I am excited to begin my blog here for TeachersCount. Although I’ve been signed on for a couple of weeks, I’ve hesitated posting my first blog. As in my writing, it’s the introductions that give me trouble in any new situation. I have a lot I’d like to say about my kids, my classroom, my content (English and history), and education in general. And yet, I have to get past this first entry where you, the reader, hear my voice for the first time.
It’s a lot of pressure.
Ultimately, I decided that rather than restate the biography I wrote for the TeachersCount blog page, I would share my role as elephant spotter with you. It is, perhaps, a more accurate picture of who I am and what to expect in the coming months as I blog here.
Growing up, we all have our roles to play in our families. My brother was the Good Son and Student. He was Responsible and the Easy One. Me, I was Difficult. The Late Bloomer. Sometimes I was even labeled Sarah Bernhardt because of my propensity for dramatic reactions.
The longer I live, the more I see how we take on particular roles in all of our relationships and situations, not the least of which is the role we play at work. There are the rule followers, the malcontents, the bullies, the martyrs, the suck ups and a million other roles in our schools; nearly 10-years of listservs have convinced me that all schools, more or less, have people who fill the same sorts of roles everywhere.
I have finally figured out that really, I’m not difficult. Well, maybe some people think I am, but I’m not being difficult to be difficult. My role is, simply, Elephant Spotter, and once I see that elephant, that thing everyone is pretending not to notice or know, I simply can’t pretend I don’t see it any longer. Furthermore, I find it pretty impossible to keep my mouth shut about it either. I am the one who will speak up and say, Hey, guys, don’t you see that giant pachyderm over there? And LOOK what he’s doing to the carpet!
I have tried really hard not to be that person. Fact is, it’s lonely being that person, because people tend to get upset when you point out what they were trying to ignore. They avoid noticing the elephant for a whole host of reasons: fear of change, worry that they aren’t good enough/smart enough/??? enough, it messes up pretty plans on paper…. So, when someone points out Mr. Elephant sitting there, chewing up the potted plants, people tend to turn on the one who pointed him out. Or, sometimes worse, they try to convince you that you’re seeing things, that there isn’t an elephant at all, it’s just in your imagination.
Being an elephant spotter takes skill if one is going to be useful in that role. As a novice, I tended to get loud and indignant that no one else saw the elephant, and I’d try to make them see it. Secretly I’d call them stupid or lazy or incompetent, and I am sure my body language conveyed that subtly. I wasn’t very effective in those early days, and I probably made the situation worse. However, over time, I have learned how to gently bring the elephant to others’ attention. Asking questions is a great strategy that doesn’t push an agenda, as is talking to people one on one, asking their opinions, building relationships, and talking about whatever it is that’s hanging out there. These days, 12 years after I started teaching full time, I am a kinder, gentler, smarter and more effective elephant spotter.
I know my role is necessary, but there are definitely days I’d prefer to put down my binoculars, retreat into my classroom, and just teach. However, it just doesn’t work that way. No matter how many times I try that strategy, that darn elephant has a habit of making its way to my door, trumpeting loudly, and awaiting my announcement that he’s here.