There was some massive drama going down between a group of girls in my 8th grade classroom a few years back. It actually happened around springtime during my first year as a full-time teacher. I omnisciently observed the strife between these girls for about two weeks, assuming that it would eventually work itself out. Minimal intervention is, and always was, my style. But it didn’t. When the issue reached a stage where I could clearly see that it needed some mediation, I stepped in. The clique had been friends since 3rd or 4th grade. By 8th grade, growing individual differences started to outweigh the comfort level of their friendship. I remember the advice I gave to them: Listen girls, I am almost thirty years old. Do you know how many friends I still have from 8th grade? One. I told them they would soon be going to high school where they would meet new friends who they would share even more in common with than their elementary ones. After that, they might go to college and meet people who they, even still, had more in common with and would become closer to. Aka, don’t stress kids. The friendships you have now are baby food compared to the friendships you will eventually establish. As a teacher, I should take my own advice.
There is a model of pedagogical thought out there that suggests students should be grouped by abilities. There is another train of thinking that advocates for mixed-level groupings. We can get into the debate over which one teachers should implement in our classrooms, but that is not where I am going here. Both philosophies imply that teachers should pick the groups. This naturally extends to the fact that if teachers pick student groupings, cliques will be broken up. It is hard to argue that students should spend the course of a school year working with multiple peers. If Johnny is working with Bobby and Billy on this project, he should work with some other kids on the next one. It makes sense to switch up the groups and provide students with the experience of working with peers that they may not be “friends” with. But how often do we break up cliques of teachers?
I’ll take the stand first. I go to a school, get comfortable with a few teachers, and subsequently “work” with them from that point on. If I have a new lesson or activity, it is shared with my clique and vise versa. I will stop in the rooms of teachers I am “cool” with, talk with their students, and perhaps even do a little bit of “teaching” a hundred times more so than I would with a teacher I am merely acquaintances with. If I have a fresh idea or even if I want to vent, my clique is going to be my support and springboard. Sure, I have naturally gravitated to these particular people for a reason. But I have no doubt that a collection of staff would be more productive, effective, and well-rounded if we had someone “breaking us up” from time to time. If we cannot argue against the benefits of alternating student-group dynamics within a classroom, we should try it as teachers ourselves from time to time.
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