Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge Day 7: Most Inspirational Colleague

I was hired for my current teaching position by a manager who is almost a carbon copy of my mother-in-law. This might seem terrifying at first, but I have an excellent relationship with my mother-in-law, not least because I admire her ability to be direct and authoritative in the name of helping someone while remaining respectful and careful. I spent the first fifteen years of my life dealing with the occasional wrong order or forgotten extra at a restaurant; this was likely out of a combination of fear and my tendency to 'take a hit' in favor of neutrality and calm. My mother-in-law, however, effortlessly calls the waitress over, calmly explains this is the wrong dish or that she had asked for that, and thanks her pleasantly when the correction is made. This is painfully representative of how I spent my K-12 years as well. Horrified at raising my hand to ask a question, I spent many nights sobbing in frustration and pleading with my dad for a few more practice problems before dinner. 

So when I became a teacher, I knew that classroom management would be the first area I needed to concentrate on. My first few teaching gigs provided a "baptism by fire" method of practice, and I felt pretty confident by the time I applied for my current position. Now, though, this professional confidence and assertiveness is applied outside my classroom. While my mother-in-law provided a personal example, my former manager taught me those lessons in a professional setting. As with any business, the specific lessons were tainted with some negative politics, many of which she was directly involved in. Nevertheless, the central theme that she wove throughout those lessons was this: it's OK to use professional advancement as a means of developing as a teacher. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they should complement each other. My former manager purposefully assigned each member of our team a project that would advance the mission of the learning center and develop us as educators, but also provide potential for advancement and recognition within the institution. 

Teaching can be such a selfless calling, and teachers easily turn into martyrs ("I just got to your e-mail now - sorry, I've been leading a help session for the last three hours!") or burn out so quickly that there simply isn't any energy left for holding ground in a situation outside the classroom, let alone seek opportunities for advancement or leadership. Professionally, I keep an eye open for these kinds of opportunities, and I find marked improvement in my own teaching and in my own self-confidence. 

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