Posted in Co-Teacher, Co-Teaching, Teaching

Being a Supportive Co-Teacher

“Kindness and compassion will get you far in life,” said some person once, somewhere, about something.  Sure, being kind and compassionate will open doors for you, but not every door and it certainly won’t allow you to meet each and every goal you set for yourself.  Sometimes, being too kind or compassionate can be a fault that prevents one from being able to move ahead.  After two amazing years of wedded bliss, my wife and I decided to move to the school I currently work at so that we could save money and begin to plan for our future.  It made sense; however, I was very happy at the school I worked at then.  I didn’t really want to leave.  I loved teaching second grade.  I knew that the right decision was to leave, but it didn’t feel good at the time.  I wanted to stay, but I never told my wife how I felt.  I bottled my emotions up and buried them in the subcockle of my heart and soul.  She was happy and so I figured that I could fake being happy.  I didn’t want to upset her.  On the last day of school at my old school, I packed up my belongings and headed west to my new home and school where my wife was waiting for me.   I was very sad and upset.  I didn’t want to leave my old school.  By the time I arrived at my new school, I was filled with anger and remorse.  That’s when I unloaded on my wife and told her how unhappy I truly was.  I didn’t want to be where we were.  She had no idea because I was too kind and had lied to her.  Had I been more truthful, we might still be living in Maine.  Now, I’m very happy at my current school and am so blessed that we did move here.  We might not have been able to adopt our amazing son if we had stayed in Maine.  All the amazing things that have happened to us over the past 13 years would not have come to fruition had we stayed, but of course, at the time, I didn’t see that.  I needed to be honest with my wife, and I wasn’t, right away.  This caused friction between us for awhile.  I was afraid of being honest because I was worried that it would make her unhappy.  I didn’t want to be unkind, but honesty is always the best policy regardless of the outcome.

The same rule applies in all facets of life.  My co-teacher asked me to review some recent unit plans she had created the other day.  She wanted feedback on the objectives she had crafted prior to using them to grade student work.  So, I took a look at her work last evening.  As this is her first year teaching, let alone working at a crazy place like our school where free time is a hot commodity we all crave, I was impressed with her unit plans.  They were very clear and specific.  Her explanation of how the Habits of Learning will be incorporated into the unit was excellent.  Her objectives were a bit unclear and not specific.  I worried that they would be difficult to use when objectively assessing student work.  They seemed too broad without any sort of student outcome.  She’s admitted to me in the past that she is challenged by writing objectives.  She is working on this skill, but finds it difficult.  Since I knew this going in, I wasn’t surprised that her objectives were a bit awkward.  I made some comments on her Google Drive documents and then sent her an email explaining that I would help her revise her objectives during our free period this morning.  In my comments and email, I tried to be kind and supportive as I didn’t want her to think she was horrible at crafting unit plans.  I wanted her to know that I would be there to support her along the way.  After sending the email and crafting the comments, I was a bit concerned that I was too honest.  Would she take the comments the wrong way?  I didn’t want her to think I hated her teaching or anything like that.  Did I convey my point in the email and comments or was she angry and confused?

So, this morning, when we met to discuss her objectives, I started off by letting her know that I think she’s doing a great job and that I want to help her learn how to create more effective objectives.  She seemed to understand this, but like me, she is very hard on herself.  I made sure to point out the positive things I noticed in her unit plans before helping her see how to revise her objectives to make them more effective.  This approach seemed to work.  She started to see how to create clear and assessable objectives.  Her confidence seemed to grow as well.  Although my honesty was difficult for her to hear at first because she is always striving for excellence in the classroom, by supporting her and working with her to see how to craft specific objectives, she was able to move on and grow.  Positive things came from this interaction.  I compassionately explained the situation to her and helped her to understand how to create more effective academic objectives.  While my intention was to help her grow and develop as an educator, I did wonder if I did so in a manner that would be interpreted as kind by her.  Could I have approached this situation differently?  Should I have waited to provide her feedback in person instead of using digital comments and an email?  Would this have prevented her from feeling nervous and anxious prior to our meeting this morning?

Sometimes, in order to help others, kindness and compassion aren’t the only character traits needed.  Candid honesty is important in all types of relationships, but especially when working with a co-teacher.  If we are to challenge each other to grow and develop as educators, I need to be honest with my co-teacher and she needs to feel as though she can be honest with me.  This isn’t easy and takes practice, but is necessary for a positive and collaborative relationship to be fostered.  I can’t sugarcoat feedback I provide her with just so that she doesn’t construe my words as unkind or negative.  I need to be open and honest in a kind and compassionate way with my co-teacher so that my feelings and thoughts don’t get buried deep inside.  Open and honest communication is the key to any great relationship, as my wife continues to teach me each and every day.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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