Surrounded by Kids, But Still Alone

Confronting the surprising loneliness of teaching.

The Surprising Loneliness of Teaching

I once mentioned to a friend that teaching can be a lonely profession. “How can that be, with all those kids surrounding you?” was the retort.

Good question, I thought, but that’s the point. I look forward to seeing my students each day and watching their growth, but they are children and not adults. Remember the phrase, “being alone in a crowd?” It’s like that, only the crowd is a lot younger and not your peers.

While on the job, teachers may not see other adults for a large percentage of their day. Even outside their classrooms, they sometimes have duties like recess or lunch in which they are further separated from other adults, who might be in the faculty room on a lunch or coffee break while enjoying the camaraderie of other grown-ups. The teacher who is isolated from the others at this time is missing out on conversations that often bring colleagues together physically, spiritually, and emotionally. It can be even worse for cyber school teachers.

So what can we do to combat the loneliness of teaching? Here are a few tips.

1. Connect with colleagues as often as you can.

I try to arrive at work early each day, not only to prepare my classroom for the day ahead, but also to connect with other teachers on my team. We often engage in small talk, like discussing the news, our favorite sports teams or musical groups, and other such banter. This year, at my new school, I find this to be more natural, whereas at other schools the conversations seemed a little more forced due to colleagues’ varying interests or being at different places in their lives.

No matter the case, young or old, teachers of all stripes should strive to get to know each other and make an effort to create as many verbal contacts as they can manage. This type of gathering can happen before school, during prep periods, or after the students have been dismissed and can be a great support and comfort for everyone involved.

2. Eat lunch together.

I know that this is not always possible, but at schools where teachers eat together, especially in the cafeteria when the students are eating, I have found that there is more of a feeling of togetherness than when I was at schools that had teachers rotate lunch duty. Eating in the cafeteria may be a bit noisy, but you definitely don’t feel lonely with so many people of varying ages all around you. The congregating is more informal and social, and I’ve noticed there is also less gossip at the teacher table if they are eating in the cafeteria than if they are taking their breaks in the faculty room.

3. Connect socially when it is convenient.

Sometimes teachers get together on faculty work days. During many in-service days, I’ve gotten together with my team and other staff at various schools. At the schools where I taught in North Carolina and Virginia, the teachers there saw this type of get-together as a “fellowship,” an association which they’d made a part of their lives – and mine.

4. Team teach.

Planning lessons with another teacher can be a great cure for teacher loneliness. I often have my students work with classes in the primary grades because it is a good learning opportunity, but also because the other teacher (or teachers) and I are connecting, as well. This is a great way to combat the feeling of isolation and the “sameness” that can sometimes make work seem like work.

5. Go to the game!

Supporting students during their extra-curricular activities is a good way to connect you to your students, their parents, and other school staff who might be coaching or being cheerleaders for the students. At schools where I’ve taught I’ve attended basketball games, dance recitals, forensics tournaments, plays, and other activities where other adults congregate. I’ve enjoyed meeting people this way and have maintained friendships with parents and colleagues alike that I started decades ago.

6. Join a community organization or volunteer.

There are many ways to be involved in the places where we live, where we can develop friendships while doing something worthwhile. Why not check out your local library to see what is available. As teachers, we are available a few hours earlier than those in other jobs, so we have an advantage of getting out of the building and with a head start on a nine-to-five worker. (And besides, you can correct those papers a little later, can’t you?)

7. Join a gym.

For many years I was a member of a local YMCA or other health club. While swimming laps, shooting hoops, jogging around a track, or riding the exercise bikes, I often met other people (or reconnected with old schoolmates), and got myself in shape, to boot.

We’d love to hear—how do you manage the loneliness of teaching? Please share in the comments. 

 

Posted by David Webb

Webb has taught for 29 years in both public and private schools. He has a Master's in Education and has taught in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina. His memoir, Mr. Nomad: Tales of a Traveling Teacher, was reviewed by Publishers Weekly in November, 2016.

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