Professional Development Opinion

What If I’m Not as Good at Being a Leader as I Was at Being a Teacher?

By Starr Sackstein — November 30, 2017 4 min read
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Although I may have felt like a failure in the past, the truth is, I knew I would succeed.

Perhaps it wasn’t something I shared readily, but inside, I had a confidence that understood I wouldn’t rest until I was the best version of myself for kids as I could be.

Working tirelessly, I sought to reconfigure myself as an educator, morphing into a million versions of myself so that every child would feel his or her needs were being met as close to every day as possible. (Because we all know it can’t happen EVERYDAY no matter how hard we try.)

And I’m proud to say I was good at it. (Hindsight is always 20/20).

While I was teaching, I was never good enough, but that never stopped me from trying. Pushing and pushing, I would take risks, assess, reflect, revise, and try again until I felt like what I was doing was making the impact necessary for all children to be a success in his or her own way.

As a teacher, although I knew I was good, I aspired to be great for my kids, every day. My humanity being what drove me and my desire to help kids see their own worth and possibility was my constant reward. Some got it sooner than others, but I never gave up; it’s not in my nature to give up. It’s my nature to push until I persevere. There is no other option.

And then I flipped the script.

As mastery was in my sights as a teacher, I switched directions. After all, I love a challenge.

But what happens now if I can’t be as good of a leader as I was a teacher?

Especially when we define ourselves by our successes and suddenly what started coming easily no longer does and the very nature of the work is called into question.

Tonight I had one of those kinds of breakthroughs that makes you want to cry. Crying isn’t something I’m ashamed of, I see it as a catharsis and in some ways a validation of my most intimate feelings. You see, I’m not a crier by nature. Maybe privately among friends, but mostly I’m the person who puts up a bold and solid front regardless of what is happening inside of me so I appear to be cool and collected, so as not to show the inner turmoil.

This emotional struggle challenges my self-concept around strength and knowledge, but the competing idea is the necessity of honesty and how much we can learn from sharing. I know I’d encourage a student to admit his/her fears aloud, to name them so he/she could make a plan to move forward.

Since striving to be the best I can be for kids and my team is such a huge part of my genetic makeup, I have to be transparent about the struggle. Lately, I worry that I may not be able to get my whole team to see or accept or to try or to believe or to recognize....

You know what I mean?

My biggest fear is that they won’t want to trust me and that deciding to leave the classroom was a horrific mistake. Why would someone leave a career, no, a calling that they love so much to take such a huge change on a maybe?

Understanding that there is no reward without risk, the challenges force me to question that inner voice of certainty... they call into question what I know to be true about myself and the very nature of learning.

But I push on, competing with my own self-defeating perfectionism.

Eager to know my team and to meet their needs, I wonder if asking them directly is a good idea. Should I put out a survey requesting they share what they need from me? Perhaps a quality review that inquires about needs assessment and how best I help?

What if they don’t know, but don’t want to know, how can I inspire them to consider?

Eagerly, I explore my own body of experience, considering what I had hoped my leaders would do for me. Is it presumptuous for me to think my team would want what I did as an educator?

Becoming a leader wasn’t about going to the dark side, but rather shedding light on what was once considered dark. I see myself as one of the teachers, among them, regardless of what my title suggests. In fact, in spite of it, I long to help inspire the many children in our district who deserve the best education possible from the most amazing teachers who might just need a little more time to consider how to do that.

After all, change is hard, not just for the folks who have to start considering but for the folks who are asking them to do the considering.

Change is possibility and hope and inspiration. Change with the right support is golden.

And I’m dying to be the support my team needs to better serve our school community and I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is. I’d never ask a teacher to do something that I wouldn’t do myself and I’ll prove it.

Please, ask me to come show you how if you don’t understand, not as a sign of weakness, but as a kindness. Let me feel of service to you and to our kids to make a bigger difference. Not having a classroom of my own is a sadness beyond what words will allow me to describe (even with the inherent challenges that come with it).

If you could ask your team leader to help you with anything, what would it be and how could that team leader best help you do what’s best for kids? Please share.

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