A few years ago, a former administrator whom I greatly admired gave out career advice to me and several of my colleagues. We all sat around a table as he went around telling each of us how he viewed our places in the world of education. I was the only woman in the group. He made his way around the table, starting with my colleague to my left.
“You’ll make a great principal someday. You’re great at building relationships with tough kids, and that will suit you well in this role.”
Then the next.
“You’ll be a great administrator, too. You’re really data-driven and organized. Just what we need in our office. Why don’t you make some calls to the university to get started on your certification?”
And the next, a security guard at our school.
“Why are you not a teacher yet? You’re so good at classroom management! You will be on the fast track to admin.”
Finally, he came to me. I waited—hoping, really. I trusted him. He was going to tell me I am also a leader; I, too, needed to make some calls to universities. Instead, he said, “Ashley, you will make a really great mentor-teacher someday.”
And I believed him. I believed that, because I was the “creative,” “kooky” teacher who got emotional over kids and never showed the slightest interest in managing data, I was not suited to be a school leader. And maybe I am not, but what was particularly difficult about this moment was that I was a young female teacher in a profession with predominantly male leaders and couldn’t really disagree. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why or how his judgment was wrong because it was unspoken. I did not live up to some invisible rule for the requirements of becoming a school principal—namely, because I was creative and emotional—so I must have been unqualified for the position.