When I first started teaching seven years ago, I knew no matter what happened, it was going to be a life-changing experience. From the students I would meet to the experiences I would gain, I knew that my life would never be the same. I went into teaching ready to soak up every ounce of knowledge I possibly could. In teaching, like any other career, you look not only for colleagues to support you, but mentors to learn from. I have been fortunate enough to have found both.
When I finished graduate school, I was an enthusiastic 22-year-old ready to take on the world. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew it would figure it out. That’s the point, right? As I was finishing up school in New York City, I was interviewing for every job I could. I knew I wanted to be fairly close to home and teach American History if possible. When I entered my interview for my current job I was immediately put at ease. Everyone in the room was so welcoming. After going through the arduous process of interviewing and completing a demo lesson, all that was left to do was wait. I wanted the job so badly, it was just a matter if they wanted me.
I’ll never forget after I got hired I went back to school with meet with faculty and sat down with the Assistant Principal Byron Womack. He wore the biggest smile I had ever seen. He gave me a great big hug and said, “Teresa, welcome to the team. I knew from the moment you came into your interview that you belonged here.” I just remember thinking to myself, “Wow, this is where I am meant to be.”
As the years progressed, I started to form a strong relationship with Byron. I looked to him not only as a mentor, but as a sounding board for everything I encountered during those first years of teaching. He was known throughout the district and loved by all. He was such a positive force and led by example in every aspect of his life. Unfortunately, a few weeks ago, we lost Byron suddenly. Myself and my colleagues felt as though we were in a dream. How could this man, so full of life and so full of potential, be taken away from us so soon?
After losing Byron, I spent many sleepless nights thinking what we would do now that Byron is gone? How would we all move on without him? The more I thought about it the more I realized that his legacy will live on through his leadership and what he has taught me about being a leader not just in school, but in life outside of these four walls.
The characteristic that Byron embodied most—the one that has stuck with me—was his selfless nature. Selflessness shows strength. You must listen instead of talking. You must take on the hardest task, instead of handing it out to others. You must blaze a path when no one else wants to head. Real strength comes from being in the trenches, knowing what needs to be done and taking the reins. Selfless leaders gain so much respect from those all around them because the understand what needs to be done and take it on no matter what. Selfless leaders inspire, they build community and allow everyone to thrive.
Byron had the most positive presence I had ever been around. His encouraging smile and laugh made you immediately feel at ease. I knew that I would not be judged no matter what and that was an amazing feeling. He would always stop by my room on the way to the cafeteria just to peek his head in to ask how things were going. Even though Machiavelli famously said in his book The Prince, “It is better to be feared than loved” I would have to disagree. Leaders should be approachable and caring. Byron recognized our strengths, celebrated our achievements and helped us work through our roadblocks. He was genuine, supportive and loyal. You never felt as though you were being judged in his presence; you knew you had a supporter and cheerleader.
One of my earlier blog posts was about how important it is for all adults to help our younger generations become strong leaders from early on in their lives. After thinking more and more about Byron and his legacy, I know that the same goes for adults.
As adults, we need to help each other become strong leaders at any age. We need to build each other up instead of tearing each other down. There are so many people that may be looking up to you without you even knowing it. Every day we must work towards being our best selves. There is no replacing someone like Byron, however if I can take aspects of his leadership style and apply and adapt it to my own, I know the world will be a better place.
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Teresa Florindi is a full time Social Studies teacher in Port Chester, NY. When she is not instilling her passion about American History to her 7th graders, she enjoys traveling with her fiancé. She also spends her spare time teaching group exercise and indoor cycling at her local YMCA.