22 September 2007

Familiarity Breeds Isolation

A teacher asked me an interesting question this week. He wondered if the willingness to collaborate with peers decreases with years of experience in the classroom. Those first few years, you need all the help you can get. You reach out to others, grab onto any piece of quality curriculum you can steal as if it were a life raft, and do what you can to keep growing in your profession. At some point, however, you have the basics under your belt and have a certain amount of comfort in doing what you do. It grows into an attitude of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Shutting your classroom door to the outside world becomes the norm.

It's an interesting point to ponder. In my experience, I would say that secondary teachers are more prone to becoming independent contractors than their elementary peers. I admit that it's easy enough to do. There's quite the wolfpack baying at the doors of the classroom: concerns from admin, parent issues, community needs, legislative mandates, and more. Why not give in to the temptation to just close one's door and stick with what you know?

I see a couple of problems with this. First of all, the teachers I know who strike this particular attitude also have a good number of unsuccessful students. It doesn't mean that what happens in their classrooms is bad teaching, but it also isn't reaching every kid who needs to learn. I would think that they'd want to expand their repertoire a bit to support children. The second impact is far more problematic in my mind: there are always some teachers who crave a collaborative environment and are being stifled or driven from the profession due to the frustrating lack of community.

I think that those teachers who do maintain that sense of intellectual curiosity for the classroom over the span of their careers are also those who look for opportunities outside of the classroom at one point or another. Some move to administration. Others find different types of leadership opportunities. I believe that their goals are to find ways to make positive change happen and to build the kinds of places where familiarity breeds neither contempt, nor isolation, but real learning for teachers and students.


Margaret said...

I am fortunate and thankful that my World Language Department has always been very collaborative. You are correct though that many secondary teachers are possessive and private about their classroom activities. We could all benefit from new ideas!

loonyhiker said...

I think isolation is a big problem with a lot of our new teachers. They are overwhelmed by all that is expected of them and they tend to work themselves to the bone, away from everyone else. I think all teachers need to support one another. We need to share concerns and experiences to help each other. I don't mean that we need to spread negativism or gossip but support each other so we don't get burned out.