The way I think of support in my professional life has changed a lot since I was a new teacher. When I started, I was teaching a grade 2/3 split on a one-year contract to cover a maternity leave. My concept of support was limited to my school colleagues, a few friends from university teaching nearby, and my parents. I had recently gotten my first email address and did not have a computer at home. Yes, I am middle-aged, but I’m also a late adopter. Looking back, I don’t know how I managed. We were in the midst of resource-based learning when all I desperately wished for was textbooks. The school and division librarians were very valuable to me at the time. I’m sure the other primary teachers gave me suggestions and advice, but honestly it’s been eighteen years and that whole time is pretty much a blur of stress.
The next stage of my career was teaching adult upgrading at a college. We were a department of five, and although nobody was teaching my exact classes any given year, someone else usually had experience with them in past. There were resources in place for all my classes. Our department was smaller than the staff of my previous schools, but my colleagues and I were teaching the same students. We had more in common, and I felt more supported. I also began to make a few connections to the larger ABE community in Alberta.
Next I became the sole Adult Upgrading instructor on a First Nation in Saskatchewan. I felt totally unsupported when I first started this job. I missed my colleagues and didn’t realize I could build my own personal learning network. I needed to recognize that I still had a support network. My supervisors past and present may not have been able to help me with curriculum questions, but they did supply funding for needed resources, encourage me to attend professional development activities, and deal with any disciplinary and policy issues that cropped up. The high school teachers on the reserve may not have been in the same building as I was or shared any students with me, but they did teach the same courses I did. They sometimes forgot this and I didn’t always take advantage of the support we could have offered each other.
Some of my biggest supporters currently don’t work anywhere near me, and some of them I’ve never even met in real life. Two adult education organizations in Saskatchewan have been life savers for me. I joined the Saskatchewan Adult Basic Education Association the first year I switched jobs. I attended their conferences and was even on the executive a couple of years. I met teachers who were dealing with situations just like mine. The shared resources and support were such a boon. Then I became involved in the Saskatchewan Action Research Network.
Attending one of their workshops showed me that I could make changes that could improve things not only for my students, but also for me. In turn, my report could be shared and help others. I am currently on SARN’s training team. Education is truly cyclical. Others help you, and you help others. You support your students, and often they support you.
I have been lucky to tap into an amazing online community with #saskedchat. Again, no one is teaching exactly what I am, but that doesn’t matter. We discuss pedagogy, evaluation, curriculum, and more. Thanks to #saskedchat I’ve become reflective about my practice once again. Support comes in so many forms, and I’m thankful that I am able to recognize that.