Choose kind. Those are the two words that resonate with me from Wonder, a book I read with my boys over winter break last school year. I’m so glad that during my first year in the classroom, a colleague chose to be kind to me because it made a difference.
My first year in the classroom, I worked in a suburban school district outside of Indianapolis. I was the only black teacher in the school. My first year was rough. I was originally hired to work in one middle school in the school district and then right before school began, I was moved to the other middle school. I wonder if my experience would have been different if I worked in the other middle school, but I’ll never know.
Some colleagues made it clear they didn’t think I had what it took to be a teacher. A few thought my skin color was the only reason I was hired. They would not help me and some of them would not even speak to me. Administration was not helpful either. Even I started to question myself. I began dreading going to work, dreading walking past people who would not say hi even if I said it first and dreading asking people for help only to be told they didn’t have time. There was one silver lining. Two people had my back. The school union rep would always give me an encouraging word, but a teacher in my hallway made the most impact. Today, I thanked him.
If you read what I write for Indy/Ed, you know I worked in Wayne Township for five years and left for four years. Next school year (which is days away), I will be back as an elementary library/media specialist. In Wayne Township, they have new hires attend a breakfast before opening day when all staff return. Since I was a rehire, I didn’t have to attend the breakfast. I don’t like big social gatherings, but I decided to attend so I could meet other teachers that would be new to my school. At the breakfast, I saw the teacher (who is now an administrator) that was kind to me during my first year. I did something I normally don’t do at social gatherings. I walked across the room, introduced myself and told him this, “I want you to know that my first year of teaching was hard. I thought about quitting the profession, but you being nice to me made a difference.”
My grandmother told me about a year before she died, “Child, don’t cry at my funeral; give me my flowers now. I can’t smell them when I am dead.” When I first saw him, I wasn’t going to say anything, but then I thought of my grandmother’s words. I also thought about all those times he smiled, was nice, and struck up a conversation with me when many people were rude, mean and dismissive.
If someone has done anything to make your life just a little easier or make your day a little brighter, take a moment and let this person know.