You stepped into that moment when you fully realize that the ‘system’ is ‘rigged’ (philosophically and structurally) to produce winners and losers; and the designated losers look like you!
And being true to yourself means that you can never turn your back on that knowing…
It’s that identifying, defining and self-realization moment when you understand that you share every under-expectation, the many stereotypical dismissals, and all of the nullifying thoughts that are visited on the children. Perhaps, you realize that when staff persons are ‘making fun of’, or talking negatively about the children, their parents, or the community where they live. They are also talking about you, your parents, and your community where you live (or once lived) with the parents and children.
An under and graduate college degree, professional licenses, and certifications don’t ever seem to certify and officiate your humanity, or justify your leadership position.
There are moments that seem almost hopeless:
In one majority Black school a transferred White teacher with a history of bigotry and discrimination in preventing Black kids from gaining access to his AP classes (the reason he was transferred); was voted in by the Black and White staff in his new school as the building union chapter leader…
It’s the loneliness of the politically aware principal. You set a ridiculous (and ludicrous if it were not sad and tragic) standard of expectations; you want your children to be treated like the entitled children (in the district) of America; and Both Black and White stakeholders work hard to frustrate your efforts…
Maybe it is even your White (or simple-minded Black) principal colleagues who speak of the ‘Principalship’ as an occupation or job; when you are thinking of it as a life-line, a lighthouse in a societal storm, a conscious call to service on behalf of an endangered people for whom society has rejected and forgotten.
It would come early for me as a reminder in my first year as principal, before the start of school. I (dressed in a jacket and tie), standing in the hall talking to the White custodian (dressed in jeans and a T-shirt); when a White delivery man walks over to the custodian for a principal’s signature. My custodian is so painfully embarrassed by his White brother’s behavior, and then he sadly points to me: “He’s the principal”.
It is that ‘tipping-point’ moment when the principal gets that he or she is no different from the Black and Brown students in their school. And after that moment you cannot just be a ‘company-kept’ school leader.
And as with many self-actualizing moments, the price of ‘self’ knowledge is suffering, but it is a redemptive suffering that frames your work with a meaning and purpose.
An excerpt from chapter 2: The Educational Philosophy of the Principal.
“Neither a title nor position will allow me (even if I chose to try) to escape from my own existential American reality. I am Black and born in a nation where my skin color is a societal identifier and constant underestimation of who people believe I am and what I am capable of becoming…”
Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, Science Skills Center director, principal, and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently completed a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership…