Saturday, November 19, 2011

Big Frog, Little Frog

            Have you ever had this experience?  You believed you were a decent sized frog, but you were in a small pond.  You moved to a big pond and suddenly you feel like a very small frog – maybe even a tadpole.  You worry that everyone in the big pond knows things you never learned in your small pond.  Excitement for your new experience is replaced with doubt about your abilities.        

            A dear friend of mine recently took a new job in a large corporation.  He had a very successful career working for smaller companies for 10 years.  When it seemed like the small company wasn’t even going to survive another year, my friend made the decision to move to a larger, more stable company.  His new job is with a massive corporation with world-wide offices.  After one week in his new position, my friend is feeling overwhelmed.

            I’ve been thinking about how I felt when I first moved to my current position.  For the first sixteen years of my teaching career, I taught in two very small schools.  In both positions the entire K-12 operation was housed in one building.  If you’ve never taught in a small school, classes with less than 20 students sound wonderful.  But it’s not that simple.

            What most people don’t realize is that teachers in a small school usually have six or seven different preps over several grade levels or subjects that they have to prepare for each day.  Preparing for the class is the work of teaching.  Presenting the lesson is the glorious performance.  Imagine preparing for six opening performances every day.  Tomorrow will be six new performances.  That was how I taught for sixteen years.

            When I moved to my current position, my field of performance suddenly narrowed to one grade and two subjects.  I came from districts with less than 250 students to a district with over 30,000 students.  Everyone seemed to be a world class expert on something.  Every building contained people who had won teaching awards on a state or national level.  The district scores on state and national tests put us with few rivals.  I felt overwhelmed.  And stupid.

            It took me about a year to figure out where my self-doubts were coming from.   I wasn’t overwhelmed with the teaching task in front of me.  The task was easy compared to what I had been handling for the past sixteen years.  I was overwhelmed with learning the policies, procedures, and ridiculous software information system of my huge district.  Once I got past learning those, I realized I too had great ideas and insight into how to work with my students.

            My friend with his new job is smart.  Very smart.  He is excellent with people.  He never would have been hired had they not seen that greatness in him.  I hope he is able to identify the real things that are overwhelming him.  I’m pretty sure he’ll see that they condense down to names of people, places, policies, and procedures.  I hope he can see that once he gets a handle on the new information, he brings something to the table many tenured employees don’t have – fresh eyes.  He brings the ability to view a problem from a new angle, an angle from which you sometimes can see a solution that is hidden from the old angle.

            And you know what?  The transplanted frog from that tiny pond brings a more global view.  I’m good at teaching two areas in one grade level because I know what five other subjects in four other grade levels look like.  I know where my students have come from and where they are going. 

            So hang in there son.  They’re lucky to have you.

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