I once had a job that felt like a shrunken wool sweater.
I was a teacher-mentor, meaning that I was supposed to teach teachers how to teach.
I was twenty-nine. New to Maryland. And the kicker? I was assigned a school where the average teacher had been at the school for at least fifteen years.
People ducked under their desks when they saw me coming.
When I met with my director, she asked me to come up with some professional goals. I slid a piece of paper across the table, on which I had typed, "Grow thicker skin."
We both laughed. She took her reading glasses off, and tapped them on the table. "It's a good goal, though. You need to learn that being liked isn't important. Nobody likes me." Then, she winked. "Welcome to the Confederacy."
It was technically The South, so people said things like that.
Her words followed me, as I made my power-points about differentiated instruction, and set up spreadsheets for staff meetings. I watched the students, engaged in learning, gossiping in the hallways, and lingering by classroom doors, and felt a separateness I had never experienced in a school setting.
I cried in my office, and ate my dried turkey sandwich at my desk.
I watched a co-worker teach a lesson, and her energy pulsed through the room. The students forgot to be bored, dropped the swagger, and smiled.
I cried in my office again, and imagined that in another life, I would be friends with that teacher.
One afternoon, as I was graphing data from the most recent assessment, I cried. I felt the failure, coating me from head to toe. My skin was still thin, and now I could hardly see it anymore.
I told my principal, "I cannot do this job anymore. Can you get me a job in the classroom?"
The following year, I was teaching sixth grade. With thin skin, and at last, a smile. I had rejected The Confederacy.