Thomas R. Hoerr
Who Were You?
Think for a moment,” I asked my teachers at a recent faculty meeting. “What kind of student were you in grade school and high
school? Did you always work hard and excel?
Or did you challenge your teachers by what you
did or didn’t do?” I paused for a minute and let
everyone reflect. Why was I doing this?
It may be comforting to think we have tran-
scended our past. After all, we no longer worry
about what to wear to the prom or what sort of
acne cream is the most effective.
Playing on the high school sports
team or pulling an all-nighter to
prepare for that U.S. History final is,
well, history. We now have careers,
families, and deeper responsibilities.
In many cases, we’re responsible
not only for our own successes and
failures, but also for others’ perfor-
mances. But our past never leaves
us. The truth is, a lot of who we are
is who we were. So how might our
individual pasts affect the way we
teach, lead, and supervise today?
Who I Was
My school career can be euphemistically characterized as lacking focus. I spent a good deal
of time standing in the hall or in the principal’s
office, dismissed from class for inappropriate
behavior. My homework was carelessly done, if
done at all. Almost all of my teachers and principals gave up on me, and I quickly got the idea
that school wasn’t very important and that I
shouldn’t waste my time or energy on something
that didn’t seem to benefit me. “Why should I
bother?” my actions said.
My experiences as a student who didn’t fit the
mold stayed with me. When I taught, I gave extra
attention to those who struggled. I went out of
my way to let students know that I appreciated
them, whatever their achievements—or lack
thereof—might be. I relished finding students
with untapped potential, accepting them for who
they were, and helping them grow. I was far from
a superb teacher, but I was more sensitive to these
kinds of kids because I had been there, done that.
(More accurately, I had been there and not done
Who I Became
Likewise, my teaching experience framed how
I now supervise others and lead schools. As
a teacher, I worked for four principals, and
although each was different, they all shared
some characteristics. They all wanted student
achievement, but adult growth was not a priority.
At the infrequent faculty meetings, principals
talked and teachers listened. Professional development consisted of attending a conference or
Our philosophy and
behaviors are framed
by our histories, and
that can be productive
workshop once a year, perhaps. Each of these
principals was a good person and cared deeply
about student achievement; none, however, saw
the link between adult and student learning. I felt
When I first became a principal, I worked to
open up faculty meetings. I asked teachers to
share what they were doing with colleagues. I
made professional development a priority. Today,
33 years later, I still work to help everyone in my
school grow, children and adults alike, and I’m
still sensitive to those students who don’t quite fit
Alas, I am far, far from a perfect principal. Yet
I know that some of the most productive things
I do stem from my experiences as a student and
as a teacher. When thinking about how students
learn and how to organize my school, I reach
back to my days in grade school and high school.