By Dr. Pamela Harman
I am a charlatan, a fake, an imposter. If anyone looked closely, they would find me out and know that I have no idea what I am doing. This is what I often I tell myself. Why is it so difficult to see myself as a leader or as an innovator? Why do I try to talk myself out of doing things that are outside of my comfort zone?
If you took one of my personality inventories you would know that I am green. That means that above all things I must be competent. For me, this means that I often do not attempt things that I don’t feel I will do well at. I have a great personal need to be seen as accomplished, skilled, and proficient. Sometimes this mindset is very limiting.
For example, in 2003 my good friend and mentor Tammy Dunn said it was time to pursue my National Boards. I though she was crazy. Yes, I was a good classroom teacher, but National Boards quality...no. Tammy was board certified, a former Teacher of the Year, a presidential award winner. I had no business attempting to place myself into her bracket of excellence and beyond that...I might fail. She hounded me for a year. She is very persistent. I finally gave in. The process was difficult. In October of 2004, I told her I was done. I couldn’t do it. She refused to allow me to quit. She encouraged me, read my papers, and made suggestions. The process did not get easier. However, I learned a great deal about my teaching practice and grew in ways that I never could have imagined. In November, I waited for my results. When I passed I was beyond excited, but more than that I felt accomplished. I felt competent.
I wish I could tell you that the experience made me braver and less afraid a failure. It did not. In 2008, I was offered a scholarship to pursue my doctorate. I had a year to decide if I would take the scholarship. My first response was no. I grew up in a single parent home in a low-income neighborhood. I remember being on food stamps in high school. Beyond that, I am an average student. I had to work hard to receive an A in any class. I had no business mingling with the educational elite. However, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. How could I stand before my students telling them that they were receiving the free gift of education and then turn down the opportunity? I finally agreed to the scholarship on the very last day it was available to me. I was sure I was going to fail. Like National Board, the process was difficult. I cried a lot. I wanted to quit a lot. I struggled to find my academic voice and I failed at it often. When my brother died unexpectedly, I was emotionally compromised and wanted to quit. My chair told me to keep going and that I would keep my mind busy. He was right. I kept going. I wanted to quit almost everyday. This April, I completed my doctorate. I felt accomplished. I felt competent.
This past week I attended the Teaching and Learning conference in Washington DC and I heard a lot about teacher leadership. I began thinking about my role as a teacher leader. I believe that I stand at another crossroads. I know I need to begin making the steps towards becoming a stronger educational leader, a stronger advocate for my profession, a stronger voice for other classroom teachers. However, there is a lot about educational policy that I do not know. What if I speak out and say the wrong thing? There are others in my professional that are gifted in this area. I should just let them take the lead. But what if every teacher just left leadership to someone else. What if all of us were afraid to fail? What if all of us believed that we should just close our classroom doors and hope for the best? Who then would speak for us? So here is my promise. I am going to try. I might fail you. I might say the wrong thing and I might not always have all the right information. But I will do my best to read and learn so that I can represent our profession to the best of my ability. This may mean that at times you might see me as less than competent. This is a risk I am willing to take because we grow not by continuing to hone the areas that we are already good at. We grow by working on our areas of weakness. This is my new mantra.