Posted in #My500Words, Learning and Development

The Things I Would Say To My 22-Year-Old and 31-Year-Old Selves

I entered and re-entered the teaching profession at 22 and 31 years of age, respectively.  Like many young professionals, I made mistakes in the excitement and anxiety immediately following graduation from college at age 22, and graduate school at age 31.  The most important factor governing my success in each situation was having a full-time job.

As we know, life doesn’t offer us do-overs. Reboots, perhaps. But, not do-overs.  On the other hand, if I had the opportunity to re-do both of the aforementioned experiences, here is what I would tell myself. Please note: The following are based on my experiences as an independent school teacher, and some on my experiences as a teacher of color.  However, most of the following apply universally.

  1. A good non-teaching job is better than a bad teaching job.  I wish I had listened to this advice, which was offered to me by the director of the agency where I was working during my graduate school studies.  I took what turned out to be bad teaching jobs at 22 and at 31.
  2. Not having a job immediately following graduation is not an indicator of failure.
  3. Before you enter/re-enter independent school teaching, obtain your teacher certification.
  4. Learn about independent schools – culture, lifestyle, mentoring, challenges for people of color, opportunities for growth and advancement.
  5. Relocate for more than just a job.  I did this four times; wasn’t a good decision the first three times.
  6. After teaching for five years, decide whether moving to administration is the best choice. In independent schools, staying in the classroom more than five years is a detriment to anyone with senior leadership aspirations.
  7. Network.
  8. Take one new risk every day.
  9. Learn one new thing every day.
  10. Make your personal life a priority. Once the job is gone, it will be all you have.
  11. Take a vacation during the Spring Break.
  12. You work for the school; they don’t work for you.  Be careful what you say and do.
  13. Don’t try to single-handedly change the culture of a school. It does not work. Especially for Black folks.
  14. When you have an opportunity to visit a school, even when you have been made an offer by another school, keep your appointment, and visit that school; it may be a better situation.
  15. Don’t be too proud, and reject something that may in fact be useful to you. Most people really do want to help you to succeed.
  16. Don’t apologize for asking for help. It isn’t a sign of weakness.
  17. Don’t feel that you need to stay at a school for the students, or for any other reason.
  18. It is possible to stay at a school for too long.
  19. Don’t remain at a school where you feel unappreciated, unrecognized, unvalidated, unchallenged.  You have too much to offer to the right place.
  20. Get to know your colleagues, and even socialize with them from time to time. You don’t have to become life-long friends with them.
  21. Only do diversity work if you want to; don’t feel obligated as a Black person to do so.
  22. Public school may be a better place to work and grow.
  23. Take an occasional personal day.
  24. Obtain the services of a good therapist; working at an independent school is difficult for Black people.
  25. You have lots of skills; teaching is only one of them.
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Author:

I teach. I cook. I write. In that order. Along the way, I learn many things, especially about myself.

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