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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is a Ph.D candidate at the University of South Florida, where he also works as a teaching assistant, supervising and teaching pre-service teachers. Steve holds a master's degree...
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Finding your Teacher Tribe Can Mean All the Difference

We called it our “office.” I use quotation marks, because like most teachers, we didn’t actually have an office. My two colleagues and I would regularly meet between two classrooms, where the restrooms were. Whenever one of us got stressed, we called for a quick meeting in this tight space. Coffee in hand, we discussed how to best to work with certain students, lesson plans, but also shared jokes, personal stories and just connected. This make-shift office fueled us, emotionally, and while I can’t prove it, probably helped each of us avoid burnout.

Connecting with the right colleagues as a teacher—finding your school tribe-is absolutely essential. In my experience, communing regularly with a group of positive, motivated, talented, grounded colleagues had such a huge impact on my work happiness and stress-levels.

In fact, associating with the wrong group-those who are already burned out—can have the disastrous effects. A Michigan State University study found that burnout was essentially contagious, that if a teacher spent time with teachers who displayed symptoms of burnout, then they had a high risk of experiencing burnout. Researchers have drawn connections between introverts and higher teacher burnout, claiming that isolating yourself from other teachers increases your risk (see Barbara Larrivee’s book Cultivating Teacher Renewal: Guarding Against Stress and Burnout).

These are reasons to seek out a collaborative group of teachers at your school. Your tribe can also consist of administrators, office workers, counselors and others on campus-the point is to find a team of adults that help energize and support you each day.

Likely not discussed in teacher programs is this idea of associating with the “right” group and avoiding or minimizing negative co-workers-but I think the conversation is essential. When seeking out your tribe, you must also consider the politics at your school—that is, who associates with you.  You don’t want to come across as distant or thinking you are above other teachers.

While the lunchroom might not be the best place to find your tribe, there might be times that you should socialize there, even if just for a few minutes. You will have to work with teachers who don’t energize you or have your same passion or teaching style, but that’s a part of any workplace--learning to work with all types of people. My point is that you should try to maximize your time with your positive colleagues, planning ways to work closer with them.

Imagine this group—or it might even be one other teacher if you can’t find a group-is like an electrical outlet and you are the plug. You must find ways to connect, every so often, to re-juice.

For me, it was going to the “office” to collaborate with two fabulous teachers. That’s where I re-charged, and that’s how I sustained myself in the profession so I could continue to meet the high demands of the profession and give me all to the students every day.