Teachers don’t always stay teachers for very long. Our profession has a huge turnover rate, particularly among those in their first five years. This is a topic I’ve been interested in since my undergraduate days–what can we do to make talented teachers stay, despite the well-documented factors that prompt so many to search for careers in other fields? I’ve been reading studies on teacher retention and attrition, and most research seems to agree that a teacher’s feeling of support (or lack thereof) can make or break a decision to stay in the field. I strongly feel that the support network I’ve been able to build, composed of colleagues from many different places and at many different points in their careers, have contributed to my decision to stay in teaching. Seeing other leadership inspires me to be a leader. Sharing ideas expands my teaching repertoire. Emotional support helps me resolve the daily and perennial challenges of being a teacher. My network makes me better. It’s nearly impossible to be a satisfied, effective teacher in isolation. But with supportive networks, we make each other stronger.
Participating in your professional support network
Networking means reaching out and making connections. In person, online, over the phone, however: share your ponderings, frustrations, epiphanies, quandaries, excitements, goals, and philosophies out loud with other teachers. Be on the lookout for other teachers who share something with you. Maybe they’re at the same point in their career. Maybe they teach the same subject. Maybe they have similar ideas about what education should mean. Any point of connection you share–sometimes just the fact that you are also a teacher–is a reason to get the conversation started. Go out for coffee together. Follow each other on Twitter/Facebook/Google+. Send links to articles. Just stop in the hallway to talk. It takes a bit of effort, and a bit of time, but it’s worth it. Every time we take a moment to strengthen the bonds between ourselves and others in our professional family, we get to share the experience of teaching in a meaningful way. Being open about our struggles and successes invites other teachers into our circle. From this, we gain:
*a source of fresh and creative ideas
*a sense of comradeship
*partners to help us troubleshoot or brainstorm
*encouragement and emotional support
*colleagues to collaborate with on big and small projects alike
*a huge supply of wisdom, expertise, experience, and resources
*a shared mission, something bigger than just ourselves
*a feeling of pride and positivity about our profession
Finding fellow teachers for your professional support network dream team
Awesome teachers are everywhere–it’s just a matter of finding them, and allowing them to find you. Here are some ideas to help you expand your network and get connected.
*In-house: Take a second look at the teachers in your building. Chances are, you already have some friends with whom you work closely. However, there may be new teachers, teachers from other departments, or teachers from other schools in your district that are kindred spirits as well. The connection that you already share by being in the same local community and working under the same administration gives you much to talk about and many opportunities to collaborate. Together, you have the ability to effect changes in school policies, shape curricular goals, start committees, write grants to get money for your school or department, and to be consistent, nearby sources of support for one another. At the next staff meeting, maybe try sitting at a new table and saying hello to some new teacher buddies. Also, make an effort to connect your teacher friends with one another. The stronger the school community, the more satisfied (and empowered) the staff.
*Academia: Universities with education programs are very interested in (if not always directly involved in) what is happening in schools. Try getting reconnected with professors that you related to in your own teacher education, or people who you met and worked with during your undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral study. A simple e-mail letting a professor or former classmate know what you’re up to can re-form a great professional connection. Colleges that are located near to your place of employment may also have a reason to connect with you, even if you’re not an alumnus. Try sending an e-mail or letter to higher-ed leaders in your area, asking about professional development opportunities and if the university staff or students would like to get involved in a school or district initiative. There’s also the option of taking a class or two, to further your own education and to meet like-minded professionals.
*Professional Organizations: Consider joining a professional organization, like Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English, Educators’ Network for Social Justice or National Council of Teachers of English to get more aware of, involved in, and connected with what’s happening in education at the local, state, and national levels. Professional organizations attract teachers that are aware of what’s happening in education, and often have a wealth of resources to recommend. If you get acquainted with some of your fellow members, you have a new group of people that can give an array of perspectives on every aspect of education. You can also be offered leadership positions within these communities that let you play a part in decisions and action regarding important professional issues.
*Conventions and conferences: Attend a conference or convention that’s held in your area. For example, the NCTE Annual Convention. You get to meet other attendees who are active, interested, learning professionals. Plus, you get to choose which sessions you attend, maximizing the benefit to your own classroom needs. These events are often fantastic and feature speakers who are full of inspirational and practical ideas that are ready to use the next day in class. Keep your program and add interesting speakers to your Twitter feed or Facebook friends so that you can stay tuned in to their fabulous teaching ideas beyond just the conference. I usually bring my business cards (yep, I made them through Office Max for a nice low price) along with me, so if I meet a new friend I can easily give them my contact information.
*Blogging and online social networking: Got something to say? Start your own education blog, and make a point to read and comment on the blogs of others. Obviously, I am a participant in this method! If you’re not the blogging type, you can also easily join groups online that are education-focused to stay informed and join professional conversations from the comfort of your home. Many people think that the Internet is diminishing our social skills. However, if you use it correctly, the Internet is a social skill. Having a professional presence online gives other teachers a place to find you, and join you.
We don’t need to teach in isolation. If we reach out to our colleagues, we can create a professional support network that helps us stand together as educators… who wouldn’t even dream of quitting.