Sunday, February 26, 2017

Being Replaced and then Forgotten

(just reposting. Not new, but had been pulled down for a bit. It's not about me. I'm happy. It's just what I was thinking about at the time.)

One of the hardest truths of an educator is how quickly we are replaced and how easily we are forgotten. 

My first teaching position in the classroom setting was in an opportunity classroom, mid-year, hired the school day before, and given very little "this is how you do it" support to begin. With three grade levels in my classroom and each student varied in their ability from 2nd grade to 11th grade, it was often a challenge to effectively teach all four core subjects. Given that my students arrived with significantly more challenges than the average student, each day could easily be derailed by a student's explosive evening the night before or just their "living in chemistry" not working out for them that day.

I was actually the fourth official teacher of the classroom that year when I joined in early January. The previous three had thrown up their arms and quit. Sometimes, I didn't blame them for escaping; some days were physically challenging (such as the day one student took a swing at me, body checked me into the whiteboards, and then pulled the fire alarm en route to the office) and other days were emotionally draining (as one student cried and cried after walking 2 miles to school after a morning fight with his mother). I quickly learned how important relationships with our students were for their success and often our sanity as well.

I finished five years in the classroom as I then departed for an administrative role at a nearby out-of-district middle school. The transition happened at the end of the school year and I left my school, where I had actually attended middle school myself, as silently as possible. I worried about how my students would do the following year without me. I struggled with the change, as I had built a classroom where kids who had been discarded from their mainstream classrooms could find success and hopefully venture back to join their grade level peers. I wasn't sure how I'd be replaced.

The school was able to find an educator to take my former spot rather easily, in fact. The person they hired had close to two decades of classroom experience and was looking exactly for a program as the one I had just left. They joined and upon a visit a few months into the school year to reconnect with the students, I realized that the switch was the best thing for my former students: they needed someone new... someone who had fresh eyes on how to improve a few things in the classroom for them... someone who would show them that there were other people who cared for them, just like I did.

I had been replaced and shortly thereafter, with the new crop of 6th and 7th graders joining the classroom, forgotten after my five years in the opportunity classrooms.

My next position was at a rival middle school where I served as the Dean of Students for the next two years. I worked with an amazing principal and assistant principal during my first two years. During the summer after my second year, the principal had retired and the assistant principal had left for a principalship closer to their home. As I moved up to assistant principal, our school community and I adjusted to a new Dean of Students and Principal. They were both very talented and so... the year continued. 

As the sole remaining administrator, I found that a lot of the tradition and job responsibilities fell on me, the sole administrative survivor. I felt like I was doing the job of many. The master schedule. Discipline. Curriculum. Everything. It was a busy but quite the fulfilling year. 

When an opportunity to join my alma mater as an administrator came that following Summer, I felt very challenged about leaving my principal (as the Dean of Student wasn't returning to the school) with a whole new administrative team. I didn't know how they'd be able to figure out all of the little bits of daily action items I had worked through the previous three years. 

Nevertheless, I packed up my office in relative silence that Summer. It was eerily quiet. Everyone had left for the vacation and there were no goodbye hugs or high fives. I felt like I had done so much for the school and that there was no way the school would survive the following year without me. I felt I had done the job of a dozen admins and they were up the creek, no paddle, next year. 

Weird thing happened: they were fine. Sure, maybe some things didn't run smoothly, but in the end, everything was fine. I had done what I felt was a pretty solid job but I was replaceable. Aside from a few teachers who I am "Facebook friends" with and a dozen students who I have on "lockdown friend mode" on Facebook, I've been completely forgotten. 

Twice, I had poured my heart and soul into the school and I was just easily forgotten the following Fall.

These experiences made me realize just how we educators overestimate the chaos that would happen to our organizations if we were to vanish. A principal of 25 years left their school a few years ago. She was greatly missed but school opened that fall and everything just continued along. A dozen teachers (give or take six or so) left an elementary school one year. They're fine. A superintendent retired. She was great and had led our district from the levels of average to one of the top in the county. A new superintendent stepped in and has been just as amazing, if not magically better, as we continue to grow from good to great as a district.

Point being: it's a job where we get to have fun, be around awesome people, deal with silly stuff that's never the same, and have the opportunity to positively affect the lives of our neighborhood's and society's future. None of us are bigger than the entity of all of us (teachers and community) together. And even if we are, school communities have amazingly short memories.

And if we remember how tenuous our time may be at any given school site, the interactions with our students have the opportunity to be significantly more positive, causing the work we do will be have a stronger impact. Essentially... Be kind. Be happy. Have fun. Recognize how lucky we all are... because this doesn't last forever and one day, after we've moved on, we'll be a distant memory as the new group of students enter our halls the following year. 

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