In the midst of my horrid bad day yesterday I realized that I needed help. I knew I was doing something wrong. Whenever something isn't going quite right in the classroom I feel like it's time to step back and look at what I'm doing. Usually it's me that's making it worse. Identifying what I'm not doing or am doing that isn't working tends to lead to better behavior.
I realized that I needed advice on managing behavior. I needed to be able to step back and see what I was missing. My first thought was to research the answer in a book or in a peer-reviewed article. My next thought was to ask someone from the district to come in and observe. Finally I realized that I could just ask one of my amazing colleagues. I sat at my email for a bit, wondering if that is really what I wanted to do. What would she think? Did I really want to make myself that vulnerable?
Why is it so hard to ask for help as a teacher?
I think that teachers can be our own hardest critics. We have a horrible habit of getting smug with one another and saying, "Well, he wouldn't do that in MY classroom", or, "Can you believe she let him get away with that?"
Then we gossip behind each other's backs:
"Well, maybe her kids would learn it if she had a backbone."
"No wonder her kids can't do x, y, z... Have you seen how she talks to them?"
"She's so strict her kids are afraid to pee in the bathroom."
We are horrid to one another.
I like to think of myself as a life-long learner. I like to think of myself as someone who has the growth mindset- someone who is always willing to try and fail at new things. But when it comes to asking for help from colleagues even I get a bit defensive.
Why is it so much easier to read a book on managing behavior than it is to ask a colleague? Somehow asking a colleague feels like admitting that you are actually a bad teacher. That when someone comes along and sorts "good teachers" and "bad teachers" you are going to be put into the bad box and left there.
Perhaps some of this comes from the fact that the media and the general public is always ready to pounce and to tell us that we're bad. As teachers we lash out at each other- well, teachers like HER may be bad, but I'm not. It's our easiest defense against the teacher-war that's going on.
What's worse is that before I asked for help I had to stop and remind myself that this is my first year teaching students with these disabilities. I'm not suppose to know everything. It's OK to still have a learning curve. At least, it should be OK.
My colleague had great ideas and suggestions. They were simple, obvious, and exactly what I needed to hear. I realized I knew the answers, but when you're in the trenches and frustrated you tend to get desperate. You forget what you know is right and go with anything you can cling to.
The afternoon was immediately better. A quick email to a colleague, a quick reply, and I was reminded of strategies I needed. It was a life savor.
Yet I was still ashamed to see her after school. As though I'd suddenly put myself in the "bad teaching" box and I would never climb out of it.
As teachers we have to stop tearing one another apart. We have to be able to collaborate, analyze and brainstorm without fear of judgement. Yet we're somehow so deep in this judgmental culture that it soaks through the entire profession.
I think we take our work really personally as teachers because we are in this career because we know how much it matters. We want to believe that we truly know what's best for these kids, all the time- and when we don't, it feels like admitting defeat.
I don't think it helps that every teacher's style is different, and we have all dealt with the my-way-is-the-highway type of teacher who just makes us feel bad for doing anything different.
I'm glad you talked with a coworker. It's something I try to push myself to do, too- but it is hard sometimes!
I know exactly what you mean. Since I'm a new teacher, my colleagues are always offering to help if needed. But I am reluctant to ask. I, too, a worried what they will think about me. I know that things are not where I want them but I'm afraid to let them see what's in my room. But every time I ask for help, I get great help. I need to ask more.
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