To Be the Best

If you think teaching is a competition of you versus your coworkers, you’re doing it wrong.

One thing I’ve learned in my 18 years of experience is that meaningful collaboration with colleagues is an important aspect of my success. When I started out, I was basically my own department: I taught introduction to journalism and photography and served as the adviser for the yearbook and newspaper staffs. The lack of a teaching partner or two was so isolating. I had a few mentor teachers I could talk to about work in general, but I needed people who could relate to the amount of stress I felt. I was so overwhelmed (I also coached tennis and oversaw the Key Club). After just 2 years, I was burned out, and I was really second-guessing my career choice.

When I moved to Dallas, I thought I wanted to do anything but teach. The problem was that I didn’t know where to start. Teaching was the thing I went to school for. It’s what I thought I would do for the rest of my work life. Why did I pay all of that money for a degree I didn’t want to use anymore? And so I found another teaching job. This one came with a multi-person department, and that previous feeling of isolation fell away. Fellow teachers happily marched through the classroom door, carrying stacks of curriculum guides and lessons and ideas (this parade of paper still happens today, only virtually in the form of shared digital files). The culture of sharing instantly put me at ease, and I knew the days of teaching in solitude were far behind me. I still had my struggles, but I had a support system this time that propped me up and kept me going.

Teaching is about that collegiality, that relationship built on respect of the hard work that we all do. The challenges we face may look a little different from room to room, but that doesn’t make one problem more or less difficult than another. I’m pretty independent and have my own ideas about how to run a classroom, but that doesn’t mean my way is better than anyone else’s. I still value the collaborative aspect of teaching because it’s what helps me grow (and I hope my coworkers find it helpful, too). It’s one thing to want to be a great teacher. It’s a whole other thing to compare your greatness to that of others.

If students leave my classroom at the end of the day as better versions of themselves, then I know I’ve won, and that’s the only contest that matters to me.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

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