Before I get into why I’m carrying around this self-deprecating coffee mug, let me start with the story of how I earned the nickname “Sparkles.”
One late afternoon 8 years ago, I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror as I prepared to go into school that same evening to greet and meet families at parent night. I had actually just returned home from school and needed to freshen up from hosting freshman orientation and from putting the finishing touches on my classroom. I thought I was ready for the first day of my first year of teaching and was feeling pretty confident, but life has a funny way of telling the truth.
That’s when I noticed it. The glitter. It was everywhere. In my hair, on my forehead, dusting my nose… Everywhere the light touched, I sparkled. Somehow, when I reached for my hairspray, I had accidentally grabbed competitive-dance-grade glitter. You know what I’m talking about. The type of glitter that’s made to be seen by great grandparents sitting 200 feet from the stage of their darling’s dance recital.
Like me, you’re probably wondering why I had such glitter in my cabinet. And that’s the thing… I have absolutely no clue.
Thanks again, universe.
So there I was, looking at my glittery self in the mirror with not enough time to take a shower or do anything about it. I was fresh out of college and looked the part, and the glitter took at least another ten years off my age. I could have panicked. I could have cried. After all, I had taken the time to shop for the perfect professional outfit for this night. I had spent countless hours decorating my classroom. I had printed my syllabus on Shamrock green paper, and strung up a beautiful banner with my name. I had flawless plans for the first day of school; I had even thought to account for transition time.
Now that I looked like a 14-year-old, wanna-be pageant princess, how was I supposed to trick these parents into believing I was qualified to teach their kids? And that’s when it dawned on me… I had intended to trick them all along. Let’s be honest. All of that planning and perfecting worked to trick myself, too, because glitter or no glitter, I really had no clue what I was doing. I was embarking upon unchartered territory — my first year of teaching — and much of my course was out of my control. It sounds crazy, but I swear that this one silly, glittery event changed the trajectory of my year and career. It was a moment of clarity, an epiphany of sorts. I realized in this moment that no matter how hard I tried, not everything would go as planned, and I had better make peace with that fact.
You’re probably wondering how the rest of the story goes. I’ll get to the point.
I went to parent night looking like a disco ball, and I told the truth. I explained that I was nervous for this first year of teaching, that I desperately wanted to impress them, and that while I was rehearsing what I would say to them that night, I had inadvertently sprayed glitter all over myself. I told them that I was mortified because I wanted to assure them that, while I may look young enough to be their kid, I was actually old enough to teach. I emphasized that I cared deeply about their children and considered the teaching profession to be the most important job in the entire world. And here’s the thing… By being myself and by being honest, I earned their trust and they believed in my qualifications. No tricking required.
So that’s the story of how I earned the nickname “Sparkles.” The irony (we English teachers love irony)… a word that’s typically associated with being shiny, and pretty, and perfect reminds me of my flaws and all that I learned during my rookie year.
And why the mug? Because I’ve started a new job this year and feel like a rookie all over again. Because it reminds me of the story I just shared. Because it reminds me of these essential lessons:
It’s okay to not be the expert in the room.
Relationships matter most, and honesty and vulnerability go a long way in building trust.
Lead by learning.
When in doubt, crack a joke (preferably one where you’re the punchline).
It’s going to be okay.