How Being a Teacher Prepared Me for the Pandemic
The ongoing pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges as we dig to new depths, within ourselves, to persevere. Personally, my experience as a chemistry and physics teacher with Teach for America (TFA) helped me take on these more recent obstacles at every turn.
My students faced formidable socio-economic challenges, which rank among the biggest barriers for academic achievement. It wouldn’t be enough to drill them in the fundamentals of the periodic table and expect the rest to take care of itself.
I experienced first hand how pressure can indeed turn coal to diamonds: Course completion rates climbed to more than 80%, compared to a district average of 53%.
But what those figures do not capture is how much I learned from the them.
Adversity taught me to hone my communication skills, adapt to changing circumstances and act quickly. These attributes have proven indispensable in navigating the massive disruptions wrought by COVID-19, on top of the seismic paradigm shift unfolding in the automotive industry, where I now lead marketing and investor relations for the world’s first automotive Cybertech Tier supplier.
Here's three things this educator got educated on, along the way, that can help any executive overcome the challenges in these still-difficult times.
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Lesson 1: Persist
Many students didn’t always have a bed and others had histories of abuse. For some, the inherent challenges of high school were compounded by the difficulties that come with being recent immigrants, including adjusting to a new culture or working full time jobs on the side to support their families. The adversities they encountered made it even more astounding that they still showed up to school almost every day. These kids were determined to learn.
When business operations got rough during the pandemic, I would think of the perseverance my students embodied. They may not have always had the resources they needed, but they made due with what was available. They were committed to graduating, despite what was stacked up against them.
Working in Israel, which has led the world in time spent in lockdowns, came with its own set of challenges. But my students taught me to not dwell on the hurdles we face, and instead, think creatively about how we will overcome them.
Lesson 2: Prioritize
I used to work late into the night preparing a schedule and crafting the curriculum for the next day, only to watch my plans ultimately fall apart before my eyes.
(The pandemic has apparently only added to the workload per a recent survey of over 1,000 teachers, conducted by Microban 24, which found the average educator is currently spending an additional eight-hour workday, each week, preparing their lessons.)
In lieu of fixed plans, I relied on a fixed attitude driven by my motivation to master the skill that would save me: prioritization.
Successful prioritization starts with the end goal in mind. If each plan has a clear-cut goal, you can simply work backwards from there--shifting gears amidst unexpected obstacles and adjusting your approach along a journey where the individual steps are less of a priority than the destination.
The pandemic has eliminated any semblance of a “normal workday” and has blurred the lines between waking hours and working hours, but if I could prioritize on the fly in a classroom full of teenagers, even as my hair was on fire (yes, that actually happened), I had no doubt I could prioritize action items for my team and keep investors in line.
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Lesson 3: Empathize
There may be times when it pays to be uncompromising, but as an educator I quickly learned that compassionate, understanding dialogue was most effective for communicating with my students.
In the business sphere, people are too often taught that to get ahead, a cut-throat approach is the way to go and any inkling of vulnerability should be avoided at all costs. But I’ve found that instilling a culture of empathy builds a sense of unity, spawns creative solutions, enhances productivity and empowers us to achieve greater things.
My mentors at TFA would always tell me that, years later, the students would never remember exactly what I said, but rather how I made them feel. That holds true not only for teachers leading a classroom, but also for those leading teams at organizations of all sizes.
Teaching taught me to be grateful, to know it can always be worse and, when it feels like you’ve hit your lowest point, try to learn as much as you can.
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