I took a leap of faith several years back and followed one of my principals to a large urban school district where I would serve in an administrative position designed for the purpose of mentoring and facilitating the teachers. I had worked for years in a smaller, more low key school district where it seemed as though I knew people from almost every other school as well as all of the top officers at the administration building. I had a wonderful reputation there as well as offers to rise to even higher leadership positions, but I wanted to assist the principal who had helped me to make my way up the career ladder as he navigated the more shark infested waters of one of the country’s largest urban school districts. I agreed to come work for him and for the teachers at the school that he led.
He had warned me that the environment was not always as warm and fuzzy as the one that I would be leaving. Nonetheless I saw opportunities to expand my knowledge and skills as an educator, and I felt up to the challenge as long as he had confidence in me. Nonetheless I was a bit nervous as the first day of back to school inservice drew near. A good friend noticed my anxiety and took me out for a final leisurely lunch before I would be bound to the new campus for the next many months.
While we were chatting and exchanging a few jokes she pulled a small package from her purse. I opened it to find a gold star pin. She explained that she wanted me to wear the pin on my first day so that I might remember that I was more than capable of being a guide and a helpmate for the teachers with whom I would be working. She said that the star was a symbol of my excellence, but also a reminder that I was but one among many individuals working to make a better world for our children in schools. Her gift and her words were so profound that I found the confidence to face the uncertain future. With the pin firmly planted on the lapel of my suit and a smile spreading across my face I introduced myself the following to the wonderful teachers whom I would be assisting .
I soon learned that it would not be easy sailing in my new role. None of the teachers knew me and they were reluctant to believe that my forays into their classrooms were for their benefit. I was an outsider and in their minds it was possible that I was little more than a spy for the principal. Many of them had worked in the school for decades and they felt that it was a bit audacious of me to come wearing that star and looking like I was the new sheriff’s deputy in the town.
While I was attempting to demonstrate to the faculty that I was at their service, I learned about the problems of a navigating the business end of a large governmental agency. When the first paychecks arrived, mine was missing. It almost took an act of Congress to clear things up, but I finally managed to provide them with the documentation they needed to prove that I was actually a working employee and had been so for the past month.
On top of all of the furor in the payroll department I suddenly learned that someone was using my checking account to make large purchases. Since my husband was a banker he checked such things several times each day and took care of the problem immediately. Unfortunately I had to get a new checking account and begin again with the process of routing my pay go to my bank by direct deposit. It would be almost six weeks before I finally saw any money for the work I had been doing. Since it covered three pay periods it was a very large check.
Strangely I began to notice whispers and strange glances as I went about my daily routine of observing and conferring with teachers. I finally asked a faculty member who had been quite welcoming to me what was creating the uncomfortable environment around me. She laughed and explained that the clerk in the office who handed out the pay stubs had noticed my large paycheck and had multiplied it times the number of checks I would receive in an entire school year to determine my annual salary. Of course the amount that registered on her calculator was three times what it was supposed to be because of the delay in my first two checks. Without taking that into account she spend the rumor that I was making more money than even the principal.
From there the talk got even juicier. Somehow one thing led to another and there were stories that I had just purchased a million dollar home and that I had to be some kind of spy for the district to be making the kind of money that was generally the exclusive domain of the higher ups. There was great concern about who I was and what I was trying to do inside the school.
Eventually I was able to clear up all of the confusion, but I always felt as though a slight element of distrust lingered in many people’s minds even though I did my best to prove to them that I really was there to assist them and nothing else. I often supposed that the star pin from my friend must have muddied the waters even more. I can only imagine how I must have appeared to a faculty that has endured many big changes in a very short span of time.
Rumors are grist for gossip and we all know that once something is uttered, it is often impossible to take it back. I probably struggled more at that school than I ever have in my entire life because the clerk planted a seed of doubt in many people’s minds. The good thing is that overall it was an incredible learning experience both for me and the faculty. I even reached a point at which I was able to laugh about the whole thing, especially that million dollar house that I was supposed to own.