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Compartments (2)

Sometimes you’re just fed the right straight lines. From a comment on my previous post: “Learn to keep your door closed and locked and your phone off the hook.”

The thing is, I’d already come to this conclusion on my own. All1 of the teachers that I respected at that school followed this strategy. They minimized their interaction with other faculty, ignored what other teachers did, and just worked on their own. Put your head down, don’t try to change the school, just worry about your own classes and your own students.

This is a losing strategy. Isolationism may be somewhat effective short term, but even teachers need to interact with each other, and intentionally cutting yourself off from them will only serve to empower those that do maintain strong social ties to other teachers, regardless of their actual teaching skill.

And, right as I was mulling this post, along comes some new research from Cornell

We find that students perform better when their teachers’ peers have better observable characteristics. In models that use teacher value-added (based on historical student achievement gains) as a measure of teacher quality, we find that students experience greater test score gains when their teacher’s peers have higher mean estimated value-added in both math and reading.

In English that says “A teacher’s improvement is proportional to the strength of their colleagues.” It’s sort of a pedagogical version of Newton’s law of cooling.

I’d already come to that conclusion myself, as well. Those strong teachers that I had a comfortable relationship with would freely admit that, while they had to shut their doors and isolate themselves, also were not improving (and if anything, losing) their skills. What I was looking at was ongoing frustration and a decline in whatever talents I’d developed.

So, I jumped ship. I’m going to be teaching at a new school in two weeks. I looked for a school that set high expectations for their teachers as well as their students, had low staff turnover2, and a well defined set of expectations for everyone from administration down to the students. I think I’ve found that, though I may be giving up a lot in other things I’d gotten comfortable with. I need a good foundation, though, and I’ve got high hopes this new school will give me something to build on.

1 There was one exception – she was very active in many facets of the school. However, she also used her influence to shift schedules and teams, so that in practice she spent most of her time collaborating with only stronger teachers.

2 The old school had about 15-20% turnover in teachers every year. The only reason there were openings at the new school is because of class size reduction mandated by QIEA: the needed new teachers – none of the old ones were leaving.

{ 2 } Comments

  1. Tom Escott | August 24, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    LOL. When I was doing my videos for my teaching portfolio, I had notified the school office to hold calls and not interrupt my classroom during one class period. I had also posted signs on my door “video recording in progress, please do not disturb.”

    As Murphy would have it, right in the middle of taping a student strolled into the class and walked right up to me with some urgent request. I don’t even recall what it was.

    There are times when you should demand your privacy and times when you should interact with your students and colleagues. Allowing interruptions to drive your day is a losing strategy. You gain respect by setting appointments and keeping them.

    I agree that you should not isolate yourself from others in your school. In fact, you should participate in extra curricular activities where you can interact with students and colleagues in a different setting. You should visit other classrooms and invite teachers to visit yours.

    I wish you well in your new school.

  2. Mrs. H | August 24, 2009 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    I agree with your post entirely. When I worked in a toxic department, I shut myself off from everyone to survive, but there was no growth in me. Over time, a new adminsistration was hired and we began to get new teachers who were dynamic and were willing to work as a team. My doors opened up and the flow of ideas from one teacher to the next. We began to adopt sayings that we all used and we would even over hear the kids use them. It was an incredible learning experience for me.

    I am now at a new school and I am already sensing an evironment of collaboration and cooperation. I am excited about the prospects of learning so many new things since I have 15 new colleagues.

    Mrs. H