The death of Ruth Bader-Ginsburg is a great loss for our country, women in particular and it is a loss I feel very deeply. Whether or not you agree with her opinions and decisions, there is no denying she was monumental in advancing women’s rights and statuses in America. Her death has caused me to reflect on myself as a woman, especially, the role I play in other women’s lives as a mother, a teacher, a co-worker and a friend. Have I worked to empower and support them? Do I encourage them? I’m proud to say that in most cases, yes, but not always. I’d like to share a story I am ashamed of and for which I harbor deep regrets. I hope it will inspire women to think about their actions toward other women and motivate us to consciously show compassion and encouragement towards all who come across our path.
We are the sum of our experiences both good and bad. I think women in general experience a tremendous amount of subtle put-downs and invisibilities that give rise to feelings of insecurity, intimidation, unworthiness, and dislike for ourselves. We rarely communicate these feelings, leaving ourselves to sink in this mire alone. I know this stands true for me. In order to hide myself, I put on my make-up and I smile, giving the impression that I have it all together while on the inside, I’m scared of everything. I preface my story this way because these hidden insecurities seep out, causing unkind behaviors that go unrecognized until it’s too late.
Have you ever wanted something so badly that your desire turned into desperation which turned into poor decisions? I used to be a classroom teacher but I took a break so I could stay home and raise my children. While at home changing diapers, singing nursery rhymes, and having play dates, the academic side of my brain felt the atrophy of not being mentally stimulated. I loved being home with my children and the memories of that time are some of my most cherished moments without regret. However, all of those feelings stated above plagued my mind and permeated my being. I watched my peers go to work while at the same time being great moms. I didn’t understand how they could do it. How do you stay up all night with a sick child and then go to work the next day and function? How do you work all day and come home to take care of the needs of your children? I watched these amazing working moms and felt that there must be something wrong with me.
When the time came and I was ready to re-enter the workforce, those feelings of not being good enough had turned into hardcore beliefs about myself. I started out as a substitute teacher while applying for classroom teaching positions. As a sub, I worked with teachers who were encouraging and treated me as an equal. I also worked with many teachers who were dismissive and rude with an air of superiority. The latter solidified my insecurities, especially my feelings of unworthiness.
As time went on, my desire to become a classroom teacher grew. I was subbing in a long-term position which was soon to become permanent. The classroom had an assistant who wasn’t respected by other teachers. She was actually placed in my classroom because the other teachers requested that she not be in theirs. She and I got along fine and we worked well together. One day, the principal called me into her office and shared with me that she didn’t like my assistant but needed more information and reasons to let her go. She asked me to observe her and report back any missteps or shortcomings that I saw. I was so desperate to be hired full-time, I agreed. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. The assistant was no different and neither was I. I observed her shortcomings while ignoring her strengths and reported back to the principal. These reports resulted in a poor evaluation for her but did not get her fired. She eventually figured out what I had done and confronted me. I immediately felt remorse, but it was too late. I tried to explain myself which only highlighted the flaw in my character. I caused her great pain and destroyed our relationship without any hope to repair it. I did not get that job but was hired for a different position in the same district with a high recommendation from that principal. The joy I had hoped would accompany being hired full time eluded me.
As fate would have it, my new principal had the same request. She wanted me to share with her the flaws of teachers I worked with so she could target and blame for low test scores in our school. I’d learned my lesson and I declined her request, only to have it come back to bite me. I was watched and reported on by another teacher, the stress of which resulted in my deteriorating physical health and eventual resignation. I realize now that my desire to be a classroom teacher had more to do with fitting in than with actually having my own classroom. Don’t get me wrong, teaching children has always been and still is my passion. It brings me great joy, which I work hard to let bubble over into the students under my care. However, for my dishonorable actions, I apologize.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg defended women and used her influence to lift women up. I aspire to follow in her footsteps. Thank you RBG for your influence and inspiration.
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Rene, it took a lot of strength and vulnerability to write this and you did it beautifully. It can take decades to learn some things, and without experiences like the ones you mention we may not learn them at all. Be proud of yourself for reflecting on this with honesty, and proud of the better person you are now because of it. When we know better, we do better. I suspect you are doing better, or at least trying to. Thank you for sharing this.