Monday, March 31, 2014

"The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives." - Robert John Meehan

Teaching in a junior high or high school is like teaching inside a treasure chest of information. With every department having its specialties, a person can discover the answer to practically any question.  I remember once when our power went off for almost fourteen hours, and I questioned which foods in the refrigerator would still be good and which ones I should throw away.  I went straight to the Home Economics department for the answer, and of course, they knew.   Another time, I needed the electric plug replaced on a lamp cord, as Binky Rittman, my pet bunny, had chewed the entire cord.  I took the lamp directly to the Tech Ed wing to be repaired.  Additionally, I had a question about one of my sick houseplants. I went to see the biology teacher in charge of the school greenhouse, and the sick plant was cured.  Although all of this shared information was terrific, I found that it was even better for my students when collaborating within my own department.

When I taught at Penn Hills for the first two years of my career, three of us teaching ninth grade English were new hires.  Penn Hills was so massive in the 1970's; the Intermediate High School building had only two grades and over 2750 students.  A curriculum coordinator was responsible for shuttling the books from one teacher to another, so when it was your turn to teach a specific unit, there were no extra days; you simply had to teach each unit in the allotted time.  As three new hires, all of this new material to learn and then teach was overwhelming, so the three of us decided we would divide the preparation and lessons for the units and share our materials with the others.   This really was a great idea.  Because we three came from varied backgrounds in both colleges and student teaching experiences, the sharing of lessons made a great year for all of us and our students.

My third year of teaching, I left Penn Hills and went to North Allegheny, where the building climate was not one of collaboration, and I was the only new English teacher.  Although I loved my colleagues, no one offered me any help or ideas with a curriculum which was totally new to me.  At a department meeting part way through the school year, I offered to share the lessons I was creating and I proposed a sharing forum.  Everyone agreed, and some said aloud that they actually wondered why sharing materials and collaboration was not already happening. Through the years, many in-service days were actually dedicated to the collaboration process, as the education gurus recognized its importance.  Those days were always the very best possible in-service days. The department collaboration continues even though I am retired.  By the way, I am still sharing, too.  I had the opportunity to meet the two new department members at a party, and both were lamenting that they did not know what they were going to do to prepare for the upcoming JULIUS CAESAR unit.  I emailed my study guide, quizzes, test, and fun activities and worksheets to them shortly thereafter, and both were very grateful. I asked only that they pay it forward, and keep the legacy of collaboration continuing.

As a new teacher, you must ask for help if you need it, remembering that sharing means giving as well as receiving.  As an experienced teacher, extending yourself to someone new is a caring gesture, and one in which you, too, will benefit, as you share your strategies and ideas.  I often think of those first years of teaching, and just how overwhelming it was to prepare for hours for a forty minute lesson, and then have to do that same amount of work for the next day, sometimes just staying one day ahead of the students.

Through all my years of teaching, many of the English Department student teachers went on to be gainfully employed in other districts, and I would receive a phone call, letter, or email asking if I could send my stuff to them, because their new district used the NA text book.  I was always happy to accommodate these requests, remembering the difficulty and stress of being a new teacher.  I know that there will be those individuals who do not want to share or collaborate.  I consider them to be insignificant in the scope of education; if they were true educators, they would do anything, including sharing materials and ideas, to enhance the teaching and learning process.

I hope you will give sharing a try.  Collaboration in a school setting enriches the teachers, the students, and the overall work and classroom experience for everyone. 

Please leave me a comment or suggestion about this blog or any other one.  I want to collaborate with all of you, my readers by knowing what topics are important to you.  Have a great week at school.

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