Making Yourself Indispensable

by Nan

I got fired today.

Now before you scroll straight down to the bottom of the page with all your sweet, sympathetic comments, I need to tell the whole story.  A year ago I was hired on a temporary contract in my school district. The teacher whom I replaced was on a simultaneous medical leave and a year’s leave of absence; I assumed she had left to have a baby.  The temporary nature of the job aside, in many ways it has been ideal. The job is not quite full time (though that mostly means I am not paid for full time regardless of how much I end up working) and offers enough flexibility that I can still put my kids on the bus a few days each week. It has been my chance to get a foot back in the door at the high school level after many years away. It is in the same school district my children attend so our schedules are very nearly the same.

When I began work in the fall, I quickly realized that the other teacher’s leaving was not so straightforward as a baby. Not by a long shot. Her medical leave was closely tied to the extreme difficulty she was having with managing classes (upwards of 40 freshmen), and collaborating with colleagues.  Every teacher who mentioned her said the same thing, “She won’t be back.” And it seemed they preferred not to have her back.

Still, I have been careful not to lose sight of the word “temporary” written into my contract. When I was hired last spring, I had a long talk with my dad whose pep talks are of the eye-of-the-tiger variety. I told him that my plan was to work so hard that I would make them need me beyond this school year regardless of what was written in the contract. He then said that he knew better than to ever bet against me.  His pep talk, given in the tone that only he can give, was just the thing I needed.

So I have worked and worked and worked. Besides new proficiency standards at our school for both teachers and students, the science class I’m primarily teaching has largely been reworked from the ground up this year. For the roughly twenty hours I’m in class each week, I easily spend another 30 outside of class to be on top of my game every day.

I’m enormously proud of the work I’ve done, and I have been a valuable member of a very committed team of teachers. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my family and my craft in the last ten months. It has been a good experience. It has been a hard experience.

Today I sat in the glow of an “end” of year evaluation as my principal praised my work and my efforts and gushed (yes, gushed) about how grateful the administration was for my contribution, segueing into the following, “Which is what makes the next part of this conversation so difficult.”

Uh-oh.

He then informed me that the teacher whom everyone swore up and down would never come back has decided to come back.  My jaw did not drop. I am pleased to say that I nodded calmly and did not melt down. I reminded myself that her return was always a possibility, however unlikely and unpleasant it had come to seem.

And then he said the words that I had hoped to hear. He told me that I shouldn’t be worried because the administration was even now trying to get something worked out so that they didn’t have to lose me. He began asking about my flexibility with subjects taught and hours worked. He threw out some different ideas that have been discussed—like me teaching English instead of science—for keeping me around and reviewed my resume and background.

Before the day was over, five different colleagues stopped by to commiserate and express varying degrees of dismay at the outcome. My department head and another colleague are already in talks with our administration to see what alternatives are open. They would much rather I wasn’t teaching English next year, but instead comfortably appointed in the brand new science building with the rest of them.  I’ve learned today that “my” room in our new building had already been assigned and members of my department had been already thinking of me as a long-term fixture. In their faces I read something that warmed my heart: they all seemed to be taking this news much harder than I.

So while I was notified of contract termination today (firing is such an ugly word and not precisely descriptive here), I can’t help but feel that I still met my goal. I told my dad that I would make myself indispensable, and I have.

In the coming generation, women will enter the workforce in numbers never seen before as they begin earning the majority of bachelor’s degrees. And Mormon women, lots of them, will be a part of that workforce. We are entering jobs and graduate schools for which there is intensive competition. Make no mistake, we are coming to play: to be in the starting line up and not relegated to cheerleaders standing by.

As LDS women, we are on the brink of an enormous opportunity to shape and define the workplace for generations to come. It is through our diligence, leadership and our speaking up that this shaping will take place. As our employers and communities come to embrace the significance of our contributions, they will begin looking for ways to accommodate us so that our skills and gifts are not lost. Just like the teaspoon of yeast in a bread recipe, we have potential to be the indispensable ingredient upon which the success of the outcome is wholly reliant.

9 Comments on “Making Yourself Indispensable

  1. Love the part about “It is through our diligence, leadership and our speaking up that this shaping will take place. As our employers and communities come to embrace the significance of our contributions, they will begin looking for ways to accommodate us so that our skills and gifts are not lost.” This is, by far, the thing I struggle the most with – a work environment that values my style and kind of contribution and is willing to make accommodations to help me meet all of my commitments. I work in a corporate environment, so I’m sure it’s different than a school, but I hope you’re right. I hope things change for the better as more women demand it. Everyone, including the men, will be better off.

