Professional Development Opinion

Stranger in a Not So Strange Land

By Starr Sackstein — January 12, 2017 3 min read
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4:43. Awake in the dark, my alarm will go off in exactly two minutes. It’s the same thing every morning, even on the mornings I don’t have to take my trek into work.

Laying in bed, within seconds, my cat, Huxley who knows it’s almost time to be fed, is already waiting next to the bed knowing my alarm will go off. As a matter of fact, I’m becoming convinced he can read digital clocks because even when he can’t hear my alarm go off, he knows it’s time.

Before I turn the light on between 4:45 and 5am when my next alarm goes off, I check my email and Twitter feeds making sure nothing significant happened in the few hours I have been disconnected.

And then it’s time to get out of bed and start the day.

Almost a whole semester into my not-so new job and what was once completely foreign is now becoming familiar. The pitter-patter of routine has developed into a daily mantra of how I wake, grab my breakfast and drive the significantly longer commute to work. (That’s why I wake up 15 minutes earlier than I used to).

Getting in the car, after I’ve collected my Starbucks, I turn on NPR and situate myself for the day. This time of day is the best for ideas and excitement as I am a morning person.

Everything is possible in the morning. The whole day is a clean slate with only excellent possibilities.

Once I get to school, we’re allowed in at 6:30 and there are a few of us who are committed to this first entry. We talk about personal happenings and the weather and the events of days past, present and future.

Then, we’re let in.

Clock in first. Check my mailbox and walk up to the fourth floor to the teacher center. Warm my coffee, while I turn everything on, change the magnet on the calendar, check to see that the supplies are replenished. Answer emails and check in with my neighbor who is one of the early comers.

Head to my zero period class.

I know people now. It isn’t as lonely as it was when I first arrived. Not knowing where I would find my place or who would be the folks I’d eat my lunch with. I have my pick of folks who come to hang out in the center where I hear all of everything going on.

The skill I’ve developed most since September is my listening skills. Rather than share what is on my mind as I may have been apt to do at my old job, I’m an avid listener and not just with my ears. I listen with all of my senses. Watching my colleagues and/or admin as they share, noticing the varied surroundings, smelling the scents of what came before or what had just been heated and I wait for my opportunities to help.

When I listen really well, I’m better able to really understand what people need.

As I’ve developed relationships, sometimes what they need more than anything is a non-judgmental listener who can be a sounding board or a mirror. I’m finetuning my skills to know which is needed and when.

And then when the magical moment happens, when I know I have a solution to something that I hear, I approach it with care, nurturing each opportunity like a potential shark tank success story. First overhearing, then inserting myself and then asking if they want help.

Because sometimes they don’t.

At first this was extremely disheartening, but I’ve been reminded repeatedly that it takes time. Folks need to see what I have to offer and some are. Luckily, I’m getting better at being humble because all I really want to do is problem solve and help. But it isn’t really about me anymore, not sure it ever was.

Kids come first at school. Then my colleagues. Then me.

The routine has been set.

And I’m certain that as more time goes on, my skill set will be used more efficiently and I will be able to help more kids through more teachers.

How has listening helped you become a better member of your school community? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.