It sometimes feels like you are very much on your own as a teacher. You know, even though you are teaching a whole bunch of people, there is a divide of sorts in the room between “you the teacher” and “them the students”. That divide is always going to be there because you have different roles and different responsibilities in that classroom space. So it can seem a bit of a lonely calling, even though this is, of course, one of the pleasures of the job. After all, significant chunks of the day you are left to do your own thing with little supervision and lots of freedom. Nevertheless, at pinch points, particular stressed times, you feel the need to be, well, not alone. Those times when that student is ranting at you about some random college diktat that you don’t really understand yourself; when that class of 16-18s is totally going off on one, spiralling irretrievably out of control; when the internet connection goes down in the middle of a class entirely predicated on the use of the web; when you walk into class and the students say “we did that yesterday with the other teacher”; when the meticulously planned activity for which you had such high hopes as a surefire winner takes three seconds and bombs horribly; or when that fateful email pops up in your inbox announcing the imminent arrival of graded observation. Right at those times, it feels like it is just you, and you alone.
It is also at these times that it is easiest to forget that teachers are part of a community. The cry is more often “What can Ido about this?” rather than “who can help me with this?”
There is the immediate community of your staff room, into which, if you are lucky, you can run during a class and someone will be able to give you that quick fix solution: some wise or merely convenient soul who says “try this” and who saves the day. Sometimes you mention that you are struggling with something or other, and you get enough ideas or suggestions to solve that problem ten times over. I get it that not all staff rooms are like this, and where this hasn’t been the case the community of teachers is weaker and the quality and confidence inevitably reduced. When we talk shop in social settings, this is all part of that community, sometimes sharing ideas, but more often than not simply a kind of communal psychic hug. Then there are the wider settings, Twitter, Facebook, all those things, social networks forming an extension of the staff room, up to and including the hugging. You can call it a PLN, but I call it hugs.
It’s not all lovey love-ins, mind you. I’ve worked with various people with whom I have had some fairly profound differences of opinion and approach, and this has been nothing but productive. We have had quite vocal arguments at times, but always with a sense of respect, knowing that however bonkers we think each other to be, we are all doing the best we can for out learners. My opinions and approaches have been challenged, as have theirs, and my practices, and I hope theirs, have developed for the better as a result. Challenge is important: it makes you question your practices, clarify them, or reject them. This is all good.
If we get it right our classroom practice is the tip of this huge iceberg of support. From our initial trainers to our current colleagues, to that random teacher from the other side of the world, they all inform our practices on a day to day basis. As a result, out teaching practice is an amalgam of our ideas and those of others. We are alone, yes, but we are all alone together.
You can put that last sentence on a cat poster if you like….