Teaching Opinion

Why Do I Care So Much About My Replacement?

By Starr Sackstein — July 11, 2019 3 min read
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It’s fair to say most of us in education give our all for the positions we are in. At least that is the assumption I choose to make.

We work tirelessly day in and day out to help each and every child experience some kind of a-ha moment as often as possible.

It’s what we live for.

It’s what I live for.

Regardless of whether the person I was working with was a student or a teacher, each day I went to work bringing my A game for a win.

I was a part of real change.

So when it came time to leave the significant positions I’ve held, I worried mightily about who would fill my shoes.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that no one can, I’m just saying that the right person had to.

The first position I left with trepidation was the teaching position I was at for nine years. In that job, I developed, implemented, and streamlined a journalism program that worked meticulously with or without me present. It was the pinnacle of student-centered learning and the space I built so much of my professional learning and growing around.

Deeply committed to the students I worked with and the progress and continuation of the program I created. In my mind, I believed that it didn’t matter who was in charge of the program, so long as he or she maintained the structures that were carefully built and nurtured.

Although I had decided to leave the school to pursue the next challenge in my own career, I still worried about the kids in my old job. Fortunately, in the first year I was gone, the students who ran the paper had me as a teacher when they were in 11th grade and were able to help the new teacher and reach out to me regularly.

But as more time passed, the program changed. I regularly checked the media site to see if they were maintaining it and how often writing was happening. That program and many of the students in it felt like my children, and it pained me to see it disappear.

Of course, now, several years later, I accept that what has happened is out of my control and whatever it is to become is the project of who is in charge now.

In my current situation, I was brought in as an untested leader with big ideas about how to improve student learning and develop a system within the district goals to benefit everyone. My position was new, and I had a good deal of autonomy to allow my vision for the role to be realized.

I took this responsibility extremely seriously and enjoyed working with the teachers and students who embraced the new challenges. I even enjoyed working with the reluctant learners who expected me to leave and not see the work through.

So now as my position is being interviewed for, I can’t help but worry about who comes in next, not because of my legacy in the space, but for the sake of continuity for every person I worked with. Leadership turnover is a challenge, and it actually pained me to be a part of it. But I knew I couldn’t stay in a role that wasn’t the right fit just because some of it was completely gratifying. Too much of it wasn’t where I wanted to spend my time.

In my leadership program, we learned about different constructs that we need to see leadership through—systems, political, human and symbolic. I often gravitated to seeing the position through the lens of the people I worked with and symbolic representations of the work we were doing. I struggled mightily with the political.

Over the course of my two years in the position, I was told that the political aspect of leadership would get easier and that I would get better at it...

Unfortunately, that was not a skill set I wanted to improve; too many other more important matters worked directly with my core values and beliefs about transparency and disrupting instead of playing the game.

Even though I have chosen to leave that position as well, I now watch and wait eagerly to hear about my replacement. Who will this person be? Will he or she be faithful to the work that was started? Will the person care about all of the people on the team? Will they be willing to roll up their sleeves and get into the trenches like I did?

I know this decision has nothing to do with me and I have no control over the outcome, just like I didn’t with my program, but I still care.

How do we ensure smooth transitions when shifting roles in our own careers for the people and places we leave behind? Please share

*photo by Pablo.com

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