What do you find most challenging about being a teacher?
It’s always either “the paperwork” or “working with challenging parents” or with “working with challenging colleagues.”
One new teacher expanded on this about her colleagues: “Sometimes you just don’t see eye to eye with people about what is needed or what the solution to a problem is – and your assessment of a situation might be quite different to theirs – but you have to try and work together and respect each other’s views… that can be very difficult sometimes… especially when personalities come in to it.”
These days of course, “co-operating with other professional colleagues” could mean anyone from a social worker, a child psychologist, a practice nurse or a police liaison officer, but for some reason this remark reminded me of my fledgling professional relationships with other teacher colleagues.
When I was a new, young teacher, I struggled, as many do, with the behaviour of challenging children. I couldn’t seem to get them to settle, make progress, behave appropriately or even get them to listen to what I was trying to say. Then along would come a colleague, not always much more experienced than me, who would simply have ‘the knack’. In their presence, suddenly an “impossible child” would be listening, behaving, motivated and learning.
I have to admit – sometimes I resented the ease with which others seemed to be able to do this. I’d ask them how they did it, what were the ‘tricks’ to achieving progress, success and yes, compliance. Sometimes I didn’t even feel like accepting advice when it was given. I’d feel inadequate and defensive. Sometimes I thought that colleagues were pandering to and appeasing challenging children, rather than tackling their ‘real issues’ – as I saw it.
Then one day the boot was on the other foot. An experienced colleague whom I really admired as a very good teacher came to me and asked in desperation: “For goodness sake, tell me what to do with Darren… I can’t get him to do a thing for me and all he talks about is how good it was when he was in your class… Help!”
I realised then my defensiveness was completely misplaced. All teachers will at some point have difficulties that challenge their judgement and even their professional self-esteem. But it’s wise to remember that teaching is still a highly collegial profession and that we can always learn from each other.
In fact, from each other is usually the best way to learn.
Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk. His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) is published in February 2014.