Saturday, November 21, 2015

This fall, I have had the distinct privilege of doing two things I have not done before. First, I was invited to testify at the Senate Education Listening Tour when it stopped in Bremerton, WA. I was the principal representative there to talk about education funding. I spoke in front of about 400 people, mostly educators, but also some parents, community members, and business owners. We have made the job of teaching, and of running schools and governments, very complicated. I'm not one to buy into conspiracy theories. I know first hand that the vast majority of people who work in schools and public service are really good, intelligent, caring, hard-working people. That being said, we have made things so complicated that it is very difficult to do the work that we all love the most: helping others.

In that vein of helping others, I also had the privilege of serving as a Spanish teacher at my school for about 6 weeks. I have been a certified teacher for 23 years. I have taught middle and high school math and English, I have taught graduate level research and statistics, and I still teach classes for future principals. I am the person who has the privilege of teaching teachers and other staff in my district. But I am NOT a certified Spanish teacher. I took 3 years of Spanish in high school and 2 years of Spanish in college, but I am NOT fluent. That being said, after over a year of not being able to find a qualified Spanish teacher, I decided to put myself out there to help.

I am already a busy woman with a more-than-full-time job. I am the principal of a high school, three alternative schools, and I am the district assessment director. I am a single mom of two teenagers. I am frequently an invited speaker at regional conferences, and am part of several statewide teaching and learning projects. To find the time, about 20 hours a week, to prepare for, teach, and evaluate 2 Spanish classes, well let's just say it came out of my hide.

I know what I did was not good enough. I loved the opportunity to brush up on my Spanish with the students, but it was very challenging. It was challenging to teach something outside my area of expertise. It was a challenge to find the time and energy to be peppy and enthusiastic every day. And it was a challenge to teach kids who had been without a teacher for over a year.

That being said, I helped all kids learn. There were a few who thanked me, but as I sit here and write this, my heart hurts for what has become a recurring theme in public service. There is a significant portion of our society that feels it is acceptable to criticize others, brutally at times, with seemingly no willingness to consider things from another's perspective. If someone doesn't "like" their teacher, or if their teacher is "learning" or, in my case, extremely overwhelmed and exhausted, then it's ok to call that person a bitch.

Yes. Yesterday at conferences, a parent called me a bitch. And she made it clear she was quoting her son.

In truth, I have a strong personality, and I can't really argue with this assessment of me. I have very high expectations for myself, my staff, and students, and my school. I am there for the sole purpose of educating all who cross my path, and for opening as many doors for people as I can. So yes, I can be a bitch at times, but it's for a good cause. But it was what she said next that brought me to tears, and those tears have not stopped flowing.

"Everyone knows that the only people who become principals are the people who can't teach."

I have been a teacher since I was 6. I used to play school in the summers, making up math worksheets for the neighborhood kids. I have taught middle school, high school, and college. I have made it my career, and it is my passion, to learn more and more each year about the art of teaching, and how to help the teachers I know and love become better at their work.

I love the work of being a high school principal. I feel like I am saving lives every day, and I love knowing that I am making a difference for kids and adults every day. But society, this is a wake-up call. If you keep brutally criticizing and abusing public servants, the right kind of people will give up, and all that will be left are the wrong kind. Think twice before you decide you have the need and the right to be "honest". You just might not have enough information to hold on to your opinion, and you just might do more harm than good.