Q: I’m a teacher who wants to be an administrator. I did all the training to change tracks, and I took on a team leadership position in my school to build my resume. I told everyone I worked with about my plans, and then I interviewed for jobs. I had four interviews but didn’t get a position. That was disappointing but not the end of the world. Unfortunately, that was three years ago. Every year, I land a few interviews but end up with no job. At this point, everyone in my school knows I can’t make this happen. A colleague told me several coworkers are really nasty about me behind my back. They think I should give it up already — that I’m pathetic and ridiculous. At what point should I throw in the towel, and how can I shake off my feelings of embarrassment?
A: First, it’s great that you obtained extra training and an internal leadership position. I also give you credit for not backing away when others might have said “enough.” Angela Duckworth delivered the famous TED talk on grit, in which she emphasized the importance of maintaining passion for long-term goals, managing fear, and staying in the game when the going gets rough. Basically, putting one foot in front of the other despite setbacks. Gritty people are optimistic, and you’ve hung onto your positive outlook for a while.
Still, I worry that you’re missing something here. Each interview season presents an opportunity to collect information. Have you asked for feedback from your interviewers? Have you taken a hard look at your resume? Have you talked to the people you listed as references? What about the people you supervise internally at your school? Does anyone have any suggestions for improvement? Have you had an honest talk with your current principal about your growth edges? Even if everyone sings your praises and expresses disbelief at your lack of luck, you may get some constructive tips.
This is a road that your principal once traveled, so he or she might be willing to serve as a mentor and guide. If you don’t sense support there, that’s significant information. Which leads me to the first part of your question — at what point should you throw in the towel? Only you know how much rejection you can tolerate, but before you make another attempt, make sure you set yourself up for success.
If you’ve done the same thing with the same results for three or four years, it’s time to take a different tact. This may mean refreshing your reputation by teaching at another school, or editing your resume, or practicing your interviewing skills. It may mean networking more effectively, or initiating schoolwide programming, or rethinking how you engage with others. Are you perceived as a giver or a taker? Are you supportive of colleagues’ goals?
This brings me to the second part of your question. How can you shake off embarrassment and deal with others’ cutting comments? That’s a tough one. First, no one is successful at everything all of the time. There’s no shame in trying repeatedly for a goal. In fact, as an educator that makes you a role model for your students. Often, the people doing the judging feel stuck themselves. It’s easier to criticize you than to put themselves out there. And unfortunately, some people are mean. You can choose to confront those individuals directly or ignore them entirely. What I wouldn’t do is let them dictate your choices. Unless you supervise them and they have something constructive to say about your work or your leadership skills, their comments are useless.
That said, keep in mind that you heard about their negative views secondhand. You don’t know for sure what others have said about you. In a school, gossip spreads remarkably quickly. It’s easy to take everything at face value, but resist that temptation. Your colleague may be giving you bad information. Regardless, it all goes back to grit. Whether the setback is a missed job opportunity or catty colleagues, take the long view. Keep learning and growing. Over time, you may find that the goal itself morphs and evolves. One of my favorite childhood teachers used to say, “If you keep missing the mark, you’re clearly not aiming high enough.”
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