Use the buddy system when entering the teaching pool

I’m a grand-teacher now. After eight years in the profession, my first students now have students of their own. They’re wrapping up their first year and comparing notes on their expectations versus their realities. And even though they were new to teaching this year, they shared a trait I see well too often in teaching: they were afraid to ask for help. I see this a lot in teachers at every point in their careers, and it bothers me.

Too often art educators are situationally isolated, as often there is only one art teacher on a campus. Because of this, art teachers are usually an afterthought when it comes to district PD, and there isn’t really anyone on campus that knows the ins and outs of good project based learning or supply management. Sure, you can learn a lot from good teachers and administrators outside of our content area, but there are certain things you can only get from a seasoned art teacher.

So why are so many teachers hesitant to ask for help? I’ve heard a wide range of answers, from shame over not being able to “handle their classrooms,” not wanting to be a bother to anyone, or fear that my lesson plans are some sort of secret recipe that I would be secretive about (they aren’t). I’ve had to be borderline annoyingly insistent that new teachers who have been open about the fact that they are struggling let me help them lay out their lessons.

Let’s be honest, this job is tough. I didn’t have great mentorship in the early years of my career, and that meant that I spent hours every night researching, planning, creating handouts, and doing everything else needed to get this job done. And most of what I put together, because I was inexperienced, wasn’t great, which means I had to do it all over again the next year. But I didn’t know who to ask for help, and my pride didn’t allow it anyway. Think about that for a second, all across the country there are new teachers working right now to come up with some great lesson plan for next week. It seems a little redundant, doesn’t it?

One of the best lessons I learned in those early years of toil and failure is that even though I didn’t have a great mentor, I did have a great colleague. We were both new, both inexperienced, but we formed a solid working relationship based on collaboration and a little healthy competition. Since then we’ve grown as a department and added teammates that have brought new facets to our pedagogy. I’m better everyday for the new ideas I’ve learned from all of them and my lessons are tighter from having to organize them enough to share. Everybody is better off, especially the students.

So, what I’m saying is, get a buddy. Find someone you align with philosophically and make collaboration and sharing a regular thing. It doesn’t have to be a coworker, it can be someone halfway around the world. Google Apps makes sharing and collaboration so easy these days. Find someone that cares about this profession as much as you do and work together. It doesn’t have to be formal. Meet monthly for coffee with teachers from your region. Find a teacher in a Facebook group you respect and start a regular dialog. Get a happy hour going at the end of every grading period. It can be anything really. Just whatever you do, don’t stay on your islands. There are a lot of impassioned teachers out there that could lighten your workload, and they might also need your help as much as you need theirs.

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