“Tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it”
I cannot remember where I got this quote but I really wish that had been my motto in my early adult years. I have not blogged in the past year as I have been tasked with running a school in Surrey and blogging went by the wayside so I thought I better get going again. As the principal of Clayton Heights in Surrey, this past year has been quite a eye opening experience. I had assumed originally this I was going to the “county club school. It turns out that I was a bit wrong on that point but that is for another day.
As I come on the 20th year of teaching, I thought that I would write down a bit about my journey and how teaching really saved me and placed me on a path. I graduated from high school with good grades and embarked on my university journey. In all honesty, high school did not prepare me for post secondary life in university. Support structures were all but absent, teachers did not know my name, accountability was restricted to the two exams I had in each course. University life was not exactly what I thought it would be.
During this time, I also decided to get a part time job (which eventually morphed into almost full time). I never wanted to rely on my parents to support my education and my job at the airport would fulfill that for me. Unfortunately, I went to school from eight to two and then worked from three to midnight. What was I thinking?
In a couple of years, I moved from customer service rep to a station manager with a company car and a decent salary. This was at twenty two years old. I continued this while trying to complete my degree in biology. Though at this point, I wasn’t too sure what I would do with that degree. I finally graduated at twenty six with a degree in animal biology and an almost minor in history. At that time. I assumed that I was going to work at Hertz for the rest of my life. I looked at my plan and thought that promotion was the way to go. Thirty five thousand a year with a company car wasn’t so bad. I could move up to middle management and do well.
I went in for what I thought was an interview in January of 1997. I was handed a termination letter with two weeks of severance. No real reason was given but it didn’t really matter. Here I was, twenty six years old with no real prospects. I had not planned for a tomorrow. I had coasted along on a path which provided me with adequate rewards and a possible future but now what?
What was I good at? I had this wonderful science degree that would get me a lab job. Was there a need for someone who had deft skills at plating microscope slides and dissecting animals with flair? My future wife started to give me suggestions for the future. Teaching popped as an option. My cousin who taught in an elementary convinced me to volunteer for her. I helped out in a grade four classroom and found my calling. All my life, I was called a bit immature and finally this was in my favour when dealing with children. I spent the greater part of of the first half of that year volunteering with young children and loved every minute of it.
My entry in the secondary education program occurred in the fall and it was been one of the best experiences in my life. Teaching gave me confidence in who I was and who I could become. Teaching gave me a clear path and allowed me to use my education for a proper use. I was fortunate enough to get a teaching position right after graduating albeit with 6 different classes in 6 different classrooms. I clearly remember my interview with Chuck Nelson and Peter Johnston at Tamanawis Secondary. These two admin told me of all the amazing opportunities available to me as a teacher. It was in that interview that I told Peter and chuck of my ten year plan; I had a list of things I wanted to achieve: running a pro-d day, getting a department headship, teaching grade 12 courses, and getting involved in coaching. Teaching saved me; there were some dark times after I lost my job but teaching got me through. I really found something that I felt I could succeed at.
If teaching saved me, it was leadership that freed me. My teaching mentor, Vim Valera, pushed me to be and do more. During this time, I got married and started a family and this all added to my growth as a teacher. I felt fulfilled but I knew I could expand my teaching horizons. My principal offered me an opportunity to leave the science department and move into careers and further grow as a leader.
Leadership opportunities allowed me to control where I was moving and also to develop a team that would work with me to achieve goals. Moving into administration was similarly a developmental piece for me. In my interviews, I made one statement that stuck with me – you are not hiring a VP, you are hiring a principal who will one day sail his own ship.
Leadership as an administrator forced me to make the tough decisions. As a teacher, you are often a yes man. Adminstrators are often Dr NO. I had to learn how to navigate students, parents and teachers from an entirely different perspective. As a principal, leadership allows me to justify decisions. I have to be able to stand by my actions and use those decisions to place leadership in others. It has been an amazing experience for me so far. I firmly believe that in the creation of my ten year plans gave me something to strive for, something that provided me with purpose.
My narrative since I entered the teaching profession has always been based on a growth model. Teaching moved me forward and I have not looked back since. I look forward to the next ten.