In education, we often need to operate with a huge amount of faith in people. We need to have faith that administrators are going to lead the best way they know how, faith that co-workers are going to teach students the basics they need to know so we can build on that, faith that students are going to get exactly what it is that they need to be successful, faith that we are going to be the ones to make a difference. Of course, we back this up with best practice and data, but in our industry there isn’t one formula for “producing” a student, so we rely on faith in ourselves and the people around us to do our jobs. We must believe in them and trust them to know that all of us are doing our best for each learner that comes along.
Yesterday, one of our elementary teachers, nervous and excited, emailed me that she was trying a Mystery Skype for the first time. You could see, in her email, the trepidation that she was feeling. I wasn’t nervous for her at all. I believed that if it failed, that she would adjust and try again. I was pretty sure that the experience was going to go well, but I was 100% sure that if it didn’t, she would learn from that failure and move forward. I believe that strongly in her.
So, we must believe in students and colleagues and leaders, there are times when believing in them isn’t going to be enough. Sometimes, we need to believe for them.
When I first became a teacher, the laws regarding layoffs were written so that if teachers were laid off due to budget cuts, the ones let go were based on seniority. Sometimes, seniority was calculated to the minute contracts were signed. Because of this rule, I was laid off not once, but twice. Also, at the time, there were about 500 applicants for every one teaching job, so both times I was laid off for a year in between jobs. I had four kids and a family to support. After my second lay-off, I felt that in order for my family to stay afloat, I needed to get out of teaching. I took a job managing a website for our local newspaper, and I was absolutely miserable, but I had given up on being a teacher. Financially and emotionally, I couldn’t keep losing my job.
My former principal, Sue Werley, was a stubborn, outspoken, get-stuff-done type woman (exactly the kind I model myself after). She always believed in me when I taught for her, and was incredibly supportive and kind. More importantly though, when I had given up, she believed for me. She was so convinced that I belonged in education that one day I had an interview in a district where I had never applied, all because of her unwillingness to allow me to leave the profession. When I said that I wasn’t willing to try again for the fear of being laid off, she pushed me into taking the interview just to “see how it’d go”. If it wasn’t for that moment in time when I had someone to believe for me, I would never be where I am today.
I’ve witnessed similar things happen with students, and it doesn’t matter if they are in kindergarten or their senior year. Being a kid is not easy, and with fragile self-esteems, difficult home lives, trouble fitting in, they need people believing in them every second of every day. But, when they really fail over and over again, whether it’s on an assignment or poor choices that affect them on a daily basis, they need us to believe for them. And this, as a teacher, isn’t always easy because it takes blind faith and an internal extra push sometimes to make this happen, especially because sometimes the students that need us to believe for them the most are the same ones that actively spend their time pushing us away.
It takes a great deal of effort to take believing in someone one step further and believe for them when they’ve given up. But, honestly, that’s not only our job, but should be our mission. We work in a people profession. The most important work we do is for the people we serve, whether it’s colleagues or students. Sometimes, our faith can be stretched thin, but it’s that same faith that will someday make the difference and possibly be the belief for someone when they didn’t have it in themselves.