The Long Road to Becoming an Agent Of Change
As an African American woman, I have had to fight for everything I have achieved. I have had to think and reflect on every move I have made. As I completed my first year as an assistant professor of education, I found myself feeling tired and overwhelmed, so I took some time to reflect on where I had been and where I was going.
When I started teaching elementary school, I wanted to teach so I could make a difference. And for a few years, I felt I was changing my students’ lives. But at some point, this was not enough. I wanted to affect more lives than just the 30 students I taught every year. I thought administration was the way to change many more lives, and I decided being a principal would be a great way to affect hundreds of children’s lives each year. But as I completed my administrative credential, I found that the principals’ hands are often tied by district and state policies and in reality being a principal was not for me. Finally, I decided the best way to affect many children is by affecting the teachers that teach them. In graduate school, I read about ideas of empowerment and change agents and realized that all along I had been searching for the ability to be an agent of change.
When I completed my Ph.D. and got a job I thought to myself, “Now, I will be an agent of change.” Yet, once again, reality set in. The pressures to teach, the student issues, the faculty expectations and the institutional pressures to publish and perform were overwhelming. I found myself just trying to keep my head above water and being an agent of change was the last thing on my mind. After my first year, I was disappointed in myself and what I had accomplished. Yes, I was doing fine by institutional measures, but was I being true to myself? Was I being an agent of change or just another instructional lackey creating ordinary teachers?
Meeting with my colleagues to discuss these issues helped bring me back to reality. I needed to hear that others felt overwhelmed like I did, but they were not letting go of who they were, their goals or what they believed in. Afterward, I did some further soul-searching and decided I will be an agent of change … even if it kills me. The first step in the process is to share my experiences so others can learn from my mistakes.
• Keep yourself and your ideals in mind at all times. Write down your goals and post them in your office.
• You can’t do it alone. Be sure to seek out others for support.
• Ask questions. There are no stupid questions. When the acronyms are flying around the room, find out what everyone is talking about. It is better to ask now than to spend the year trying to figure it out and missing the conversation as a result.
• Give yourself a break. Take time for yourself. If you don’t take time out you’re likely to burn out.
• Share your feelings with someone. Frustration is normal and keeping it bottled up can just lead to aggravation and further isolation. Once you share your frustrations, follow it up with something positive. Ask yourself, “What can I do now to make this better?”
Some of these suggestions may sound obvious, but it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day activities of life. Your goals may be different than mine; everyone may not want to be an agent of change. But the issue here is to achieve your goals whatever they are. Whenever you can, stop and reflect. Ask yourself, “Am I being true to my goals and desires or have I been caught up in the web of the institutional pressures?”
— Dr. Lisa Kirtman is an assistant professor of education
at California State University, Fullerton.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com