Five years ago, I left my familiar junior high school to move to a new district and a new grade level. I was excited for a new challenge after teaching the same thing for 11 years and felt confident because I was an NBCT, and knew my content area.
It was unquestionably the hardest year of my teaching career. My first year teaching was crazy because I had done my student teaching in kindergarten, but I got a job teaching 8th grade social studies and English. I traveled as well, because the school was overcrowded and there were no more classrooms. It was a hard year but I had a lot of support being a new teacher. Switching to from junior high to high school in my 11th year of teaching was more difficult than I could have ever imagined because I wasn’t a new teacher. I was a veteran.
When I came to my new school, I was labeled a “good teacher”. I’m not really sure what that means, but I was left on an island. I did not know who to ask when I needed something. I struggled building relationships with high school students. Most days I left crying. At the end of the first quarter, I almost quit teaching. It’s wasn’t that I did not have support. Rather, I did not know where the support was. It made me realize that every teacher needs support and coaching in one way or another, and especially from a peer who is trained to do that.
…to subscribe to the falsehood that my years in the system make me a veteran ignores and silences all the parts of me that still need mentoring and community and new insights and feedback and love. (Minor, 11)
After that, I was given the opportunity to become a Cognitive Coach, which changed my teaching and my leadership. It made me realize that, for the most part, people just want to feel heard. We tell teachers they are “good”, but what does that mean when we are not in their classrooms? I attended a lot of professional developments that lead me to learning that not only was teaching a passion of mine, but helping teachers was as well. I attended the Teacher Leadership Institute this past summer. I was so fortunate to meet other coaches, teachers, and Cornelius Minor. I feel like the best professional development comes from other teachers, and Cornelius is a teacher as well.
This year, I have been given the role of teacher development. I still have my classroom and I still get to be a teacher. However, this year my job is also to develop and support teachers Prior to this, department chairs, whom also have a full teaching schedule, and administration, whose schedule is unpredictable, were in charge of this. I only teach 3 classes, but my teacher development keeps me busier than those three classes. Work you love isn’t work. I find myself in and out of classrooms daily. I counsel teachers and help them find the right words to use to express their concerns. I talk them through the hard stuff of teaching and help them see the joy in teaching.
My favorite part of my job is observing teachers and telling them everything I love about their classroom. My job is not to evaluate them. My job is to encourage them and help them with what they need. My job is to collect data on observed student behavior, or to give advice when it’s asked for. I get to work with newer teachers and build them up using the skill set I have. I also get to support teachers who ask for help, regardless of how long they have been teaching. I don’t report to administration. My job is, simply, to help out in a non-threatening way, and to be a support for what is needed at that time. Valid and trusted peer feedback is so valuable to teachers and increases human capital in schools.
This year, my PLC decided to do a book study using Minor’s book, We Got This. The ability to have conversations with other teachers who are in different subjects and different parts of their career has been eye opening and uplifting. We’ve decided to move to a place where we are giving each other feedback on the skills we are learning about in the book. I am so excited to have people in my classroom to give me feedback. I feel it’s been missing in my professional life for a while.
Recently, I found my coach and champion. I went to talk to another department chair about something completely unrelated and found myself confiding in her. I received validation, understanding, and empathy. She spoke right to my soul and gave me a renewed confidence and some tough love. Lisa and I have a lot in common, and that hour was exactly what I needed to push through. It was unexpected and cathartic. It also made me realize that the feedback I got from her was incredibly valuable to me as a teacher. She understood exactly what I was saying and I valued her voice because I trusted her as a fellow teacher and department chair.
Be the person who says positive things to a teacher who is struggling with a rough class. Be the person who allows a teacher to vent because they received a frustrating email. Be the person who says, “I’m so happy you are on our campus/in our department/on my team.” Open the door to more! Feedback as a peer has a huge effect on people. It validates what we do! Seek it out! Become stronger in your profession by using other teachers!
Minor, Cornelius. We got this.: Equity, access, and the quest to be who our students need us to be. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2019.