Do you ever feel a little out of sync with your fellow teachers?
This post is about how teachers should treat other teachers. With the level of creativity inherent in teaching, creative differences can lead to unintentional comments that can annoy and discourage our peers.
I am also guilty of talking shop without really thinking my comments through. So in this post I have isolated the main scenarios where this can happen and added some handy questions to ask yourself before talking about work with your colleagues.
1. Don’t discuss your success when others feel they have failed.
Buzzing from a fun class and wanting to talk about it with your work buddy, you are disappointed to find their class went terribly. So you think maybe if you talk through your lesson they can understand why theirs didn’t work for them. After all, your lesson went pretty well and you’re feeling quite good about your teaching skills.
But ask yourself:
- Do you know your colleague’s class? What works for your students might not work for their students.
- Did they specifically ask for advice? If the teacher feels they failed then offering all this advice suggests you agree. Demoralising for newer teachers.
- Are you giving this advice in a way that is focused on improving their teaching? Maybe you’re just happy about how well your lesson went and want to share. Nothing wrong with that, but there’s a time and place.
- Is it making them feel better? That should be the goal. Sometimes it’s best practice just to say, “I’m sorry, but don’t worry about it, it was just one lesson.” Some classes take time to get to know a teacher. Some teachers need to try out a few ideas before they figure out what works for them.
Ultimately, give your colleague space to breathe and empathise rather than advise. Let them reflect on what went wrong and they can come to you with a targeted question later, if needed.
2. Don’t find issues in another teacher’s plan.
Your colleague is talking through a lesson they’re about to deliver. You notice that they could do a certain activity a little differently and ask if they have considered an alternative. They haven’t. You explain possible issues with their approach and the benefits of your alternative. They nod and smile. You start suggesting other ways to do it too, feeling in full flow and enjoying having a chat. Maybe you’ll change your lesson actually… some of these ideas are gooood.
But ask yourself:
- Is this necessary? Are they talking through the lesson because you asked or because they are unsure about an aspect of it. Like in the last point, is this advice needed?
- Is there time for this? Gauge your colleague’s stress level. Maybe they’re planning in advance, maybe they’ll deliver this lesson very soon. It’s possible they don’t want to be looking back over their lesson at this point.
- Is there a better time for this? Planning with colleagues is absolutely fine. But both parties need to be aware that this is what’s happening.
- Are you actually critiquing? Sometimes another teacher is doing an activity you would never consider. Or you aren’t comfortable with it. So you start discussing alternative ways more for your own lesson than theirs. It’s best to make it clear to your colleague that this is what you’re doing.
Depending on why they are talking through their lesson, there are a number of ways to respond to a colleague. But unless you are being made to do the exact same thing, it’s best to let them get on with it.
3. Don’t provide problems without solutions (especially Meetings)
You and your colleagues are seated around a table during a planning meeting. Together, you are trying to decide how best to use the material from the coursebook for your respective classes. A colleague points out a few activities but you suggest they could affect student engagement. The colleague agrees. Another colleague suggests some materials from a website but you point out some logistical errors. The colleague agrees. A third colleague asks you what you would do instead. You suggest that some kind of of reading activity would be good.
But ask yourself:
- Do you all need to do the exact same thing? This is unlikely. Often if a course needs identical lessons, there is a fixed syllabus to follow, hence no need for such a meeting. So be positive about suggestions since you don’t have to follow them and they can be improved upon rather than rejected.
- Do you have a practical alternative? Vagueness does not help people. Teachers need a concrete activity with clear aims if they are to add it to their lesson plan. Doing this to begin a discussion and hoping someone else will pick up the slack is best avoided.
- Can you add variety rather than rejection? There might be another version of the activity you can suggest or similar activities that accomplish the same aim.
Teaching is a pretty stressful, highly creative and somewhat isolating job. We usually work in a team but do slightly different things in our classrooms that our colleagues never see. So talking about past and future lessons is how we keep in touch, share advice and find common issues.
But because talking about our lessons is such a big part of our interactions with each other, it’s even more important to make sure we are, at all times, focusing on the task at hand.