Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I have this bad habit, you see...

When I started in my current job (almost 3 years ago now – my how time flies!) I started nudging for an assistant.

Naturally, there was no money... I had to get creative.

A year later, I made a petition to work with a non-profit program that has a placement program for under-employed immigrant youth. The government pays most of the salary for a year and you can top up if you want. We got an intern (I’ll call her “O.” for short) and at my urging, we were able to top up her salary so it was above minimum wage (though only slightly so). So, we got our assistant, and it didn't cost us very much. Life was good.

After a year, her internship was up. I made a plea to keep O. part time. The plea was heard. I negotiated to have her part-time salary match what her full-time salary had been before, so she wouldn’t be short on money. That worked out, too.

This year, after further negotiations, we got O. hired on a one-year full-time contract. It’s been a win-win situation all the way along.

Prior to working with us, O. had been working as a junior janitor at an office tower downtown, cleaning toilets during the night shift. She’s fluent in 3 languages and was 6 months away from having a degree in Education when she left her native Russia to immigrate to Canada with her husband. She’s a bright and capable young lady.

The two main things I noticed right away when she came to us were that her English needed improvement and her confidence levels were pitifully low, despite being capable and an absolute wizard with office computer applications.

So, we got her into an English class and covered the costs for her. The confidence levels were slow to develop and she’s still not always entirely sure of herself, but she’s come a long way in two years.

At one point she started talking about how she was sorry to have left Russia before she finished her degree. She was almost done, and to start a degree in Canada again would take forever… even if she could pass the necessary English tests.

So, go finish it, I told her.

What? Go back to Moscow? For six months? Give up job? Was I crazy? What about husband?

Your marriage is strong, I told her. It will be hard, but you can do it. If you go, I promise we’ll keep your job for you. It will be here waiting for you when you’ve graduated. Besides, I told her, we are working at a university here. We would be hypocrites if we held you back from pursuing your education!

She hummed and hawed. She talked to her husband about it. She talked to her family back in Moscow, and her supervisor at the university there. Finally, she went.

She returned six months later (in July of this year), showing us her completed diploma in what we would call Early Childhood Education. She has a secondary specialization in working with hearing impaired children. (One of her 3 languages is Russian sign language.) We were so very proud of her! And I kept my promise to her. She came back to her job – and a small raise.

I can’t believe how much she’s grown. She started talking a few weeks ago about maybe taking a course or two at the university here. She finally believes she can do it. (She’s still taking advanced English classes, even though her English is excellent now.)

Today, I walked with her over to the Education faculty, where I’m studying as a Ph.D. student. We took her original degree, and the certified translation, to see about getting her into a course or a program here. She thinks she might want to teach one day… but she is not sure.

Turns out that her qualifications need to be assessed by the provincial teachers’ union here, before she can take any courses. They determine which courses, if any, she would need to take in order to teach in Canada. So, we got information on how to do that.

She hesitates to dream… but I nudge (even push) her forward.

I have this bad habit you see… I can’t help but look at a person and often, I see almost unlimited potential. I have told O. that I’d be thrilled for her if she outgrew her job as a front desk assistant and realized her dream of becoming a teacher… that so many people come to this country and never use their education, because they can’t due to circumstances or language barriers… that she’s working in the ideal situation (at a university) and has people around to support her every step of the way.

This is a very bad habit I have… of seeing the potential in others. I do it with my students, too. I feel compelled to say, “Go on! Be better than you are right now! Show me! Get so good that you surpass your wildest dreams and my expectations.”

A very few of my Spanish students have gone on to teach the language themselves. When I find this out, I am quietly smug. I think, “Yeah! That’s the ticket! I was YOUR teacher and now look at you! YOU are the one teaching now. Good on ya!”

I have this feeling that I’m going to be losing my very capable assistant not so long from now… and at least some of that will be my own fault! Though my life might suffer because she’s so darned good at her job (and really, she bends over backwards to help me... where do you find that these days?) I suspect she’ll be touching the lives of a great many more people.

Really, I need a new bad habit… If I keep this one, I’ll never be able to keep future staff pinned down under my thumb, will I??


robtherunner said...

I bet you'll keep this so called bad habit of yours.

I hope I have the same bad habit when I begin teaching.

backofpack said...

You have the best bad habit to have! Isn't that the essence of being a teacher - seeing the potential, building the dreams, nudging (or pushing) them forward? Someday, when someone asks O to think about a teacher that influenced her life, she isn't going to think about a classroom teacher, she's going to think about a teacher of life - you! That is the legacy that you will leave...more valuable than any other.

Downhillnut said...

From the dearth of funds grew the creatively-planted seed of O. You nurtured, protected and are rewarded with her response. She grew, and you have great confidence to keep planting more seeds.

Oh no, your gardening is not a bad habit at all :)

Turtle Guy said...

Amazing. I read this post twice before it all soaked in. DHN makes an excellent point that your gardening is by far a bad habit. The true essence of teaching includes intuition and this sense you have of "seeing the potential in others". Being able and willing to "nudge (even push) (someone) forward" when that someone "hesitates to dream" is truly a great skill, not to mention gift.

D said...

You are an awesome person (and I suspect RobtheRunner will develop the same types of "bad" habits!)

Bast said...

But everyone will want to work with you - you'll be the boss of choice, and when trying to recruit quality people, that's a definite plus.

sissoula said...

Great story. All it takes is a little vision -- but for some people, that's so so hard -- to make things happen.

Misty said...

Thank you for sharing such a wonderful and motivating story. It is definitely not a bad habit and should not be broken. You may specialize in Spanish, but Wow! your teaching far surpasses what you get paid for.

Janice said...

Hi Sarah,

Have you ever thought about being a guidence counciler or life coach?

I think you would be great since your doing it anyway!


Sarah said...

I love your bad habit! Your post put a smile on my face. : )