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The Impact of Being The "Only One"

People are always talking about the “power of one” or being the “ first” from a group to attain specific accolades. For me, I know there is a great sense of pride that comes from attaining a “first”, but there is also another aspect that isn’t always taken into consideration. When an individual has attained a “first”, that usually means they are the “only one” from their particular group that is represented in that setting. I have experienced the stress, anxiety, alienation, and uneasiness that comes from being “only one”. Throughout my life, I learned how to navigate situations where I was the only one. After awhile, it became very exhausting and sometimes I didn’t even bother trying to navigate the system. The microaggressions all around me were too difficult and glaring to ignore. In my work mentoring young teachers and aspiring administrators, I hear similar stories time and time again. The scenarios would go a little like this…...

Scenario #1: “I can remember going to a meeting and being the first to arrive. I would sit down and save spaces for my team members. They would arrive at the meeting, sit down at a totally different table, and then signal for me to come over to their table. After this happened a few times, I made a conscious decision to stay at the table where I was originally sitting down. I made sure that I didn’t move to a new table when my team members walked right by me and sat down at another table. Honestly, I don’t even know if they gave their actions a second thought. Sometimes, it was like I was invisible. There would be such a look of surprise when they ‘saw’ me at the table once they sat down. Was that look of surprise real or fake? I would never know”.

Scenario #2: “I would sit down at team meetings and share ideas. After sharing an idea, there were just be silence and then the conversations would continue as though I hadn’t said a word. Then a few minutes later, a fellow team member would share “my idea” and the team would eagerly agree that it was a great idea. The first few times, I was shocked and didn’t redirect them. I just remained silent. After a couple of months, I could not hold my tongue any longer. I looked at them and said, ‘That is the exact same thing that I just said.’ The looks on their faces were priceless. From that point on, I became known for being ‘aggressive’, ‘confrontational’, and ‘hard to get along with’. This was hard to deal with since I really just wanted to be heard.”

These scenarios are not unique as I have heard these stories (and similar ones) countless times over the years. During this time, I have seen the negative impact this has had on the overall well-being of an individual. For many, there is a deep desire to leave an organization after experiencing these microaggressions, but for some this isn’t always feasible. In the field of education, you may be the “only one” on your grade team or even in your school. When this occurs, the workplace can become very challenging and impact your productivity (which can negatively impact your students). However, there are steps that you can take to ensure a successful year for both you and your students.

1. Develop an affinity or support group - Create a network of people who can relate to how you are feeling and provide encouragement and support i.e. find allies in your building, district, other school districts, or through social media outlets.

2. Create interests outside of school - Make sure you have interests outside of school. It is important that you are taking part in activities that don’t always involve people from your school. Have a variety of hobbies and activities that you can participate in without having to talk “shop” all the time.

3. Exercise your voice - You have opinions that count. Don’t settle for being ignored or skipped over for opportunities. Don’t wait for someone to bring you an opportunity. Be sure to seek out opportunities and speak up for the opportunities you want to actively participate in.

Never forget that you bring value to your workplace! Don’t sacrifice your well-being or lose who you are in the quest to “fit in”. Stand out and walk in your unique purpose. Remember that representation matters and your students and families need to see you in the school setting.

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