What I Wish I Had Known at the Beginning of the Year

2010-11 Teaching Portfolio Entry #2

I wish I had known at the beginning of the year that, as a school leader, there is no “off” button. I’m proud of the job I have done this year as Social Studies Department Chair, as UFT Chapter Leader, and as an instructional coach. I am relatively confident that the members of my department and of my chapter that I interact with while wearing those hats have a view of me that jives with the view I want to have of myself. But in the past months, I have realized that the view I want to have of myself does not match up with the one many of my fellow leaders, whom I have known the longest, have of me. To them, I am often bitter, curmudgeonly, and overly negative. And that is a totally fair and accurate portrayal of who I have been around them. With the vast majority of the people who were at the school when I started now gone, I felt that there was a select group around whom I didn’t need to “watch what I say.” I treated my time with them much as teachers often do when they enter the teacher’s lounge: as a time to vent and get stuff off your chest. This, coupled with my innate tendency to focus on where things can be improved as opposed to focusing on where they are already good, made for the majority of my interactions with them being negative.

I have never seen myself as an excessively negative person (excessively critical, though, of course). I am not negative with my students, where I have been often (wrongly) accused of being too friendly with them. I am not negative, by conscious effort, in my writing or interaction with teachers virtually or physically outside of school. But I have been extremely negative in department chair meetings and in other similar groupings. At times this has hurt the morale of others, other times it has caused people to hold their tongues, and at worst, it has led to a defeatist attitude in some meetings. This is never the person I wanted to be. I wish I had known that there was no time to let my guard down. Just as I censor myself when I’m with students who when working with a struggling teacher, I’ve realized I need to do this at all times professionally, as it’s not fair to those who have wanted nothing more than to work with me in helping to address the many problems our students face.