Am I the only one that has run into the teacher’s lounge for ice or coffee and had a brief encounter with a general education teacher, only to leave feeling like we live on different planets? I spent YEARS feeling like I did not have one single thing in common with general education teachers and I had no reason to foster relationships with them. Oh, how wrong I was! Learn from my ignorance as I outline the WHY and the HOW of relating to, bonding with, and learning from our general education counterparts.
Bond over your Love for Students
For the vast majority of teachers, we go to work each day because we truly love students. We may have different past experiences and areas of interest/expertise, but we all care greatly about the future of our students. When I stopped looking for all the ways that our days, our schedules, and our interactions with students were different, I started to see all the ways that they were similar. I really started to see how my general education counterparts invested in their students and poured their hearts into 20+ students that changed every year (even more in the secondary setting). I saw how passionately they prepared their lessons and spent long hours giving feedback through grading papers. I looked beyond the fact that I often help with restroom needs and they may not or that I feel more likely to be “in the line of fire”, to see their challenges and daily setbacks.
Find Common Struggles
Just this school year I joined a group therapy setting for educators that felt burnt out and exhausted. I expected to see mostly special education teachers who have less planning time, more paperwork, and (in my mind) more intense situations to deal with each day. To my surprise, there were teachers from departments all over campus. Men and women of all ages and stages in their careers who felt like they had given everything they had and still faced significant professional crises. I was shocked to hear how stretched teachers of all types were all over campus. They shared the incredibly high stakes of their testing and expectations they faced every day. They shared the difficult interpersonal situations that they were attempting to navigate. When I stopped focusing on how different our days may look, I started to see how similar our stresses were and how hard we were all working to overcome our struggles. I gained new colleagues through this experience and I felt like the load was a little lighter because I shared it with them.
Learn from their Subject Matter Expertise
One huge benefit of connecting with our general education counterparts is being able to learn from their subject matter expertise. While I feel confident in behavioral strategies, task analysis, and data collection, I do not have an expert level of subject area knowledge in all of the subjects that I am expected to teach. After I had built a professional friendship with my general education counterparts, I felt like I could go to them with curriculum questions and help finding materials. In countless cases, I found an enthusiastic educator who was more than willing to share their knowledge and materials. I had a science teacher offer to come and present experiments in my room during their planning period. I had a Texas History teacher share a whole set of illustrated history texts of their own personal collection. I had a middle school math teacher tutor me on algebra topics so I could teach them to my class in a modified format. I found other passionate educators who were happy to help a fellow teacher, no matter how different my classroom may be.
Connect over Non-school Interests
No matter what work setting you’re in, I believe it is beneficial to connect with others that have common interests outside of the work/school setting. An easy thing that people connect over is the shared experience of parenthood. If you are a parent or not, we all love to share and bond over the highs and lows of the children in our lives. A great common interest is food. Take part in a campus potluck or just create an opportunity to share food, this will make quick friends of people who feel like strangers! Another opportunity that has arisen for me over and over again is running/working out. I have bonded with teachers in every school setting I’ve been in over training, races, and getting out and pounding the pavement together. I’ve taken part in Zumba and yoga classes provided on campus and blown off steam with teachers from all areas of the school. It obviously doesn’t have to be running, it could be joining a campus based book club or enjoying a staff trip to an art museum. If we start seeing our counterparts as the whole person, we can then work to collaborate over school matters that much easier.
Problem Solve Shared Students
The biggest goal in all of this bonding and building relationships is that we are able to work together to improve outcomes for our shared students. A terrible habit that we all have is to see our students as “MY student” or “YOUR student”, not “OUR student”. As special educators, we have all experienced the difficult task of pushing into an inclusion setting and feeling like outsiders. I love to have the teacher come to meet the student that we share in my classroom beforehand if possible or in their classroom during a “Meet the Teacher” type setting. I find that building the relationship between the student and teacher is key, so they feel a shared “ownership” of the educational needs of the student. Once that bond is forged, the possibilities are limitless for the collaborative relationship and for the outcomes of the student.
I hope that you take on the challenge to see our general education counterparts not as aliens from another planet, but as fellow cheerleaders for our students, with a different and beneficial point of view.