  2. I’m 38, disabled (a development that I couldn’t have imagined 5 years ago) and back in school full-time, earning my journalism degree. Every time I get really worried about whether I will find work, or if I can really *be* a journalist when I bounce between walker and wheelchair, (depending on the week) something will happen that reminds me that it is up to me whether I am willing to work hard enough to “make it work.”

    In an exhausting fight with my university over getting on campus housing, I have several times been copied on things my professors and department chair have written to advocate for me. All the times I have done something again, without it impacting my grade because I wanted to get better at something, it has been noticed. All the times I come to extra opportunities for college media, That isn’t required, all the lectures where I’m the only non-graduate student, really do get noticed.

    I got the biggest compliment of my life after covering the Arctic Winter Games, (ostensibly for our college newspaper, even though the editor decided not to run any of our stories) when I was invited to be part of the Ulu News team, in 2 years, at the next Arctic Winter Games in Greenland. I was also invited to do and internship with CBC North, anytime I want to spend a semester or year in the Northwest Territories. Those invitations came because I, (and my husband who is my driver and photographer and never gets enough credit for supporting me) showed up to every 8 am news briefing, and interviewed every person who came to them.

    By the end of the week, because we took time in interviewing people at those briefings, there were teams that would only agree to have their student athletes be interviewed by me. Some of the veteran sports reporters owe me favors, for letting them sit in on my interviews, because they had been turned down when they tried to get them.

    I didn’t start out to become the best known reporter to the coaches and teams, and being the radio reporter with the walker made me stand out more than I might, but it was being a reporter that took time to get more than just a fast quote and then move on, that made the coaches trust me. Their trust is what got me interviews with at least 2 skaters who will likely be in the next Winter Olympics, and one of them said that he will look for me there. When I told him I was just a student, and unlikely to end up being sent to cover the Olympics while I’m in grad school, he friended me on Facebook, and said he would put in a good word with the CBC, which his dad works for. We have already exchanged messages, and he and his dad really liked the raw tape, and the edited interview. It won’t be played now, but CBC just might play it before a current interview of him in 4 years.

    Thanks for this post, and to everyone on the blog. Aspiring Mormon Women is often the “coffee” that gets me going when I’m exhausted, or the pain is bad, or I just can’t quite believe in myself. I find that inspiration and sisterhood here, that tells me it’s okay to want to be a kickass reporter, at 38, with 4 kids and a disability.

  3. Juliathepoet, that comment is just as inspiring as the original post (which is quite inspiring on its own). Thanks for sharing!

  4. I agree, Wendie, that teaching tends to honor a female workforce better than other professions, but I believe that is because traditionally we have held those positions. Employers will have to get smarter about the strong women working for them if they want to keep them–better pay, more flexible hours, warmer and kinder working environments, etc.

  5. Juliathepoet,

    Your comment alone shows me that all of the work and time that goes into making AMW happen is totally worth it. Thank you.

    And I agree that your story is worthy of its own post, too.

    • I definitely agree that the work done here is very important. I had a lot of women in my ward that went back to school after having kids, as well as sisters who worked before and after having kids. My own grandmother and mom both went back to school, after having kids, and became teachers, who were are are very well respected.

      School isn’t scary. Admitting that I want to do “real journalism” and work on stories that make a real impact on the world, has been a much scarier thing to admit. Realizing that I might have the talent to be that good is exciting as well is scary. You guys really do keep me going in those panic moments!

  6. Nan,

    This post is brilliant. I think I also have bits of your strategy built into to my “Heidi at Work” persona, but seeing it so black and white here is such a powerful reminder of why I work the way I do. I want to be promoted, I want to be given more responsibilities, I want to be irreplaceable so if/when it comes time to need a more flexible work schedule or any other accommodation my bosses will go out of their way to keep me.

    Excellent post, fantastic sentiment.
    Thank you for sharing.

    Also, I *really* hope your district can work something out for you that will help you ultimately realize your own career goals and aspirations.

    xox

  7. Pingback: I am Nothing if Not Flexible | Aspiring Mormon Women

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