Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Why I’m Jealous of Teach For America or Collaboration on the Can

By on September 24, 2009

I don’t mean to whine, but I’m feeling neglected. For all my questions about the eventual impact on education with TFA, I find myself a little pouty that they get all this professional development and I don’t.


I feel like I did when I realized that MTV was no longer shooting for my business as its prime demographic. Somehow, according to outside sources, I have grown out of needing support and am too experienced to need further training.

But we all know that teaching is about continuous support: getting it, giving it, finding it, sharing it. How is it that there has become this clique of new teachers rich in support while the rest of us scramble for minutes to collaborate while we figure out how to do our job, a job that redefines itself year after year?

Four years ago, my department and I had a common prep. According the counselors, this was playing havoc with the master schedule, but everyone understood its worth, and made it happen. Many of us sat down together daily during this time to plan, share, problem solve, and strategize.

We used data to tell us what was working. From that, we could see who was clearly having a success with teaching what skill and ask that person for help in our own lesson planning. We could jigsaw our own lesson planning, so that one teacher developed this unit while another teacher was responsible for developing the lessons in another. We supplemented each other’s curriculum, bringing in ideas and advice about what worked. We shared what didn’t work so that others could learn from our mistakes.

It was bliss, and it was effective.

Then the school voted for a “collaboration day,” one day a month of early student dismissal that would allow for an entire community of collaboration. The thought was that then everyone could meet for the single day (3 hours) a month and do what our department was already doing for 45-minutes daily.

The staff voted, and it passed. But unfortunately, this caused our ELA common prep time to dissolve. Yet with a Pollyanna sense of optimism, we accepted this all in the name of a common, collaborative community.

(Cue Deep Sigh) But collaboration was not meant to be: these early dismissal days became ones of great directives from the powers that be. The district needed departments to analyze this. The state needed us to give evidence of doing that. We were even given directives of what to discuss in order to justify the early-dismissal collaboration days.

In other words, our collaboration days became filled up, not with teacher-driven and designed agendas, but with gathering evidence of our collaboration.

And then, if a teacher taught more than one subject, they had to split their time between two departments.

And then our department meetings began being folded into this time.

And our precious collaboration time drifted off into nothingness…

Until my department discovered that there was one place we could collaborate daily once again: the john. toilet

That’s right. The bathroom. It’s become our go-to place for quick, on-the-fly curriculum design, development, and support. It’s sharing what’s in your head while hittin’ the head. It’s professional development on can.

A teacher sits there, holding court about the lesson they just tried mere minutes ago. They do their business, sharing what worked and what didn’t with the lesson. Then they flush and exit the stall, giving it to the next member of the department who asks questions about the lesson as the first teacher washes her hands. The next teacher comes out of the stall and there is a sharing of advice and tweaking over the supportive sounds of the hand dryer.

If a teacher’s lucky, there’s been time for an exchange of innovative ideas. But, of course, we only have 4-minute passing periods so we don’t have a lot of time to do any kind of business, much less curriculum development.

So, yeah, I’m a little jealous of Teach For America.

Now, I’m not saying I want to be a new teacher ever again. It was like being a teenager, sans the awkward school dances. Tears, laughter, highs, lows, painful learning. But they were formative years of struggle that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

No, I certainly don’t want to go back there, but I am jealous of the support that exists for these newbies, not because I didn’t have it then, but because I don’t have it now.

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