I will soon transition from my current job as Director of Academic and Student Support in Alexandria, Virginia to a new job, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, in Washington, DC. This is a clear and definitive step toward my ultimate professional goal of becoming a Head of School. In thinking about my new and exciting career journey, I’ve been spending a lot of time pondering what it means to be a professional. I know that may sound odd to some people, but this is a real topic of concern for me. Trying to figure out what “being professional” actually is is harder than some people may think. While thinking about this new step in my professional career, I’ve realized that I’ve become far too comfortable in my current educational milieu. All of this thinking about being professional has lead me to reminisce about the first time I realized that I wasn’t being truly professional at work. That realization occurred at the end of my first year of teaching in Baltimore City.
When I graduated from college in 2004 I truly believed that I could not only teach my high school classes extremely well but that I could teach my classes and the classes up and down my hallway perfectly well. Looking back now, I clearly thought at the ripe old age of 22, I knew more than anyone else. In my mind, at the time, I thought I presented myself to my students and colleagues in a respectful and intelligent way, but looking back on those first years, with the lens that I have developed, I cringe. Honestly, at the time I didn’t realize how much of an arrogant and possibly offensive person I was. Ouch! Sorry!
The saddest part of my story is that during that time none of my colleagues or bosses sat me down to tell me otherwise. I suppose they just thought that I would grow out of it and thankfully, for the most part, I have. Now instead of being arrogant I attempt to be thoughtful and understanding. I exude confidence, but I temper my understanding of a situation with the thoughts and feelings of others. The best lesson that I’ve learned in the last decade is to listen more than I speak and this lesson has allowed me to grow into being professional.
As I’ve come to my own realizations about professionalism, I’ve met many young teachers who remind me of myself when I was starting out. They believe that they know everything. They believe they are the smartest people in the room. Sometimes they even believe that they can do their job and the job of the person sitting next to them better than anyone else. It is clearer to me than ever before that some people need time to grow into being a professional. What may look like entitlement to the outside observer may simply be an eagerness to affect change—at least in my case it was.
At this point, my personal charge is to mentor the people who remind me of my younger self. I often tell them that their passion and insights are needed in the profession but that they need to listen more and speak less even when the urge to correct and/or inform their colleagues bubbles up inside of them. Sometimes my mentees listen and grow quickly into being more professional and other times the fire to lead overwhelms them and they speak out of turn.
I implore veteran educators to regularly mentor young fiery educators in the art of honing their voice. This mentorship can and will improve the atmosphere of our schools and I believe that faculty morale will grow by leaps and bounds as a result of this tender yet firm touch. I’m planning on bringing this newly found knowledge and experience to my next school.