Last week, another teacher and I were chatting in the hallways. She was exhausted from invigiliating exams all week – she’d been assigned the bulk of the responsibilities for the secondary 4s and 5s – and was considering taking the Friday off.
With a giant sigh, she said, “I won’t ask for a sick day. I’ll just ask for it unpaid, so as not to [annoy] the principal.” I told her that I was going to take next Friday off too, to get my tires changed* in Val D’Or. Normally, taking time off work for vehicle maintenance happens only under emergency situations, but the principal decided to be flexible when I explained that I had a long way to drive – 1300 km – and I didn’t feel comfortable heading to Toronto without getting the car checked first.
My coworker shrugged her shoulder and nonchalantly said, “Well, of course you’ll get the time off. You’re one of her favourites.”
I was taken aback by this comment. I know it wasn’t meant to be hurtful, but I took it with a sting. I couldn’t put my finger on why I felt this way. Only after a few days of digesting it, I came to a conclusion.
Before I continue, I need to clarify that I don’t consider myself the principal’s friend. My boyfriend, J., who also works at the school in the IT department, is friends with her. In fact, his family even has history with her! J.’s brother, many decades ago, used to hang out with the principal in his 20s. J.’s family still lives in the same neighbourhood as her parents and the two couples still go to the same church.
Therefore, J. naturally became fast friends with the principal. The two of them often catch up while passing in the hallways; she can easily confide in him on issues or personal thoughts that a superior generally would not divulge, due to the nature of the professional relationship**. However, she and I do not have this type of relationship. To be honest, I often feel and act totally awkward and geekish around her. While I respect her immensely – she is one of the best bosses I’ve had – I wouldn’t give her a call on my holidays to hang out one-on-one.
No, not even for coffee.
What I know is that my supervisor respects me too. She values me as an integral part of her staff. I am a contributor, as I have brought to the table, many insights and ideas (i.e. showing her a sales pitch and subsequently having the school sign a big, fat cheque for a good product). I can make good decisions on my own. I’m introspective and am constantly working to improve my lessons; I do this by researching, reading and participating in conferences for. On a regular basis, I interact with others professionally by sharing ideas with teachers in other communities. I rarely have conflicts with coworkers.
In short, I make her job easier. And that is what all bosses want. You do your job and you stay out of the boss’ way. You’re not entirely invisible, but you make the boss look good and feel good. As I reflect over the last 10 months, I can confidently say that yes, I’m an asset to my coworkers and an asset at my school. I am valued.
Which goes back to my original point: being someone’s “favourite” has nothing to do with value. You can be well-liked, but that doesn’t mean you are contributing anything. I may like a coworker because of her humour, or her charm, but it doesn’t recognize whether she is offering anything of value.
To be valuable as a teacher in a school, one has to bring ideas and solutions to the professional table, so to speak. The teacher has to be up for challenges, day in and day out, however persistent the issues may seem. He/she has to stand up in front of students and be at his/her best, even when she/he doesn’t feel like it or is going through personal issues.
What the term “favourite” actually does, is devalues your skills, your capabilities and your expertise by not naming them. Being someone’s “favourite” is not a compliment. What would have been a compliment would be, to say, “[The principal] feels that you’re reliable and trustworthy in making that request”. Or perhaps she could say, “You work hard enough that she trusts your judgement to say ‘yes’ when you ask for time off.”
I haven’t mentioned this conversation to my coworker, nor do I intend to. However, the next time someone says this to me, I will definitely make it a point of explain why she shouldn’t be using that phrase.
*Yes, I’m still in my winter tires. They’re stored about 600 km away, at the nearest Honda dealership.
**It should be noted that J. is not her subordinate, which makes it easier for her to share personal thoughts.