Teaching is a communal activity. The popular narrative of a passionate teacher walking into a school and single-handedly changing the lives of its students is false and can be destructive. It makes teachers feel worthless because they dream of that impact, only to find that passion isn’t enough. Superheroes work in teams for a reason.
My top teammates at school are the head of our climate team, Mr. Meeks, and the ninth grade dean, Ms. Cho. Mr Meeks is a 6’4” Black man who grew up in West Philly, where we now work. He intimately understands our students and their behaviors. Ms. Cho is a 5’4” Korean American woman from California with a legendary no-nonsense demeanor, and I’m a white guy from New Jersey who seriously considered a career as a clown. We could not be more diverse, but we are united by our commitment to students.
I might send a student to Ms. Cho because her firmness will reach that kid in a way I never could. Later, Cho and I meet jointly with the student to show our united support. At the other end of the spectrum, Meeks has an intuitive and almost poetic way of communicating with students. This approach is uniquely his and cannot be learned, but I don’t need it because I have him on my team. Sometimes when I can’t get through to a student, Mr. Meeks can simply join the conversation and break it down in a way that students instantly understand.
In this wildly unpredictable time, teamwork is crucial. Look around your school and make a list of people who share your passion. Once you have that list, become Nick Fury and start assembling your own Avengers! But even if you have trouble finding your perfect teammates right off the bat, or if you don’t know anyone yet, don’t give up! Instead, look for connections online.
Social media groups connect like-minded educators. In our Facebook group, Real Rap with Reynolds Teacher Talk, thousands of teachers contribute inspiration, support, advice, and strategies every day. On Sundays, we come together for the Sunday Night Teacher Talk livestream, where wisdom and empathy flow in real time and we help each other prepare for the week ahead.
Another great resource is Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s new online space, Teacher’s Corner. Its goal is to help teachers improve their practice by interacting with and learning from other educators. It offers curricular and instructional support, professional development resources, and much more on demand, in a space that encourages community building and empowers teachers.
This year is unlike anything we’ve ever seen, but with passion, commitment, and teamwork, our response can be unlike anything the world has ever seen. Whether in person or online, build a team to help you be your best. You might just become the teacher you always dreamed of being.
CJ Reynolds teaches high school literature and The History of Hip-Hop in West Philadelphia. He is the author Teach Your Class Off: The Real Rap Guide to Teaching. CJ is also the creator of the YouTube channel, Real Rap with Reynolds. CJ uses his passion for creating engaging content as an HMH Ambassador, working with learning company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to develop original professional development resources in its tool for educators, Teacher’s Corner.