2.4 Connecting with colleagues: No tricks, all treat!
Some teachers dress up for Halloween.
During my first year of teaching, I was too busy to even anticipate the holiday. I certainly didn’t think about it in the context of school — especially since October 31 fell on a Saturday that year. So when the Friday before Halloween rolled around, I was shocked to enter a building full of teachers who were dressed as movie characters or wearing crazy wigs.
No one had told me.
My kids had plenty to say once class started, though. “Oh, Ms. Smith, we thought for sure you would dress up. You seemed like one of the fun teachers! ”
Well, my face turned red and I’m sure smoke came out of my ears. Perhaps that provided the illusion of a costume. One thing I could not mask, however, was my sense of hurt. Why hadn’t someone thought to let me know? Even if including me was not a priority, it would seem that the education of our students would have been better served if someone had warned me that the kids might be in costume. Ever tried a cooperative learning activity with Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in the same group?
The day was an educational, and an emotional, disaster. However, it did bring an important oversight to my attention.
I hadn’t been talking to my colleagues.
Making time for conversation
Who had time to chat in the teacher’s lounge? Every minute of my day was packed. The mornings were filled with last-minute preparations. During lunch, I was either monitoring students or frantically trying to catch up on administrative work. After school, I was either coaching, tutoring, calling parents, xeroxing or trying to lesson plan. Every minute, I had to get five minutes of work done. And even at that pace, I felt so far behind!
The truth is, I didn’t have a moment to catch my breath. So it took getting the breath knocked out of me on that holiday to pause and regroup. I needed to meet my colleagues.
I began getting to school five minutes earlier, so that instead of making a beeline for my classroom, I could pause at other teachers’ doors to say “good morning.” On days when the mornings were just too packed, I made sure that at least five minutes of lunch was devoted to either sitting at the adult table in the cafeteria or stopping by the teachers’ lounge. I dropped my secret belief that “those teachers sure waste a lot of time chatting” and adopted a new mentality. “I am a part of a team here. I should invest a little time getting to know the other members of my group.”
It added five minutes to my day, but improved my work environment tremendously. I looked forward to a few moments with adults at lunchtime. I developed relationships that provided emotional and professional support. I even found out that the other teachers had misinterpreted my “I’m overwhelmed — no time to play” work ethic. They thought I was aloof, unfriendly and uninvested. Talk about irony! I cared too much about my work to waste my time chatting, and they assumed my aversion to conversation meant that I cared little for them or for our school.
I know you are overwhelmed. I know there aren’t enough hours in the day. I know it often seems like every moment you are making a choice between working for your students or doing something else. However, I also know that one of the best things you can do for those students is develop a relationship with other teachers, and find emotional and professional support in your building.
So today, I am encouraging you to meet a colleague. Start by taking a little more time to say “good morning” as you walk to your classroom. Or let them know that you admire the bulletin board they created across the hall. Or actually sit down for a five-minute lunch in the midst of the craziness. Or let someone know if you’re overwhelmed and need help.
Or simply ask someone if the school has any rules or traditions surrounding Halloween. Don’t feel pressured to participate if it is not a holiday you celebrate. Just appreciate having a sense what to expect. Since my first year, I have discovered that some schools have rules against costumes, while others give prizes to the teachers, staff and students who are best dressed.
My point is that the best way to learn about your school’s culture, and about so much more, is to begin investing in relationships with other adults in your building. Value their insights. Even more importantly, value them and the relationships you are creating. We are educators. We invest in our students. Let’s invest in one another as well.