IF I HAD REACTED BADLY IN THIS SITUATION, rest assured everyone within earshot would have been telling all of their friends that I had lost my temper and was not very approachable. I’m not sure I changed this parent’s mind about me that year, but the real issue, I knew, had nothing to do with me and I just had to grow a thicker skin. This was tough for me. As someone who doesn’t like conflict, this also means that I am much more comfortable around people who are usually getting along.
As I was to learn in the years to come, this doesn’t always happen in a school setting.
Even though adults are all there for the same reason – the students – they don’t always see eye to eye, and they definitely don’t always get along. I had better grow that thicker skin sooner rather than later.
But this is really where my second core value came into play, and came in handy. I have always understood that perception is reality, whether true or not. People are going to make all kinds of assumptions based on what they think is true; they will tell stories about what they see, about what they hear, and this will become fact. It will become what people talk about. And it will turn into an image of you, of your school, of the kids and teachers in your school… whether it is the truth or not.
That first day of school, I was walking around and introducing myself to parents, high fiving the kids, being goofy and having a good time. I don’t know if this is what the former principal had acted like. Maybe she was more stern than me, maybe she didn’t joke around with people, maybe she didn’t smile ‘til Christmas (this was actually something we learned in our undergrad program. I still can’t believe that one). Whatever the reason, the father who didn’t like me was most likely not ready for someone who looked like me; I mean, I was 33 years old at the time and definitely looked much younger than, perhaps, principals are expected to look? I don’t know what his reasoning was, but I know I thought about it a lot. Probably too much.
Either way, I knew that he had already made his mind up about me.
His perception was his truth, and I could do nothing about that.
But I also knew that I was on stage.
I knew that everyone was watching me.
People are like that when someone is new – they are watching your every move,
waiting to pounce if you fail.
Maybe even hoping you fail.
These two manifestos go hand in hand –
“Perception is Reality,” and “Everyone is Watching You.”
Mess up while everyone is watching,
and the new reality becomes everyone’s truth.
As I navigated that first year, one thing stood out to me more than anything else. This was not going to be easy, and it was not always going to be fun, but it WAS going to be the best I could make it, and I was still so VERY excited to be doing the work I was doing. It has always resonated with me how grateful I am to be working in the field of education. I have worked many jobs in my life – many of them directly out of high school, or while I was in college trying to support my young family. I have worked in a photo lab, worked on a food truck delivering meals to factories and warehouses, worked 3rd shift on an assembly line in an air filter factory, worked for a carpenter learning how to build room additions, shingle roofs, constructing backyard decks, worked for a construction company pouring concrete basements, and worked at my dad’s full-service pumping gas, changing oil and fixing tires.
NONE of them compared to this work.
This was not work.
This was the stuff I lived for.
There was never a time when I wasn’t excited to go in to the school every day.
We made it into the building that first day without further incident. The parents eventually left. I kept peeking out the front windows of the main entrance wondering what they were doing, when they would leave. My secretary had been in the building for at least a few years prior to my arrival and told me that they always do that.
“What for?” I asked. “Mr. Prickett, are you serious?” I must have looked pretty dumb. “These are their babies. This is harder for them than it is for their kids.””Oh,” was all I could muster. And then this: “Call me Jeff, would you please?” She looked at me and turned to walk away.From down the hallway, she hollered, “Okay, Mr. Jeff.”It was better than such a formal greeting. I wasn’t used to it, and didn’t know if I ever would be.
And she was right, of course. About the parents, I mean. It was 30 minutes or so before they had finally all dispersed and gone back home, or gone on to work, having given in to the fact that teachers weren’t going to come back out and return their kids to them for a few hours.
I walked down the first grade hallway.
I had no idea what to do.
There were 6 classrooms,
3 on either side of the hallway.
I decided to take a peek into the rooms,
see what goes on in a 1st grade classroom.
To my surprise,
there was a great old piano in the first room I walked into,
the teacher already sitting at it,
kids at her feet on an oval-shaped, braided rug,
singing songs of welcome.
My plan was just to pop in and welcome everyone for a minute or two, hang out around the edges of the classroom, not be much of an intrusion. After all, this was what I did at the middle school as an assistant principal the prior couple of years.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
Over time, I got the reputation of being quite a troublemaker. It wasn’t intentional – well, the “troublemaker” part wasn’t; what was VERY intentional, was the having fun at work part, the having fun with kids and with teachers part. If we couldn’t be serious about our work and still have fun, I didn’t want to be there.
When I say he walked the halls causing trouble, here’s what I mean. I had a classroom in the “basement” in a room with no windows. It would get so dark with the lights off, that there were emergency lights in that room. One day, as Mr. Prickett often did, he walked the halls to just look in and say hi. He came by my door, switched OFF my lights and walked away! As the kids started screaming, I yelled “Mr. Prickett…. get back here”. He slowly walked back in the room wondering why I called out for him! The kids were nuts telling him the lights just went off for no reason! I QUICKLY corrected the kids telling them what really happened. They thought it was the funniest thing ever.
~ Classroom Teacher ___________________________________________________________