I feel sorry for the coffee machine sometimes.

It is 7:00 am, and I am talking to Mandi, my daughter’s daycare teacher, about how she loves green beans but will not eat her fruits, when the thought occurs to me that this may be the only teacher I speak to today. In fact, this may be the only adult I speak to for the next nine hours. When I arrive at school around 7:10, there are cars in the parking lot but I do not even pass another teacher on my way to my classroom to put down my stuff before I head to the teachers lounge to fill my travel mug with coffee. “Teachers Lounge” is an exaggeration; no one lounges in this room.  

When I arrive in the lounge, it is empty. I am not surprised, the only reason to go there is to either store your lunch in the refrigerator or get a cup of coffee (which almost no one does). Our financial secretary is in charge of ordering the coffee, and she has executed that duty just exactly as she completes all of her other tasks, with equal parts efficiency, parsimony, and disdain. She often complains that “people keep drinking the coffee” and, as this is apparently not the most economical use of the coffee, she has made it her mission to put a stop to it. The coffee comes in pre-measured pouches and consists of about four tablespoons of coffee grounds to make 16 cups of a liquid no darker than iced tea.  

I feel sorry for the coffee machine sometimes. It is an absolute behemoth of a machine: three burners, direct water line, chrome and steel. It could easily handle weddings, grand balls, a Manhattan restaurant’s dinner rush, or a sales convention at the airport Radisson. Given the right materials, it could create a luxurious, earthy, black liquid that would conjure thoughts of deep leather armchairs in bookstore cafes that never care if you buy anything or of beautiful women speaking languages you don’t understand at outdoor tables with white linen tablecloths. But instead it sits like a compressed spring, dutifully dripping economical anemia into open mouthed glass beakers with brown and orange handles.  

After making my coffee, I head to my morning duty. Each teacher is assigned a morning duty spot they are to occupy from 7:20 to 7:50 each day. We are to patrol the halls and ensure school safety. To best accomplish this, teachers are spread out all over the school, no two teachers in any one spot. So, for the next thirty minutes of my day, I stand, by myself, outside of a boys’ bathroom, smelling for smoke and contemplating how my Master’s degree could be better put to use. At 7:50 the bell rings and I head to my first class, still without having spoken to a single adult.

My question to you

One of the challenges to teacher retention is getting teacher buy-in in their school and their community. To achieve this, we must address the problem of teacher isolation. What are the barriers to teacher communication and collaboration in your school, and what can we do to foster a professional community that encourages collegiality?  

Write your answer or share your own experience in the comment section below.