Through my journey of becoming a veteran teacher during the span of two decades, I have learned that I have become a leader. I’ve found that leadership is truly a cycle of how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you. No matter what part of the leadership cycle you’re in, one thing remains constant- your feeling of self-worth is correlated with your sense of leadership. Therefore I have remained in the classroom because I have discovered that I am a leader.
In “The Truth About Leadership,” Kouzes and Posner state: “Becoming a leader begins when you come to understand who you are, what you care about, and why you do what you what you do. This is a journey that all leaders must take.” It wasn’t until my 4th year in the classroom until I truly started to discover who I really was, and these realizations shaped me to become the teacher, leader, mother, and woman I am today. The best part of sticking out a tough situation helps a person to fully internalize the precious commodity of perseverance. I wouldn’t have made these self-discoveries if I didn’t persevere through the trials that can only be found in a classroom.
1. I’m a failure.
“I’ve failed over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed,” said Michael Jordan. Just two days ago, I prepared the “best” lesson ever to teach my students about Fairness. I created detailed lesson plans, researched best practices, included higher level questions, and implemented a hands-on activity. (No, it wasn’t even for a formal evaluation, ha ha. I was just excited about this lesson.) It bombed. Tired children on a hot Arizona afternoon + a really deep philosophical lesson = confusion and frustration for all involved. Yet the reflection on my failure allowed me to look long and hard at the character development of my students, how to incorporate the concept at different times of the day, and create another strategy to grasp such an abstract idea. Embracing my failure will help my students learn even better.
2. I’m a success.
Can we objectively measure success as a teacher? The Common Core standards, statewide standardized assessments, and district initiatives say yes. Ask any teacher, and we will say no. I know I’m a success when a student emails me 8 years later to thank me for helping her through a tough home situation. I know I’m a success when I get an “I love you” letter from my second grader, excited to be in my classroom every morning. I know I’m a success when students are reading in their free time and writing emails to share what they’re learning during the summer. That’s my success rate.
3. I’m a nurturer.
It’s funny, when you’ve taught a long time, kids somehow have a radar for you in the store (especially Wal Mart, don’t ask me why), the community pool, and church. I think we may have some invisible tattoo that only children can read- I’m approached if they are hurting, lost, sad, going to vomit, need Kleenex, or want a hug. I’m the nurse, counselor, cheerleader, and mom for my students every day. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
4. I’m a survivor.
I have learned the value of separating my personal life with my school life three years ago. I had a devastating blow in my personal life, and it happened on a school night. As many teachers have to do, I had to wipe away the tears the next morning and go to school to teach. Shutting the door on my personal tragedy allowed me to compartmentalize my grief during the day to survive for my students. Sadly, almost every veteran teacher has had this experience they had to teach through. You would think- well, everyone has to do that! But most professions don’t have 20+ children relying on your emotional well-being to set the tone for the energy and drive to determine a good day for learning.
Also, I’m a survivor of holistic reading, Reading First, WASL, AIMS, SEI, Arizona Constitution, district assessments, DBQ, ELD, AZELLA, ILLP, IEP, etc, etc. The pendulum swings, and I just hang on tight.
5. I’m passionate.
The opposite of passion is apathy. And apathy will kill a teacher’s career in about three years. You’ve got to get passionate about your kids, be a Mama Bear! When you’re passionate about engagement, accountability, and communication from the students and parents, then you have a very involved classroom community that will thrive and impact lives.
Also, being passionate about the politics that are shaping (or distorting!) our public education will be the only way that the political leaders hear from the teachers. We need to be passionate about the policies we deserve in the classroom!
Goal-setting is another aspect of teaching I am so passionate about. Yes, we have to create goals for our district and school as mandated elements of professional growth, but do you really create a personal goal as a teacher that you are passionate about? It makes teaching a lot more interesting when you are personally invested in improving yourself.
Being a teacher takes everything out of you at times, but when you’re done, I mean DONE, it’s that small still moment of defeat that you raise your head and remember, I am a teacher. I am a leader. I will survive and continue this journey of educating and encouraging others to love life and learning.