Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Confederacy

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.


Kathleen Basi said...

Beautiful. It would be so hard to be in that position!

Krista said...

That is a tough position to be in especially for the vast majority of us who desire positive personal interaction with our coworkers. I'm glad your boss was willing to see that you needed to be in a position that was more fulfilling for you.

Banker Chick said...

It would be hard to do that job, with thin skin. I always hated it when I had to do peer evaluations. I also didn't like being evaluated by my peers, I became unnatural in the classroom. I did adult training for many years.

Betsy said...

I didn't enjoy reading about your tears and struggles, but I did enjoy reading your words (if that makes sense!). This was so well written... it flowed well and I felt like I was standing in your shoes. It squeezed my heart a bit!

I'm glad you got a job that would make you smile!

dek said...

I once had a job that felt like a shrunken wool sweater.

Best opener ever.

Lance said...

well, you had me at shrunken wool sweater.....or drunken wool sweater

That's so tough Nancy.

This is really well written. I connected to every word.

TKW said...

I agree--awesome opener!

Victoria KP said...

I agree. "Shrunken wool sweater" in a great opener.

I love the fact that you resolved you issue in a way other than developing a thicker skin. I was recently bemoaning my own thin skin when a friend said something like, "If you weren't thinned skinned, you probably wouldn't be the sensitive person we love so much." Sometimes our foibles are our strengths.

Anonymous said...

Being an administrator isn't at all what it's cracked up to be. And who did your boss think you could teach if you couldn't connect with the people who had tons of experience but didn't want to learn from you. I'm glad you found a connection and satisfaction in the class instead!

Julia Hunter said...

I also agree that that was a great opener. I've had several jobs that have felt like a shrunken wool sweater.

John said...

I find it impossible to be anywhere near a classroom and not want to be in front of the students. It doesn't matter what the situation is, I want to be the one teaching.

This is going to be really bad, if I'm ever observing my students in school.

Kir said...

what a fantastic opening line, you always grab me right from the beginning. Plus I felt all these emotions with you...

sometimes it's the rough stuff that teaches you the most about who you are..and I think the students you stand in front the ones who stand in front of you from behind their computer screens (LIKE ME) are the lucky ones....because I love you..thin skin and all. xo

Cheryl said...

This made me so sad. But by doing something that was scratchy and uncomfortable and chafing, you found what you really did want to do.

And as someone who had to have very thick skin for my career, the truth is, even the thickest of skin still has pores.


Julie said...

Truth: My skin is so thin it's transparent.

I could never do that job.

But here's the funny thing: I imagine that the best person for just such a mentoring position would be sensitive; would feel things deeply; would care enough to wear her heart on her shrunken sleeve.

Until the sweater tears her up.

I'm glad you escaped.

angela said...

Nancy, this is so beautifully written, though I am sad that it was so hard on you.

If it makes you feel any differently at all, I would have cried every night to have a teacher-mentor, especially one like you.

Got It, Ma! said...

You really capture that gut wrenching feeling of being in the wrong job, made that much harder by seeing other people doing something that brings them joy. Great piece, and I'm glad you made the change.

Thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the piece. I always knew I'd have to eventually write about the guy at the basketball game. He was too perfect not to put on paper.

Glad to have found your blog. Looking forward to reading more.

Anonymous said...

I was totally engrossed in this, I was right there with you wanting to rip that sweater off. Office pariah is not a fun title. Glad you were able to change...seems like the experience was a useful lesson (ha-education pun!).

Andrea (ace1028) said...

First line? TOTALLY rocked!

And that you found the right way to be - what you needed and wanted - after the itchy scratchy sweater, well, that's the icing on the sweet cupcake!! Yum!

A teacher-mentor. I can't imagine how scratchy that felt at that age, etc. Good for you for making the switch that worked best!

Tricia said...

I used to take on and keep jobs because I felt I was supposed to do them to be stronger, develop thicker skin, etc. When really, it's so much more important to be happy in what you're doing. Lovely post.

Cameron said...

Like a shrunken wool sweater...

And my skin is still so thin and scarred from my last job that I don't know how to go about finding another.

Oh, Nancy.

Jenny said...

What an incredible opening salvo.

A shrunken wool sweater.

Your word crafting is astonishing.

increasing the penis size said...

Time is the great healer

Joanna Jenkins said...

That is the greatest opening line EVER!
Nice job.

StarTraci said...

And I'm sure the students were the better for it. I'm glad that you rejected the confederacy. Here's tp us thin-skinned folks.


Anita said...

Even though you were a shrunken wool sweater for a while, I sense the maturity you had. You stuck it out; and, I'll bet you were good and that your then-students still remember you now.

writingdianet said...

Nancy! This is a fantastic piece! I know I'm like, a month late but I still wanted to pet you for it. I too LOVED the first line--brilliant. But I loved these also:

I cried in my office again, and imagined that in another life, I would be friends with that teacher. (PRECIOUS!! Thank you for that transparency!)

I felt the failure, coating me from head to toe. My skin was still thin, and now I could hardly see it anymore. (Failure coating me from head to toe? Really? I wish I'd been the one to say that.)

Very, very good stuff here! Well done:)