Support Systems

For the month of April, I am participating in the Blog A Day Challenge for educators. All prompts are provided by Meredith Towne (@BklynMeredith), an educator from New York.

When I returned to teaching high school after completing my Master’s degree, I knew I had to do things differently if I was going to last. One skill I lacked was finding support. Prior to grad school, I coached speech and taught journalism, and I was pretty much alone. I ate lunch with people who worked in my same hallway, but we never really had meaningful conversations and never saw each other socially outside of the building. I spent my weekends at speech tournaments and found some collegiality there, but once the season was over, I was back to being a full-time island.

I’m certain that the isolation contributed to my belief that teaching high school was not for me. So when I returned in 2008, I looked for ways to be more social, to make connections, to support and be supported.

My current department is closely-knit–we share our setbacks just as often as we share our triumphs. We eat lunch as a group almost every day, and see each other socially from time to time.

The idea of “support” can be one of the more misunderstood ideas in the field of education; administrators, politicians, and ed reformers often conflate professional development and support. Support, for me, means I feel safe and confident and able. My colleagues support me in myriad ways and I do my best to support them.

I work on my listening skills and seek to understand as much as possible before doling out trite advice. I crack jokes. I bring baked goods. I send emails or write notes on passes when students are called to classrooms of my friends. I smile. I try to be helpful.

Teaching is hard, exponentially harder than it was when I started. The support I need isn’t another approach to writing or another classroom management strategy–even though those can be valuable assets in my toolbox. The support I need is knowing I am in the trenches with people who are just as passionate as I am about teaching and learning, people who can give me a pass when I’m having a bad day, people who can make me die laughing in the most mind-numbing of situations.

I’m back in the classroom where I coached speech, the room I spent four years as an island. But this time, I’m part of a thriving archipelago, surrounded by people throughout my building whom I can rely on, and who know (I hope) can rely on me.

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