November 24th, 2009

Thankful for Pedagogical Colleagues


It’s the week for being thankful, and I’m thinking gratefully about my pedagogical colleagues—those faculty friends and compatriots with whom I can talk teaching.

I have colleagues who indulged my need to blow off steam—some student behavior is nothing short of outrageous; some department policies are nothing short of senseless; some department heads nothing other than short sighted; and some colleagues are never anything but pessimistic. My best colleagues know when I need a good rant—they listen and then gently encourage me to move on.

I have colleagues who helped me understand what happened in class and why. I talk and they ask questions. I’ve learned that the best colleagues are those who have more questions than answers—those who have the questions I haven’t thought of that lead me to answers I hadn’t considered previously.

I have colleagues who helped me put things in perspective. Like many (dare I say all?) teachers, I overreact to negative feedback. I can ponder a criticism dashed off in a minute for days. Colleagues put those comments in context. “Gee, I wonder if that comment doesn’t mean. …” Or, “Before you make that change, I wonder if you shouldn’t get more feedback.” Or, “How many students did you say were in the class, and how many others agreed with this student?”

I have colleagues who disagree. It’s not always pleasant to posit your best new pedagogical insight and have someone you respect say, “I don’t think that’s right.” But I’ve come to value my colleagues who disagree. Growth and development as a teacher is not helped by colleagues who only agree and endorse your ideas. The challenge to your ideas and beliefs does need to be constructively delivered. If it is and you understand what a colleague like this can do for your thinking, he or she is a treasured gift.

And finally I have colleagues who offer encouragement when it’s needed. Teaching days are not always good. Semesters are long and some student decisions are heartbreaking. I don’t know any teacher who doesn’t feel like a complete and total failure at least once during the academic year. Most of us can get out of those pits on our own, but the way back up is faster and easier if there’s a colleague who extends a hand and then pulls.

And so this week, thanks to those colleagues who help us be better teachers and persons.