Building a Teaching Community

Published on Jul 2, 2019

Teaching is an odd profession in many ways. Perhaps the strangest is how easy it is to become isolated in the kingdom of your classroom, despite the fact it is constantly filled with students. Since we spend hours everyday talking to and interacting with our students, it can be too easy to spend the time we do have alone alone, cutting ourselves off from other professionals. We teach alone all day every day; during lunch it’s easy to spend time with students tutoring or mentoring, or just enjoying the silence of an empty room. Before and after school we have meetings where when do talk to our colleagues it’s about the topic of the meeting, or we are making copies or grading, or rushing home to our families. 

This isolation trap can be especially easy to fall into as AP teachers. The grading and depth of knowledge required to teach upper level classes eats up much of our time. This coupled with the fact that we are often the only person at a school who teaches our subject means that often finding a community of like-minded teachers is really really hard. 

Building a community of teachers to bounce ideas off of is essential to being the best AP teacher you can be. How else will you know to not let your students quote in their DBQs? So how can you find awesome teachers, both local and online? Today I hope to share some ways to find a teaching community that have worked for me!

Join online communities

In some ways, this is the easiest (and free!) way to connect with teachers who teach the same content as you. I’m an active member of the AP European History Teachers Facebook group and their Schoology group as well. Most other AP classes have similar Facebook groups. What I love about both the Facebook and Schoology groups is the constant collaboration. Teachers post their best lessons, ask and answer questions about content, essay writing, or helping AP kids, and even help each other grade parts of essays or SAQ’s. I’ve gotten some great lessons, including a favorite from last year that I look forward to using again called Flat Absolutes (modeled after the Flat Stanley books) to learn about the absolute monarchs of the 16th & 17th centuries. For any  AP teacher, but especially for a new one, there isn’t a better place to pick the brains of AP teachers (and graders!) than these online communities. 

My other favorite group is a bit more … niche-y than the AP groups. I’m in a group of fans of a true crime podcast who are also teachers (waves to fellow Teacherinos). I have learned so much from this group; since we share similar interests, we all have something in common, but we cross all kinds of educational lines. Within the group there are elementary and secondary (and college!) teachers from every discipline. It’s a wonderful community to express your exasperations in, to ask for curricular or classroom management guidance, or to share hoorays with a group who truly understands your job. 

AP Grade

So this is a more longish term goal, but if you have been teaching an AP class for two years, apply to be an AP reader! “But Caitlin, WHY would I want to grade 500-900 essays of kids who don’t belong to me?!” you ask.

Besides the paycheck, I have to say the best reason to grade AP essays is the community it helps you build. I’m definitely better at teaching my kids how to write the essays, but more importantly I’ve met a group of people who can help me as a forever learner and as an AP teacher. 

When I wanted to incorporate more competing historiography into my class this upcoming year, it was my reading friend and roommate, Patty from Virginia Beach who brought me a book, David Sherman’s Western Civilization: Sources, Images, and Interpretations, From the Renaissance to the Present, that had competing ideas from historians for almost every topic. I honestly didn’t even know where to start, but there was my grading community to my rescue.

In my regular life, it’s hard to find people who want to talk about how to best teach DBQ writing, the role of women in imperial Russia, which half marathons are best to run, and the best spots for BBQ in Kansas City. My nerd herd from the AP reading checks all the boxes and although they live far away from me, they are an integral part of my teaching community. 

Go to an AP Summer Institute

Hopefully if you are new to an AP class you’ll get to go to an APSI; it’s a good place to learn the ropes. Beyond what you’ll get in class [textbooks! binders! lesson examples!],this is a great place to make connections. A lot of times, people who have materials will be happy to share google drives or lessons with you. Don’t be afraid to ask for emails of your classmates! We all have the same goal and people are happy to help when you reach that moment where you can’t remember what a politique is. 

Reach out to teachers you admire

You may be the only teacher who teaches your subject in your school, but there are teachers around you who do the same thing. Don’t be afraid to reach out to teachers in the district at different schools or in neighboring districts. One of the teachers I work most closely with works on the other side of my town and district, but Lenne is the best to bounce ideas off of at coffee houses between our schools. 

Think about getting ideas from teachers outside of your discipline. My AP Euro room is in the biology hallway and my neighbor is the biology team leader. We share what we are teaching with each other and I finally learned how to pronounce some of the scientific advancement words I’ve struggled with for years. She also helps me reach some of my more STEM minded kids who are taking AP social studies for the GPA bump. 

No matter how you build your teacher community, whether you bond over your love of true crime podcasts or the mind numbing experience of reading 1000 DBQ’s in a week, having a group of people you can turn to to help spell check your tests, share your highs and lows with, and bounce ideas for lessons off of is crucial to successful teaching. I hope to see you as part of my community soon.

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Hi! I'm Caitlin and I teach Humanities (AP World History and English I for gifted and talented students) and AP European History to sophomores in a suburb of Dallas, TX. I have been teaching for just over ten years and in the summers, I grade for the AP Euro test. My favorite things to teach are the Russian Revolution, art of the Baroque, and women's history. In my time outside of teaching, I enjoy true crime podcasts and books, running, and hanging out with my toddler.

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