November 16, 2008

The Lonely Teacher?

Teaching is a lonely job. I am sure that is hard to imagine for those who do not teach and who see teachers interacting with people everyday. While teachers develop excellent interpersonal communication and coping skills, we mostly use them to relate to students who are usually much younger and very different from ourselves. Sure, we know lots of (young) people and are regularly recognized in public, but filling the role of instructor, coach, sage, and sometimes hero can create a personal chasm that places teachers apart from the rest of the community.

Most teachers invite, embrace, and truly appreciate their roles as teachers. Teachers are held to a higher standard as they have come to represent an ideal of a contributing member of a community and a life of service. Most teachers are comfortable in their classrooms and spending time with their students and do not resent the pay scale or the hours; they recognize the importance and the real impact of the job. Effective teachers are able to forgo some of their personal needs and focus their attention on their students.

I am the center of attention (after the computers) in my classroom. Six times a day the room fills up with expectant young minds hungry for the knowledge that I am serving. Young people are wonderful sponges who love to soak up all manner of interesting and relevant facts, methods, procedures, tips, tricks, and even personal stories that they can recognize as useful in their lives. The majority of students adore the majority of their teachers and often enter their classrooms with a kind greeting and polite smile. The teacher-student correlation is a beautiful thing.

However, teachers work alone in a vacuum devoid of adult interaction through the majority of their days. Unless a teacher is team-teaching, or working in close proximity to a classroom of another teacher where there is common area or easy access, a teacher may not see another adult for many hours, or if by choice, the entire day. Not good. Just as children of all age groups need to spend time with their peers at school, so too do adult teachers need to spend time with their colleagues during the school day. Successful teachers require the daily encouragement of other successful teachers to continue to be, well, successful.

Unfortunately, opportunities for teachers to spend time collectively during the school day are usually not incorporated into the bell schedule. There are some exceptions, and schools who make the effort to give teachers time to work, share, commiserate, and even laugh together reap huge rewards for their students. But in schools that deny teachers the time to come together regularly whether it be in pairs, small groups, of as a whole staff, many teachers retreat into their classrooms, shut the door, and just teach. While an understandable reaction, this is not the best way for teachers to grow in teaching.

We teachers love to teach. So no mater what the intended focus of the teacher time the conversation will always come back to teaching. It’s who we are. Don’t think so? Then why are you spending time reading this teacher blog? Are you lonely to connect with other like-minded souls? What’s cool about a blog, in fact all of this web-based social networking stuff, is that there are exciting new ways of connecting with a broad spectrum of other people just like you regardless of location. It may surprise you that very few of my colleagues that I currently teach with know that I write these essays, and none of them follow this blog.

I recently came to the realization that while I may be well known in my small corner of the world, very few people actually know me. Even though I write incessantly, participate in many social arenas, and have many friends, very few of those relationships dive deeper than the surface. Maybe this is true for everyone, or maybe its just me. Perhaps I block those deeper relationship opportunities (but enough psychoanalysis). Sometimes when I am teaching a group of students, and things are going well, I think in my mind that it doesn’t matter that it’s ME who is their teacher, but simply that SOMEBODY is teaching them. Those are red flag moments when I need to pull aside a colleague and friend to check with them and to make sure that my efforts in the classroom are not in vain.

I invite you to leave your commiserate comments below.


  1. I especially feel that lonliness now that I am a substitute. Before I retired, I remember feeling a little lonely when my best teacher friend was absent. We shared students so it was easy for us to talk and plan during the day. Teachers pretty much ignore subs except for the occasional offer of help. Looking back, I wish I had made more of an effort to make subs felt like part of the staff, especially during lunch. I agree that teaching the kids is what it's all about, but occasional adult conversation helps.

  2. I totally get what you are talking about. Now that I am at a private school, not as much. I am a lot closer with the other teachers now than I have ever been.

  3. I am a student in the College of Education at Auburn University. So many things are hands on/peer-peer activities. Most classes encourage group interaction and make it known that you do need help and will need help in the future. Hopefully with this teaching, schools will change and make an effort to give teachers time to work and share together.

  4. I am a student at Auburn University and they encourage students to work together. They let us know that we need help now and they we will need help in the future. If administrators realize this at the University level, why is it so hard to implement it in the schools? Human beings need social interaction.

  5. I get lonely as a Sub too, seems I always take over for a teacher that has the farthest out desolate parking lot duty, plus I have to stay in and study at lunch to study the afternoon lesson -- oh well, the teachers I do see are always quite friendly...

  6. I am a former intern mentoring for his mentor who is out right now, and I feel lonely as can be. I have other mentors who talk to me during the day but I still feel disconnected and alone. I'm not even sure why. Maybe it's because I am still not an official permanent part of the school, so to be that in-guy in the social circle is non-existent. I wish things would change though.