In What makes you hard to replace?, Doug Johnson asks, “…who would suffer and how if you didn't come back this fall? What critical jobs would go undone - or be badly done? Who would miss your professional services? (We know everyone would miss your charming personality.) Why might the administrator who cut your job suffer and rue having made the cut?”
After reading these two posts, I started to ask myself what I do that makes me unique in a school with over 100 teachers. How could I answer these questions especially since I recently retired from the school system to teach on the university level? I hope some of my answers may guide you in your quest for a unique identity in the teaching field.
1. I worked hard on doing my paperwork accurately and on time because I’ve seen too many others not do this. I took great pride in this especially when people started to rely on my paperwork because they knew that I went to great lengths to make sure it was done correctly.
2. I learned about the current laws that affected my subject area so that I would be able to make informed decisions about what I was doing in my classroom. In special education there are a lot of federal laws that we have to follow that other subject areas do not have to follow. By knowing the laws, I became a resource for administrators and other teachers.
3. I took the initiative to collect data and put it in formats for easy retrieval. Every year, reports have to be filled out and they ask for the same information each time (usually during a really hectic time of the school year) so I gathered this information when I had the time so that when asked for it, I would be able to quickly give the information. This surprised many administrators that I could do this so quickly and easily.
4. I researched and learned new tools to use in my classroom and documented the success of what was accomplished. In this way, I became a leader and a resource for other teachers. When new technology was given to the school, I was one of the few chose to try them out because I was not afraid to try new things.
5. I tried very hard to work well with other teachers, not just in my own department, but with other departments also. In this way I was able to give other teachers support when working with my students without making them feel uncomfortable with my suggestions. Too many times we let our egos get in the way of our students’ needs.
6. I tried very hard to help my students achieve success. In order to do this, I had to get them engaged in learning and not let their bad behavior get them sent to the office. If they were not in my class, then how could I help them be successful with what I was teaching? I used a lot of positive reinforcement (phone calls and emails home, small rewards in class, developing a rapport with students) that encouraged the students to work harder. If they were working harder, they had less time to misbehave and if they were not misbehaving, they were not sent to the office (which made administrators very happy).
I don’t know if these things made me irreplaceable but I know that I was missed when I left. I didn’t do all of these things in order to gain recognition but I did feel underappreciated at times. By doing these things, it really made my life easier and helped students and teachers in the long run so I came out the winner even though it was extra work. I don’t think the administrators realized until I left that I did not have to do these things, but that I went the extra mile on my own. I confess to feeling a little satisfaction when an administrator called me to tell me things were falling apart after I retired because no one was willing to pick up the ball when I left ( that sounds terrible, I know!)
So how would you answer Doug’s questions?