The Importance of Finding Your Village: A Guest Post from Liz Shults

Anyone who’s ever spent time teaching – any level- knows that, as a teacher, you are constantly surrounded by people.  Young people, old people, boss people, parent people, friend people, not-so-friendly people.  PEOPLE ALL THE TIME. 

Teaching is a people-centric profession.  And yet, for an industry so saturated with human interaction, it can be mighty lonely.  With all the responsibilities and expectations and roles that teachers have, it’s easy to let our classrooms become islands, or maybe more accurately ships adrift at sea.  We see each other in the distance – we wave; we follow in the wake or lead towards the horizon; we may even moor together to trade supplies from time to time.

But guess what? Ships weren’t meant to be crewed by one.  And yes, I realize this metaphor is a bit sloppy – you can expand the metaphor out to where the ship is the entire school and the administrator is the captain and the teachers are the crew and blah blah blah.  Don’t @ me.  Because at the end of the day, I often feel like my classroom is my own hastily made ship, and around November I start feel like I’m shouting to a bloody volleyball to come help, which has exactly the effect you imagine it would.    

If you haven’t gotten to the point in your teaching career where you have felt this way, then teach me your ways.  

I think this is especially true as a new teacher.  Even if you get lucky and end up with an awesome mentor or mentors (which was definitely my case) those mentors are often trying to keep their own ships from crashing.  Get to around November in the school year, and you are doing great if you are still afloat.  

Are you tired of this ship metaphor yet? Yes? Good, because here comes a new one.  

As teachers, we have to find our village.

Find Your Village

Your village = the people who will be there for you.  Who will not judge you for the lesson that went terribly.  Who will encourage you to try out that new text that you’ve never taught in that unit before.  Who will send you their lessons and units and resources when you are at a loss for what to do next.  Who will laugh with you over the first ridiculous parent / student / admin situation, and cry with you over the other ones.  Your village has been there – and they are motivators, collaborators, encouragers, and the reason you hang in there.  

Your village can exist in the room next to you, across the city, or across the country – thanks, Internet! Since my senior year of college, I have found my village with NCTE: The National Council of Teachers of English.  

In the Fall of 2010, my methods instructor at the University of Alabama, Dr. Lisa Scherff, encouraged members of my TEP cohort to put together a presentation for NCTE’s annual conference in November – in Disney World.  A few days in Orlando with some college girlfriends, oh yeah and there might be some other English teachers there? Yes, please.


Why You Need Your Village

I could write for pages and pages about my first and subsequent NCTE conferences, but that’s a story for another day. What I did not expect was to be surrounded by thousands of people who loved the same things I loved.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m an introvert and generally avoid crowds as much as I can.  But what I found in these sessions was that I was not alone.  The sense of comradery that comes when you love a thing but also have insecurities about that same thing is powerful.  You can love teaching and believe in yourself as a teacher while simultaneously nursing crippling doubts and constantly second guess yourself.  

But you know what helps with that?  Your people. The ones who say “Yep, me too. All the time. Every day.”  You may be able to talk to these people face to face, or they may reach out to you via social media.  Twitter has been a huge component of my NCTE village, and allowed me to connect with so many teachers that I’ve learned from and been encouraged by.

The year after I graduated college, I wasn’t able to find a teaching job where I needed to.  That was a discouraging year – I had trained for four years to do something I loved, only to have doors close every way I turned.  My NCTE membership had rolled over, however, so I was still in the loop with that community and their events.  I truly believe attending the conference (in Chicago that year) despite not actively being in the classroom kept me from giving up on my goals.  

I’ve now attended the NCTE conference a total of five times, with my sixth coming up this Fall.  It is always held in a different city the weekend before Thanksgiving, which is right about the time I’m about to drown in my stress levels from various aspects of teaching.  Being around so many people who are truly passionate about what they do (why else would they travel across the country, seeking out other teachers?) reenergizes me for the rest of the year.  I’m able to connect with people and presenters I meet on Twitter throughout the year, and take valuable and practical information back to my classroom and my school.  My village reminds me why I do what I do – because I love it.  My village reminds me that I am not alone.  

The key here is to get out there and make connections.  Start with the internet – search hashtags like #teacherlife and #teachersfollowteachers and #NCTEvillage to get started.  See who is out there in the twitterverse and who you’d like to connect with (I’m @eshults11).  Then jump to the social media platform of your choosing – there are Facebook groups in abundance for teachers of similar content areas, grade levels, senses of humor…trust me, you will find your people.  

The takeaway here? You are not alone.  


Birmingham teacher friends – need a local way to connect?

Join me Saturday, September 30th 9:30 am at the Vestavia Hills Library for a Fall Book Swap! This is a free event that allows you to connect with other teachers in the area, and bring home a new great read.  All you need to do is bring a new copy of your favorite recent read to share.  

Fall book swap


Liz Shults is a high school English & Photography teacher in Birmingham, AL.  She is the NCTE Lead Ambassador for the Secondary Level and is passionate about reading & relationships in the classroom.  Follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @eshults11

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