I often tell the students in my capstone course, Student Teaching Practicum, how working with other teachers in the same child care room can feel like a marriage. In a good marriage, like any good working relationship, one accepts that a partner may have differences of opinions and attitudes, including having certain habits and frailties, but it is up to the other person to help bring balance and work around all of that. I have worked in classrooms where lead teachers have the ability to anticipate what co-teachers need before they ask, and where teachers can finish each other’s sentences. Too often, however, the reverse is also true. For instance, in a less-than-perfect teaching team, caregivers gossip to others in the center and can be passive-aggressive in their daily tasks by going out of their way to subtly or obviously annoy one another. And like with a marriage, children sense when things are going well and when they aren’t. In child care, children as young as infancy, can sense tension between those responsible for them. If they are held with tight hands or read to by a preoccupied teacher, they notice the difference. So, if you struggle with getting along with your co-worker, what can you do?
Be upfront. Just as your co-teacher does things that can bother you, you may also be doing or saying things that bother him/her. Suggest a meeting either before or after the children are in the center and sit together at a table to discuss the issue. Name three things that are not going well and ask the other person if they feel the same way you do. Suggest you both come up with solutions to make your interactions and your job more joyful. This is by no means an easy conversation, but if you are working with young children, the same techniques that you encourage them to use are the same ones that work for adults. Use “I-messages” that go something like this: “When you _______________, I feel __________________, which results in ______________________. I-messages work because you aren’t blaming the other person or labeling their behavior. You are simply telling them how you feel. So here is an example: “When I’m reading a story at circle time, I feel distracted when you don’t sit near the fidgeting kids, which results in me having to stop the story several times to speak to them. How can we make this work?” When you present an issue and phrase it in this manner, the other person should not feel threatened or judged. Also, the best part is that communicating in this way does work effectively. In fact, that’s why we model it daily to the children in our care.
Find something you admire about your co-teacher. Sometimes we only see the negative in someone else. Instead, choose one or two things you like about that person and focus on those traits each day. You may even comment by saying things like, “It was great when you took Jasmine to the bathroom right away today so that she didn’t have an accident. Your quick reaction shows how responsive you are to the children in our class.” Focusing on the positive is reinforcing and others want to repeat that for which they get positive feedback. Like I-messages, this is an effective technique!
Don’t expect your co-workers to be your friends. Working with children has been called one of the hardest and most important jobs you can ever do; you are helping young brains develop every single day. Focusing on the task of providing early education rather than socializing takes some discipline, but keeping that goal in mind will improve the quality of the work you do each day with the children in your care.
Nurture yourself in simple ways. It is easy to be impatient and critical to those around us if we are tired and frustrated by life’s events outside of the classroom. While none of us can eliminate stress in our lives, we can learn to manage it. Simple habits such as eight hours of sleep a night and eating a well-balanced diet will help you feel better throughout the day. Feeling better just might lead to more thoughtful interactions with those you share a classroom with and that’s bound to make little ones a lot happier too.
Working together can be frustrating at times but with a few tools to use when things don’t go as you wish, you will open up lines of communication in productive ways rather than letting issues fester and grow.