For the fourth time that week, a teacher stopped me and asked me for my hall pass. The first three accepted my explanation. The fourth doubted my story entirely until a choir student passed us with a cheery, “Hi, Mr. Baker, Hi Miss Skinkle.” Stopping mid-sentence, Mr. Baker mumbled something including, “sorry,” and ending with “bell’s about to ring.”
My first teaching job started in the middle of a school year. After an early college graduation, I felt incredible excitement to land a full-time position instead of diving into the substitute teacher pool. The position came with a terrific salary, benefits, and a beautifully appointed choir room with a private office and four practice rooms. My students loved to sing and expressed great excitement about me, their new, young teacher.
Unfortunately, the rest of the teaching staff was embroiled in a war against the administration. Conversations in the teacher’s lounge included words like “strike,” and “sit-in” (it was the seventies). Within a week, I knew every grievance of most of the teaching staff, ad nausea, in their efforts to recruit me to their glorious cause. The majority never bothered to introduce themselves or learn my name, caught up in their battle plans and strategies. These were the ones who kept stopping me in the hallways, asking for my pass.
For a couple weeks, I listened patiently and asked questions. As an objective outsider, I could see that several concerns seemed reasonable. Others, less so. When I dared to suggest that, with the current millage situation, some demands simply could not be met financially by the district, oh my, my, my. My status immediately shifted from new teacher to traitor. After that, most teachers simply ignored me except for a couple that allowed me to sit with them at lunch and nod at me in the hallway.
Finally, I decided to eat alone, peacefully, in my office. Nobody missed me. Fresh from my student teaching position the prior semester, I missed the camaraderie and support that should exist on a teaching staff. I shared my heartbreak and concerns with my parents at the dinner table. Although they listened sympathetically, my Dad shared some wise counsel which I’ve applied to many situations. He said, “Sharon, God put you in this job for His reasons. Just do it. You’re an eagle. Don’t let the turkeys get ya down.”
I love the lessons we can learn from geese about their teamwork and mutual support but at times we must choose to be eagles and soar alone. Most workplaces feature at least one or two disengaged employees who are more concerned about their social media accounts or private lives than the work at hand. When you are surrounded by this, it’s tough.
One of the most heartbreaking things about my first school was the evidence that most of those teachers had been great educators. Sadly, many became obsessive about their contract drama. They boasted in the teacher’s lounge how they’d be “phoning it in,” doing minimal work, until the dispute was settled. Wow.
So, here’s what I did to “mount up with eagle wings,” with no flock to help provide some lift and protection.
I discerned my true purpose and threw myself into it. My choir students needed a champion more than I needed new teacher friends. Losing a director mid-year is disheartening for vocalists. God saw their need as the greater priority in my situation. They welcomed me with open arms and we enjoyed an amazing semester together. I poured my heart and soul into those choir classes spending no time with other teachers, except for faculty meetings. Making great music and exploring new directions together earned me a lot of chips with those kids and sustained their choral legacy.
In a disappointing work environment, where you can find few kindred spirits, you need fresh focus. Ask God why He placed you in this situation. What qualities do you possess which He wants used? While others settle for turkey feed in the yard, He still wants you to fly high. So, excel however you can, regardless of others.
I refused to listen to gossip and evil reports. That’s the main reason I started eating alone. There’s a correlation between people who underperform and love of a juicy story. When you are focused on goals and producing quality product, there isn’t time or interest to be part of gossip. At another job, as a music therapist, I ate alone in a basement furnace room due to the verbal toxicity in the break room. I tried to elevate the conversation but it was like squirting thimblefuls of water on a parched lawn. The truth is, if you aren’t willing to participate in trash talk, many people are uncomfortable around you. If you do, I promise that poison will affect your performance and decision making abilities. You will question your superiors and their motives which will diminish your passion and derail your purpose. Do not underestimate the power of an evil report.
At the end of that semester I married and moved away for the husband’s graduate school pursuits. In only five and half months the bonds between my students and I grew strong. Singers enjoyed choir each day and I looked forward to going to work. They pooled their money and gifted me with a beautiful engraved silver tray, as a wedding gift. It’s still a beautiful reminder of a time when God helped me soar alone. He’ll do the same for you.