He and I were discussing this series of posts this morning, and realised that there is no way to talk about our partnership without talking about our friendship. Without going into too much detail, both of us have had a very difficult personal and academic year, and we both have years and years of bad patterns with friends and work situations. Both of us have had close friends who tend towards seasonality; friendship with them is great while it lasts, but life moves one or both of us in a different direction and the friendship dissolves.
Given those factors, it makes our partnership and friendship even more remarkable. As I wrote in the last post, it is pretty easy to avoid one another if and when we want to, unlike with people who are physically in your living room, rather than pixelly (is that a word? No? It is now). But maybe the fact that we became friends through technology broke that pattern. While it doesn't occur to me to have a Google Hangout with friends who live an hour away, Andrew and I have always hung out that way, so it doesn't seem weird at all.
The distance also allows us to spend time at lunch and at night together that would be more difficult if we were in the same place. We can pretty easily wear pajamas and have dessert and work right up until bedtime without a problem. If we were in the same place, that just wouldn't be possible. And because there's so much work, that is a massive benefit.
If you've never had a teaching partner, you probably don't know how much extra work it can be over just teaching your own classes. The first team-teaching situation I was in involved another English teacher who taught English 10 at the same time I did, and we combined for a project. It was fantastic, but it only lasted for one project. The planning burden was overwhelming and we couldn't sustain it.
The second team-teaching situation was a nightmare. She didn't respect my content knowledge (it was my first year teaching history, even though I have a history degree and had three years of experience teaching English), and I didn't respect her classroom management (it was her first year teaching in an inner-city Oakland school). The mentor who worked with our principal told us that team-teaching was sort of like a marriage, and helped us through some marriage counselling. He told us that we had to commit to each other and that we should have spent more time choosing carefully (we jumped in, based on a commitment made in my INTERVIEW for the position). As it happened, we ended up "married" to someone who hated us and that subsequently made both of us (and our kids) miserable. Thank goodness that it didn't last long, as I was able to switch to teaching physics instead about two months into school.
So when Andrew and I met, I didn't expect it to be a team-teaching situation. I thought we'd make some videos and work on some projects together and that'd be it.
Then we became friends. The friends part actually preceded the decision to team-teach; we could only make that commitment once we were sure that we knew and liked the other person, and that it wouldn't make our kids miserable. It took us about a month of working together to get to that point, and it was pretty obvious that we were well-matched by then. We actually enjoyed spending time together, the work was better when we collaborated, and we compensated for each other's weaknesses. All of those things were important in assessing whether or not we should dive into team-teaching together.
So if you're considering a collaborative partner, you need to assess those same things. You also will need to decide how much control you're willing to give up, and how much you are willing to invest in them as a person, as a friend, and as a teacher. Inevitably, team-teaching involves putting aside what you want and helping the other person get what they need. This is really, really, really freaking hard. It also involves mentoring and being mentored. If you don't respect and value their opinion, it won't work; if they don't respect and value yours, you shouldn't choose them.
When it comes down to it, choose someone who makes your life better, and whom you would hate to live or teach without. I can't emphasise that enough: you have to be willing to say, "As difficult as this is, I'm willing to persist because I believe in what we're doing, and you're worth it."
Believe me....that will be tested. For us, that started about three months into our partnership.
Around October of last year, Andrew and I started having arguments for the first time. We are pretty low-conflict people, and so tend towards resentment and unspoken bitterness...not the best thing when you're working as closely as we were. There were two options, really:
- Both of us had to change
- We had to stop working together
So we - both of us - had to change because that was less painful than walking away altogether.
We don't talk about this aspect of our partnership all that much, because it felt too private, too sacred to share. But what gave us the ability to resolve our differences and continue to forge ahead was our shared faith. We are both generic non-denominational Christians, and that has given us not only a way to resolve conflict, but a community to help us keep going until we felt like it was worth it again. There were a lot of weeks where Andrew practically joined my community group, and he's been introduced to almost all of them through Hangout. Having people who know both of us allowed us to get perspective on how to serve the other person, rather than just caring about what we wanted.
We both believe that without that shared faith, we would have never made it through the last year. Neither of us was good at friendship a year ago; now, I think we've learned a lot about what it means to sacrifice for the other person to get what they need, but also to advocate for ourselves and what we need. A solid relationship has to balance both - if only one person cares about the other person's needs, then they will burn out on the other person's selfishness. And if neither cares, the friendship will dissolve or explode fairly quickly.
One of the reflections we had in the final FlipCon13 session was that in five years, we'd like to be even better friends to one another. That is perhaps the most important goal we have for ourselves and our work.
We know that people see our partnership and the work we do and want to know how to duplicate it (it's the question we get asked most, actually). And the most fundamental rule we can give you is this one: Friends First. The work we do together is made possible by a really amazing friendship that strengthens us, energises us, and motivates us to keep going with the work and with each other.
That's not to say that it's all rainbows and ponies. It's not. We have disagreements still, but we've learned how to actually practice the rules we set in place a year ago. Here are some of them:
- Trust Best Intentions - I've heard this in every team situation I've ever been in, and it's been followed in just about zero of those cases. Both of us find trust difficult, and learning to not jump to conclusions and see through the actions to the intentions has been really, really difficult. There are still times where he won't text me back, or doesn't do something he says he'll do, and I have to stop myself from inventing negative motivations to his actions and trust that there's a reason and that it doesn't come from lack of care.
- Work is Secondary to Emotional Health - there are some nights that, instead of planning, we need to spend time just being friends. Sometimes, that's hanging out and watching bad 80's movies. Sometimes, that's talking about whatever is weighing us down. Sometimes, it's watching Wheezy Waiter videos and crying with laughter. We've learned that trying to push through and do ALL OF THE PLANNING first is nearly always a failure. We need to value the friendship above having an amazing lesson plan.
- Talk About Whatever You're Angry About - we don't allow silent resentment to build up anymore. Instead, we talk about it together - no matter how crappy the conversation is going to be. We also don't call each other names, ever. We do tell each other to shut up (or the more adult equivalent) sarcastically from time to time. And then we laugh about it. We have never had an argument where one of us resorts to name-calling because we always deal with issues before we get to the point where we are willing to assign a permanent negative label (jerk, asshole, etc.) to the other person. I've never really been able to say what I'm thinking or what I'm angry about and not have the other person react badly. I'm really proud to say that Andrew and I are getting good at this, and that it's changing the patterns in our other friendships as a result.
None of those are all that revolutionary. Frankly, there are probably people who look at that list and wonder why two 30-ish year olds don't just do that naturally by now. And to those people, we would say, "Shut it."
But only sarcastically.