Sunday, September 21, 2014
After months of turmoil, I have a newfound peace. Last Tuesday, I had the privilege of shadowing a co-worker and seeing how confident and knowledgeable a behaviorist can be, so I asked her how long she had been doing the job. She told me she had been at this job for four years. I do not know if it will take me four years or more to be good at this job and certainly cannot stand being paid this small amount for four years or more!
Then, it happened on Thursday. I woke up with an energy I hadn’t had in a long time. The phone rang. I had a substitute teaching job. I had not acted as The Teacher since last May. I acted with a confidence I did not have with my other job during my day as a substitute teacher. Each movement I made was with the familiarity of someone who was accustomed to this environment for the last eight years.
After I completed my day substitute teaching for a local high school English teacher, I went to my other job as a behavior interventionist. During a break, I watched as the grandmother of one of my clients played with her grandson using a chalkboard easel. She told him to write his name on the board. The good-natured boy happily complied and wrote the letters of his name one on top of the other, filling up the entire chalkboard with what looked like scribbles. “No can read that!” exclaimed the grandmother. Seeing the problem, I instructed the grandmother to make him a box in the space she wanted him to write his name in the size it was to be done. She erased the board and drew a small rectangle. The grandson wrote his name in perfect handwriting in the boundaries of the small box. This small triumph of getting this kid to write his name legibly by giving him a visual support made me miss teaching so much.
I began to think of the triumphs I have had in the past years as a teacher: There was a second grader who could not read a word when he entered my class but was able to proudly proclaim, “I’m a reader now!!!!!” within a few weeks. There were kids who people said would never be potty trained who learned to do it in my classroom. I remember recognizing the mechanical engineering talent of a bright young man who the school had labeled as “severely handicapped” and finding various projects for him before finally getting him into the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) program. He deeply needed this confidence boost. I recalled the smiling face of another teacher one bright morning as he greeted me with, “We were meant for this!” There were so many times where teaching was so rewarding. My job now is rewarding as well, but it took me years to feel confident as a teacher. I do not feel confident in my current field and if it paid well enough, I would consider staying to work on this skill for a few years, but the fact of the matter is, I do not want to be away from teaching any more. I miss it. It is where I felt best.
I am not saying I was a perfect teacher. I was not, but no one is perfect. It is where I feel strongest. To feel whole, I need to use my strengths.
How did I come so far from where I felt my best? It started with The Chair Incident in which a student threw a chair out the window. I had cleared the classroom because I knew it was coming, but it was not enough to stop the rumors that I was terrible and could not manage my classroom. After two years at the school, my job was slotted to go to an intern. The following year, at the new school I was at, the rumor mill started again when I had a new aide after Christmas break whose trust I had not yet gained. Rather than come to me with her frustrations, she went above me. I panicked and began collecting letters of recommendation. The district administrators assumed I was unhappy and looking for a new job and called me in for a meeting asking why I would do such a thing. It was not enough for them when I told them I was not looking. It was too late. They saw through my insecurity and I was forced to resign once more soon afterward. Looking back, I see that I was the instrument of my own destruction. I assumed the worst because the wound of what had happened at the last school was yet raw. I was blinded by insecurity and pain. There will be gossipers in almost any work environment but I made the newbie error of not being closer to my superiors than the gossipers. Research shows that superiors tend to promote people based on the faces they see. They saw the faces of the people gossiping, not mine. I have always been able to get a job because I make good first impressions, but I do not maintain this impression because I forget about the person who hired me shortly after I give them a thank you card after the interview. What I failed to understand is that I was never hired by the principals nor the program specialists or fellow teachers. I was hired by the directors and I did not take the time to get to know that boss enough to know what made them tick. The truth of office politics is that a person’ job is to make their boss look good, and I went so far as to make the mistake of going above my boss’ head because I thought it was in the best interest of my students. I was wrong. What is in the best of my students is that I feel happy, confident and build a good relationship with my boss, because that is the only way to get the appropriate support, curriculum and materials for my kids. They do not teach you that in school!
I left teaching in hopes of being certified in a new skill that I hoped would make me feel more confident and as if my job would be more secure. Now, I realize I do not need or want another certification on the top of the ones I already have to make me feel happy and assured because, as the saying goes, “Less is more. “ The harder I try to work on things I thought I was lacking in, the more my self esteem is shaken. I will never be happy with myself if I keep thinking I will be good enough if… I get this other certification…or if this or that. I just got to feel good enough as I am and accept myself.
Where does this leave me now? It leaves me at this: I am going to quit my job as a behavior interventionist. The academic year has already started so I would not have much time to prepare my classroom if I did find a job as a teacher and frankly, I need a break as I haven’t taken a real vacation in maybe eight years. I am going to sub and save up and then travel for a few months. By next school year, I will have a teaching job again. With some research, a lot of saving up and hard work, perhaps I will open my own school one day, a school where getting the supplies and support I need won’t involve schmoozing with the boss because I will be the boss and where students will feel this enthusiastic about learning: . Who knows?