myself teaching in Oz while my husband was deployed.  The experiences from that year taught me I could endure just about anything with the right people at my side, and that despite hardship, I could still provide an excellent "first year of school" experience to kindergartners.  NCLB acronyms were added to my professional vocabulary, and I discovered online social media.  I began blogging.  I ranted, vented, and discovered an audience that commiserated with me, encouraged me, and helped me by offering ideas, resources, and counterpoint.  This new form of collegiality redefined how, when, and with whom I could interact and learn.  Teachers I'd never met began to dialogue with me, and they encouraged me to share with others.  Not only could I learn from them, I could teach them: kindergartners are a different breed, and not everyone has the knack that I apparently do.  I came to realize that what I know can help others beyond the walls of my own classroom, school building, district, state, and country.

Two more relocations and I found myself back in Oz, still in kindergarten, still teaching soldier's children.  Friendships and collegial relationships borne from the internet made the move with me, as did my blog.  If I wanted to recreate the wheel, I could, but even better, I could share it with others who were interested.  I found like-minded public, private, and home school teachers, and developed a strong appreciation for the professional reciprocity that was prevalent amongst those of us who "put ourselves out there."  Yet another district's edu-acronyms were added to my list, but by this time, it needed to be culled: is it a SIT team, a SWAT team, or the SEAL team?  You might be surprised at the kinds of looks you can get from new colleagues when you use the wrong acronym or term.  Even more entertaining are the mutterings about yourself you overhear when you work with colleagues whose experiences, though numerous, don't match your own.

I've been the new teacher, the brown teacher hired to maintain an affirmative action percentile, the affordable choice, the highly qualified, and the "best fit" for a district.  I've also been the square peg in a world of round holes, which colleagues come to grips with in their own way, in their own time.  Why would this observation make such an impression upon me after fifteen-plus years?  Because despite the semi-lengthy timeline of my own personal and professional changes and growth, my students and their parents have never seemed to need to make an adjustment when getting to know me.  We've laughed, shared, debated, and we've partnered, just as colleagues do.  Maybe parents and families have felt they have a more intimate understanding of my intentions as their child's kindergarten teacher.  Perhaps, out of necessity, I created a global professional learning network for myself upon which I continue to turn more often than the colleagues within my building.

Or I'm just an odd duck.

Something to ponder.

(Image found here)


  1. I love a good reflection piece. Looking back at where we've come from helps us move forward with more certain steps, more freedom to try new ideas without fear of messing up, and we bring all of our experiences into our practice.

  2. Isn't it amazing how our 'cyber-support' system becomes more and more substantial. There are times during the day when I think, "WOW, I know who would appreciate this moment." And often times it's someone across the country, or the world, sometimes someone I've never met -- but thru the cyber world of support.

    It's awesome that you can share your perspective with the wider world.

    Maybe I get your post because I often feel like the square peg in the pile of roundies.

    Maybe it's because I'm always saying, "I gotta get my ducks in a row......."

    Have fun as you contemplate the launch of another adventure.

  3. WOW! I just found your blog and I have only read this ONE entry and I feel like I have know you for 100 years! I have taught in other schools, I have been hired twice for various reasons in two VERY different districts in 2 different states!

    Many of your reflective thoughts resinate with what I walk the halls with every day!! Thank you for putting it so nicely into words!! I know that I will be back -- thank you!!

    I cant wait to poke around and see what other treasures you have hidden within the this blog!!

    Kindly ~Sarah Hetrick


As always, thank you for your comments, tips, suggestions and questions!