The deadline for throwing your hat in the ring for fall school board elections is fast approaching. The pay is terrible, the hours can be long, and the challenges great. But the intrinsic rewards are beyond compare. As you contemplate the possibilities, consider some advice from history.
Over 30 years ago, I accepted the job of principal at Ell-Saline Junior-Senior High School in Brookville.
Having taken all the appropriate coursework, I was theoretically prepared for anything but practically ready for nothing. This is not a knock on the fine institutions or professors responsible for my training, it is simply because you are never really ready to be a principal, even after you have done it for years. Just when you think you have seen everything a new challenge hits you in the face.
The best practical advice was rendered by my dad, Max, in the form of a framed quotation that many of you have read:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Inspirational, the quote provides armor for the thin-skinned and comfort in the heat of a challenge. My plan was to use this quote as the centerpiece of a column encouraging people to step into the school board arena.
But of course my ADD got the better of me. When Googling the quote I was distracted by the context. Titled “Citizenship in a Republic,” it is Theodore Roosevelt’s speech to the Sorbonne in 1910 Paris. (In its entirety: theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Learn-About-TR/TR-Encyclopedia/Culture-and-Society/Man-in-the-Arena.aspx)
Before Roosevelt speaks about the challenges of the man and woman in the arena, he describes the man and woman.
With you here, and with us in my own home, in the long run, success or failure will be conditioned upon the way in which the average man, the average woman, does his or her duty, first in the ordinary, every-day affairs of life, and next in those great occasional cries which call for heroic virtues. The average citizen must be a good citizen if our republics are to succeed.
Doesn’t it sound like Roosevelt is speaking about school board members? People who are willing to step into the arena, to perform the tasks of citizenship in a pure democratic setting, local school boards. The duties a board member performs may be “ordinary, every-day affairs of life,” but they also require heroic virtues of putting one’s self second and the needs of every student first.
The courage it takes to put one’s name out there, to ask the public for affirmation that you are the best person to make decisions for the students who are in the care of the school district, is impressive. The reward, as you stand on the stage this month, is equally awesome. Thank you for what you do in the arena and think about re-upping for another term.