Monday, June 28, 2010

Making a Difference in Someone Else's Life

My return to blogging begins with a long one. I hope you have a decent cup o' mud or a good, dark ale to sip on while I pontificate.

I was an elementary school teacher for twenty years. I was hired at one of the best, public elementary schools in Albuquerque, New Mexico by a principal who was named New Mexico's "Principal of the Year" two years in a row.

During my thirteen years at that elementary school, I founded, directed, and accompanied an after school choral music program that became the largest, public elementary school chorus in the United States. I built a parent volunteer organization that did the immense task of setting up field trips, handling equipment, printing newsletters, etc. Approximately one hundred children sang on six risers for ten years, and near the end the chorus was 160 children on eight risers with sound equipment needed to amplify the voices of emcees and soloists. We were paid four figures to appear in the New Mexi-Chords Christmas show.

My classroom students' grades were always above the school average on testing. Every year one or more parents demanded that their child be in my class. Many years I had a teacher's child in my class. Several years I had two or three teachers' children in my class. I was a sought after teacher.

After teaching for eight years, I was invited by graduating high school ex-students to attend their commencement ceremonies and private graduation parties, and it became a yearly event. I felt honored because I was told I had made a difference in their lives. This year I attended a new high school's first commencement. I was proud to see that Alex had passed high school math and was dating the Valedictorian, a wonderfully sweet and pretty girl who was quite taken with Alex, probably because of his bashfulness despite his boyish good looks, and also because he was a true gentleman who treated girls respectfully. A few years before that the student was the Valedictorian of her class and another was the Salutatorian of her class.

Can we make a difference in a person's life, a real difference? I believe I have that power to make a difference, and I use it to the best of my ability. I believe I have the gift because we all do. Here is another example of that power.

I was treated abysmally and shabbily by a new principal. I was forced to resign from chorus midway through her first year as principal. She then successfully shut the program down despite the volunteers and parents who tried in vain to keep it alive, even on a reduced scale. In ending the chorus program, she was able to successfully transfer thousands of dollars of chorus money deposited in an activity fund she was unable to access into a discretionary account that is now at her disposal. The money was not ever spent by the chorus because she lied to the parents and volunteers; she informed them there were no funds in the account. Of course, it could have been a mere clerical error.

I was chastised but never complimented by my boss. The thought came to me that she had something against men. Then female teachers' stories began to surface. Their stories confirmed my error in judgment; she had an issue with everyone. I refer to any school administrator with such issues as "Peter Principals." Other teachers began transferring. Those that remained complained to cautiously sympathetic ears.

I decided to leave, and I informed her I was seeking a voluntary transfer to another school. Her exact words were, "I think that's good."

Parents heard I was leaving and sent letters to this principal to ask her to keep me at the school. She never mentioned those letters, and I feared those letters would only antagonize her further. I knew I had to make a change no matter what others thought.

You have only heard my biased side of the story. I am sure my boss has her side, and yet her thoughts won't be heard on this blogsite. Let's give it a try.

Perhaps I am not nearly as good a teacher as I think I am. Perhaps I am totally wrong about the chorus. The chorus was a mistake, and all I had done was distract students from the true academic mission of the school. I have even considered myself, shamefully I admit, great. My accomplishments were real, but my tactics were cruel and stressful to children. She once said, "If you think you are a great teacher, then you should be fired!" This decent and principled principal toiled unsuccessfully to teach me humility, and I failed to learn!

As Dennis Miller would say with a twinkle in his eye and a huge grin on his bearded face, "Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong."

We influence each other in powerful ways. Some of them good, such as my niece Laura and my collaboration with her in writing this blog. Some of them bad, such as the anxiety and depression I have dealing with such a gristly boss.

Most importantly, I believe our spin, our take, our perspective, our reflection on these influences shape us more than the influence themselves. Those students who make me feel great by crediting me with being a positive force in their lives are not telling me how great I am. They are doing what I tried to be to them. They are being a positive influence in my life as well, and they have topped me, for by acknowledging me as being a beneficial influence in their lives, they are bestowing upon me partial credit for their accomplishments. They have given me a great gift. I was proud of their gift to me. They did to me as I did to them. They were a powerfully positive influence in my life. I believe I am grateful that I am making a difference, and it's the hardest job of all. Way harder than teaching. My great students learn this lesson and surpass me.

And my perspective on my principal's influence on me? She has done me a disguised favor. I was forced to seek a voluntary transfer. I was contacted to attend an interview at a prestigious middle school (junior high school) with a solid reputation by the principal at that school whose great reputation precedes him. I was hired without seeking an interview by someone who heard I was transferring. I was hired after my first interview. I have a principal who has thanked me profusely for saying, "Yes, I'll gladly take the position!" I fear I am already beginning to get my pride back, or is it my confidence? Is it confidence she tried to take from me? Was I failing to learn humility, or was I losing my confidence? That's a very private answer.

We try to balance confidence and strength of conviction with humility. Firm yet fair. Strong yet humble and modest. I am still challenged to make a difference in students' lives. I'll get through to some, and I promise to reflect on the failures as well as the successes.

And inadvertently, she has provided me the opportunity for new "fodder" for Lost In Kids for I am now teaching seventh grade math to ...........

1 comment:

Laura said...

Okay, now I can finish some of these education classes that make me sad, knowing that despite the bad days, I will make a difference. Thank you for inspiring, as today was particularly challenging.