I don’t like not meeting expectations. It’s why I went to grad school, why I stayed in state for college, why I say “please” and “thank you,” and why I apologize when I’m wrong. I’m not better than this.
I wanted to be a good teacher. I invested time and resources in order to become one. I found a mentor; I conducted research. I went to graduate school; I developed best practices and regularly reflected on my experiences. I put in long hours and even longer nights. I tried to develop relationships with students, and I tried to create more engaging and culturally relevant activities. Much to my chagrin, I wasn’t a very good one.
I thought time would play a role. I tried it when I was a 21 year old bright-eyed, bushy-tailed recent college graduate. I tried it again as a 25 year old nonprofit professional. I tried it again at 34 with more than twelve years’ education experience and an M.Ed. under my belt. I failed; each time in different ways albeit, but failed each time.
I taught in neighborhoods that were perceived as highly dangerous. At times educators and staff had low expectations of my students, at other times critical resources were lacking. I often felt that there was little support and little guidance. I struggled to find someone to blame for my failures.
If you’ve ever been a teacher in the way that I was a teacher you know that teaching can be a violent, powerless, thankless profession. You take it personally. The limits of your kindness, patience, creativity, and compassion are tested on a regular basis. You are forced to confront your own bias and your own privilege. You are forced to understand what power is and how it feels when you are without it. You feel threatened. You are attacked.
You can’t even use the restroom when you need to.
When I moved back I was offered a long-term sub position after a teacher quit unexpectedly on a Friday. She gave no notice.
I’d been hired as a tutor, but my teaching certification was still valid, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. I’d been away from elementary ed for years, but I’d always wanted to return. I had to prove to myself that I could be a good teacher.
The principal and I had an instant connection. She felt like a big sister; she was a phenomenal woman. I hoped to eventually seek her out as a mentor.
I tried not to talk about the challenges I was having in the classroom (besides, everyone had heard about them anyway). I was supposed to be a veteran; and as a former administrator, I understood and respected her workload.
A few weeks in, I was at my breaking point. Students were disengaged, despondent, and disrespectful. The STAAR exam was around the corner, and I felt pressure to make sure they were ready.
They didn’t seem concerned.
She caught me crying coming out of the bathroom and ushered me into her office.
Like most charismatic leaders, she started with a good speech– one that was perfectly timed and appealed to my ego. She talked about the apathy she saw in teachers there and their indifference towards the students. She said that she hired me because I was the teacher she wanted for her children: the ones she had given birth to.
When she came to observe, what she’d seen time and time again made her think “my children should learn math from Her.”
I wiped my tears and snorted. My voice cracks when I’ve been crying, so I did my best to keep it low and steady.
“I appreciate what you’ve said and all the time you have made for me. I understand your workload and don’t want to be a burden. This is a problem I’ve had before and one that I can’t seem to get over. I care very much about the students and their success. I will always put in extra time so I can learn how to be more effective in the classroom.
When I think of a school I think of the purpose of the institution. I think how important it is to have the right people with the right skills in the right roles. I’m starting to feel that perhaps I’m not the right person for this role.”
She listened intently before releasing me back to class. It was the longest three months of my life (save those first two years of teaching).
In the last week of my tenure there, she submitted her resignation. It was the same letter that she’d written (and read to me) three months after her hire date, but had never sent in.
Staff members gossiped that this would make 13 principals in 12 years. Data is important.
When I learned the news I was floored. She’d been consistent. Principled. Inspirational. She’d been empathetic and firm, compassionate and fair.
“Why are you leaving?”
It wasn’t my place to ask. We weren’t friends. She was my supervisor. I’d just had so many come-to-Jesus moments in her office, that I felt compelled.
“I considered a lot of different factors. Proximity to home. Childcare needs. The extended hours of the position which have become more than I’m able to extend. My mother’s new diagnosis.” I nodded. She paused.
“But mostly, I thought back to what you said that day. About not being the right person in this place at this time. You were talking about yourself, but it spoke so deeply to me.”
I would’ve been flattered except that I had unintentionally and unwittingly caused a school principal to resign.
We’d had 10-12 conversations in the 3 months that I’d worked there. I idolized her, but we weren’t actually close. I felt wrong. I felt responsible.
One step forward, two steps backwards.
Week 12 Successes:
- Let me come back to this. The struggle.
Week 12 Failures:
- I haven’t started working on any of the goals I set for myself.
- I continue to eat bad food. I continue to remain sedentary.
- Being lethargic. Breaking the “no T.V. weekday” rule.
- Indifference and outrage (no reform in sight).