Is humility over-rated? Why is it so difficult to accept accolades graciously?

Marianne Williamson in A Return to Love, addresses the issue of how to appreciate ourselves and others: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous. Actually, who are you not to be? . .

I was called into the school principal’s office the other day. My first thought when I received the email was “I’m sure I haven’t done anything wrong , so why does he want to see me? “  I’m not sure why my first reaction was negative.

I have been an educator for over thirty years. I have taught thousands of students, but now I am about to retire. I am not retiring from the world of education completely, I am just retiring from the classroom.

Someone asked me the other day if I always wanted to be a teacher. I was very quick to answer a resounding no. I can’t say that I had other aspirations, that were realistic, but being a teacher was not something that I aspired to.

Most of the teachers I had experienced throughout my schooling were domineering and authoritarian. In keeping with 1960 to 70’s education policy and approach, teachers did not establish warm and nurturing relationships with their charges. Corporal punishment was the norm. I clearly remember making every effort to keep quiet, speak only when spoken to and to never assert my individuality.

Of course educational practices have evolved since that time. I can clearly recall when my attitude towards my not so chosen profession shifted from being a teacher to an educator. I made a conscious decision to educate my charges and not just to teach. There was in my mind a huge chasm between the two. As I wanted to make a lasting impression on those I taught, I had to bring something different into my classroom.

During those years, I was promoted to the role of head of a bilingual language program. For two years eligible students studied 90% of their subjects in a second language. I had the upper hand in this area of second language acquisition as I too had struggled with learning this same language as a second language. I understood what these students struggled with when learning the language and I educated them accordingly. After a number of years at the helm of this program as well as teaching Jewish Studies, I took a break from teaching in order to complete my Masters degree. Once complete, I returned to the school to embark on a new language acquisition project. I am now reaching the end phases of the establishment of that program.

Anyone who thinks that a career in teaching is a 9-4 job with the added bonus of school holidays, is very ill informed. I paid my dues and did my job, I think very well. I met all my criteria and deadlines. Proof of my success came when those same students opted to take that language as a V.C.E subject, difficult as it was. I believed that, and they confirmed that, I had instilled in them a love for the language. I performed my role and reaped enough kudos to know that I had done it well.

This year I presented a talk at a women’s festival. This was my inaugural presentation in front of my peers. Despite my extensive classroom experience, I was extremely nervous. Humility is what best describes my emotions when one friend expressed her positive feedback, wishing that she had been educated by someone like me when she was at school.

My meeting with the principal was scheduled to give him an opportunity to thank me for my contributions to the bilingual program and to the new language program. He wanted to personally thank me for being instrumental in changing the face of second language learning at the school. Wow, was he really saying this? Was he being sincere? My reaction to this compliment was that I didn’t believe that I alone accomplished this. “No”, he said, “it’s true. You have accomplished great things here at this school”. Flabbergasted, I exited his office elated.

“Why shouldn’t I embrace this moment and throw humility to the wolves?” I thought. “I deserve this accolade and it’s time that I learned not to shun it, but own it, and own it I will!”

As I embark on the next phase of my journey, I vow to take with me pride in what I have achieved as well as the humility of one who still has much to learn. In the words of John Steinbeck “I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession”.

Article by Author/s
Lani Brayer
Lani Brayer is a Melbourne educator who does work for various organisations who strive to eradicate prejudice and discrimination. She aims to educate people to be upstanders rather than bystanders even with the smallest of actions.

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