Teaching, with its intense expense of energy and emotionally taxing nature, is a profession that risks isolation. Teachers divide into different classrooms each period, some only to emerge as they hurry to the bathroom or check their mailboxes before running back to their room to meet with kids.
Many of us recognize how important collegial contact can be, but in the sturm und drang of a standard day in middle school the breaks between teaching can barely feel like enough time to clear the echo of “Ride of the Valkyries” from your mind before diving back into the maelstrom of teaching and learning.
In a world where so much seems to work against a connected staff, geography matters.
Some schools, especially those built in the last century, exacerbate the disconnection of classrooms and increase the isolation of teachers. At Diegueño we buck the trend of endless rows of rooms, instead clustering classrooms around central pods with an internal door to each classroom.
These pods do more than serve as storage for books and technology; they’re places where departments gather to eat lunch. They’re centers for collaboration. They are the building blocks of community.
It was in the Science pod that I found out about the shared scope and sequence for teaching Life and Physical Science …and that one of my teachers had participated in hundreds of road races and triathlons.
In the History pod, shared by our Spanish teachers, I tried my first guava, got an education about dual language immersion, and was gleefully surprised to find out that our most senior teacher (who has been in his same classroom since the school opened in 1985) rides a unicycle.
The English pod felt like home to me the first time I stepped inside. It wasn’t just the brimming bookshelves, posters of authors, or boxes of tea, all familiar to me as a former English teacher; it was the people who circled the central table: funny, smart, irreverent, and in love with the enterprise of helping kids learn.
I saw teachers from all the disciplines gather together in the Math pod for one of the best experiences of the year. It wasn’t a complicated event, just indicative of what teachers at Diegueño are like. In September, the Science and English Departments had hosted lunches for our dozen or so new teachers. As October began, and the adverb “new” was rubbing off the word “teachers,” the Math Department organized a dessert party for the whole staff.
Tables in the Math pod were heavy with sugar (the young teacher who’d made his moms chocolate chip cookie bars, a heaping plate of VG’s doughnuts, a loaf of the best pumpkin bread I’ve ever tasted). More impressive than the food was the crowd: teachers laughing with each other, happy with one another’s company.
We talk, in administrative realms, about what we can do to encourage positive professional community, and here -sprung up from teachers for teachers- was an example of what schools strive for.
I won’t suggest that a dessert party couldn’t happen in a school without pods, or that it’s infrastructure alone that encourages community. I will say, however, that I’m thankful for the geography of Diegueño that gives teachers a fertile ground to grow collaboration, friendship, and fraternity.
As I enjoyed a second chocolate chip bar on that afternoon in October and looked around at the teachers who were not in their individual rooms or battling the giants of isolation, I gave thanks for these passionate and talented educators who make the most of their common spaces, these community builders, these friends, these pod people.