I have taught at a number of different colleges and universities, with students ranging from barely prepared to excellent. The level of the students has less impact on my contentment with my teaching than I expected. In fact, what seems to have the most impact is my relationship with my colleagues.
When I first went back to teaching, I would rush in, teach my class, and rush back out again. I had barely any interaction with anybody but students. While I have had some great students, this wasn’t enough to make me feel a real part of the faculty. Something was missing.
The colleges where I have most enjoyed teaching are the ones that foster a sense of collegiality, whether through frequent faculty meetings or mentoring programs. They are places where full-time and adjunct faculty interact, and places where faculty share a lounge or offices or go out together to unwind after teaching.
It is no wonder that colleagues are important. Teaching, while supremely rewarding, can also be exhausting, demanding and frustrating. Experiencing the frustration of students who don’t want to learn, or who are not adequately prepared, feels overwhelming. Discussing it with others reveals the problems for what they are: systemic issues of education. That is a lot better than having to attribute it to teaching inadequacy.
As a teacher, I feel that I am expected to be an entertainer, a content expert, a social worker, and a cheerleader for my educational institutions and for education in general. I am supposed to overcome the gaps in education my students come to college with—for reasons ranging from students’ laziness to poor educational policies to social and economic disadvantages. Without colleagues who understand the struggle to meet all these needs, I feel isolated and abandoned. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to work with many dedicated, talented and excellent scholars. Here’s what I think colleagues can do for each other (and what I hope to develop through comments on this blog):
We can give each other ideas for assignments and teaching strategies that work.
We can share books and resources.
We can have conversations about topics and issues that we are interested in.
We can discuss, while observing rights of privacy, student problems that are difficult to deal with.
We can offer solutions or just listen.
We can develop a network for sharing ideas.
We can support and give confidence to new teachers.
We can bounce around ideas and collaborate on effective teaching strategies.
We can work out ideas on common concerns like grading policies, classroom procedures, use of electronics and technology.
We can educate each other.
We can grumble with impunity.
We can reenergize to face the challenges of teaching for another semester.