When Peers Face the Dragon... and Come Out on the Other Side

The teacher down the hall from me hasn't been at our school very long. And while I know her name, my high school has well over 150 educators and, some years, more than 4,000 kids on campus. Additionally, our professional turnover rate is exceptionally high and, truth be told, after years and years and years of seeing people come into our English department, and then leave our English department for one reason or another (i.e. the work is too hard, the environment is too challenging, this "inner-city teaching thing" is just not for them, California is just nut-so and they are moving back to a more sensible place, and so on) you just don't get to know everyone the way you ought to until they have been around a couple of years and made it past the dragon.

What dragon? Let's be honest, Title 1 schools can be a buzz saw and no matter how much you try to help someone, at some point each of us has to face down the creature that lives in the belly in the public school beast ourselves and determine, "Am I going to continue on here or am I going to move on to another world that makes more personal sense?"

There's no one on my campus who has not confronted such a monster. Some of us confront it monthly.

So when I saw the teacher down the hall at the CATE conference this past weekend, my eyes lit up.

She was there because she wanted to be there. No Dept. Chair muscled her into a Saturday attendance. No one bullied her into seeking some professional development to improve her classroom craft. No one mandated that she do some extra hours to stay job-eligible. She was at CATE because she paid her own way to attend. Nope, the school district didn't cover her conference fee (a few hundred bucks) or her transportation or her parking or her lunch. (BTW, how many superintendents ever visit a conference on their own dime? Don't ya get the sense that if they even had to even pay for their own bottle of water they'd take a pass and say, "Naw, not worth it"? But teachers... another story entirely.)

Just by seeing her at the conference, I feel closer to the teacher down the hall now. I feel as if she has faced the "dragon" and found a way to say, "Bring it on, Mo Fo', cause I got something for ya, too!"

It really takes that kind of attitude in a way to do what it is we do everyday. And even though I try to be supportive of all the other teachers on campus, I think I am going to make sure I give a little "extra oomph" to helping the teacher down the hall. There are a few personal books from my own professional development library she might want to read, there are a few "mazes around our campus" I might be able to help her better navigate, maybe she just needs someone who has been around here for a while to acknowledge the good work she is doing in a public way, like at our next department meeting. Who knows?

But schools help people who help themselves. It's a rule that is just as true for teachers as it is for students.

When Peers Face the Dragon and Come Out on the Other Side, you can see it in their eyes.

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