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Posted by Jo Robertson Jul 29 2014, 11:58 pm
When I was a younger teacher in my early forties, our English Department Coordinator died suddenly of a stroke. She was fifty years old. Lori was a formidable woman, both loved and revered on campus, but also feared.
She was the final authority on all things pertaining to the English language – curriculum and text books, reading lists and grammar construction. We all stood a bit in awe of her.
About a decade later, when I was appointed Department Coordinator of the same group of English teachers, I remembered Lori and how stolid and authoritative she had been. She was the person on campus who was always at every dance, every sports game and tailgate party, every important committee meeting.
I neither could nor wanted to follow in her footsteps. I knew I had to make my own stamp on the high school campus and follow my own teaching journey.
My principal, upon appointing me, gave me some sage advice: The perception of power, he said, was far more important than the reality. I learned how true his words were.
Whenever I made a comment or decision, teachers and staff suddenly gave more weight to my words than they had before, even though my philosophies and ideas hadn’t changed.
I realized it was the mantle of authority that people responded to, not the person herself; the perception rather than the reality.
An accessible and widely anthologized poem by American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson which shows this disconnect between perception and reality: Simon and Garfunkel set the lyrics to music which you can listen to here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euuCiSY0qYs from their “Sounds of Silence” album.
Whenever Richard Cory went downtown,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean-favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
Lori had been a great mentor to me, and now that I’m older than she was when she died, I realize how very young she was to leave this earth. Now, by virtue of age, I am a role model and advisor to young mothers, young teachers, young writers. The prospect is both rewarding and frightening and often carries an unwanted burden.
What experiences have you had with the concept of perception and reality? Has your initial impression of someone or something changed with time and reflection?
Do you have someone in your life who’s acted as a mentor to you or to whom you are a mentor?
Posted in Jo Robertson, mentors, perception and reality