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Meet Sarah, English Teacher Extraordinaire
Sarah decided to return to the classroom after taking two years off. I asked her to reflect on the reason she had left teaching: a poor relationship with her principal. Here's what she had to say.
Sarah: I was 21 when I started teaching. A little bit through my first year, they took two of my classes and switched them with AP (Advanced Placement) Literature and I remember being beside myself. I definitely cried, and then I ended up adoring AP. I realized that it’s so much fun because you are bridging gaps, but also I'm giving kids an actual even playing field.
Of course, sometimes administrators do things like change our content area just a week before school is about to start and we may or may not cry in the privacy of our cars, but there are good and bad ways to handle it. Here's what Sarah has to say about an experience she had with her administrative team.
Well, I had three principals in three years. We got our third principal just after Christmas break and I really, really liked him...until I came back for my third year. I thought, “He knows what he's doing. He's real strong. I mean, I'm still afraid of him,” because, you know, that's I think a healthy relationship to have with your principal. He brought in a new team for the beginning of the third year and I loved my administrator. She was his number two, she was really smart, but she was capable of playing the game and being really political and savvy. I was not because I was now 24.
At this point I was really confident. I won teacher of the year in September and I thought, “I'm going to be politically savvy. I'm going to play by his rules.” And just every single time I tried to do anything, it was met with resistance or negativity and just became really hostile for me. Instead of standing up for myself or being reflective on what I was doing that didn't work for my boss, I just would complain to anyone who would listen about how unfairly I was treated.
I remember in the hallway telling someone, “Can you believe he did this to me?” He's a 55 year old man. He's probably not doing anything to me. He walked away and was thinking what he was having for lunch. I just didn’t have the sense to separate that and I regret it because at the end of the year things had gotten so bad that I left the school, and I cried about it for like two years.
Was leaving the right decision?
I think leaving was the best thing that I could've done because it did get really toxic. I'm positive I was not innocent in it, but my principal definitely treated me differently than some of the other teachers. But leaving gave me the perspective to realize that our styles of communicating were just not the same. And like you said, he probably wasn't even pretending to think about me after we had these meetings. But I had this huge internal anguish where I know that I was just brooding over something or an interaction that happened and that person was probably laughing and enjoying a good Netflix show.
If you could handle that situation over again, what would you do differently?
I think part of me felt like I had been at the school longer than he had. My school was known as a revolving door of admin and teachers. So any kind of longevity was good. I think I should have learned his style. I would figure out what he wants and try to be that in my moments with him.
I would go back and tell myself, however, if there were things that were genuinely wrong with the way that he was treating you (which I do think there were at some points) why didn't you go to anyone? Why didn't you talk to your union rep or at least get an outside perspective. That is something that I recommend to young teachers all the time.
"If something weird happens, tell somebody that is not your mom because your mom is always on your side."
What other advice do you have for handling tough administrators?
When you're dealing with tough administrators, look at the way that you're placing yourself in their eye line. If their value is on academics and getting up test scores and you’re planning a 15 day field trip, obviously you two have different lenses. I think building relationships, it's almost cliche at this point, but I should have asked, “What is your vision for the senior council or the senior cabinet?”, versus me trying to push my own vision.
Also, I kind of had to get over my fear of principles, which I think stems from kindergarten. I mean, I still don't want to go to the principal’s office. Now, I adore my principal and he actually has a lot of personality similarities to my principal who I ended up leaving. He's very direct, but he also will break a smile, and he, he is very good about calling out and appreciating things that are happening around the campus.
In short, if there are any new teachers that are listening to this and are very much feeling the principal is being unfair and singling you out, just go talk to that person and actually build a relationship with them the same way that you would build a relationship with a student.
Carla Rivera-Cruz (CRC) is an educator and entrepreneur committed to helping like-minded educators reach their fullest potentials.