Women Supporting Women, Featuring Michelle Augustyn
Being an educator is a thankless, underpaid and often criticized job. As if all of that isn’t hard enough, enter 2020. And as if 2020 didn’t have enough challenges, now the entire education industry has had to do a 180, adapt and change often with very little time, little guidance and to the dismay of parents, students and staff.
These days, to be an educator is to be a superhero. The expectation to not only teach students in a classroom, but also teach young children electronically is a challenge in itself. For many teachers I’ve heard that even if this is their 20th year teaching, this feels like year one all over again. These are unprecedented times with so many unknowns, so many new challenges, and really it’s just uncharted territory.
So why are educators superheroes? Because they show up day in and day out and even when they don’t know which way is up and which way is down, they put students first. Even when the school day ends at 2:30, these educators have hours left of work to do that day. You don't really know what a principal does until you ask, observe and hear stories. Here's a quick glimpse:
Reviewing and responding to emails from the Archdiocese, parents and teachers.
Collecting and counting tuition.
Sending tuition notices.
Checking in on absent students-taking and changing attendance.
Applying for scholarships and financial aid.
Fixing technology issues.
Checking lesson plans and newsletters.
Communicating with parents on ClassDojo.
Posting in weekly church bulletin.
Attending Archdiocese meetings.
Observing teachers on Google Meets.
Helping with assessments.
Evaluating student data.
The list goes on...
Michelle Augustyn is the principal of St. Richard Catholic School on the south side of Chicago. Being a principal is hard enough. Being a principal during a pandemic - that's something else.
What is the toughest part of your job?
Being a teacher and now principal, just like any job, has its pros and cons, good days and bad. This year, because of COVID, the hardest part of my job is not being able to sit with my students at lunch, visit the classrooms and work with the kids one on one, get hugs and high fives, and interact with them. I have to now observe the classroom from the doorway or through Google meets.
I became a teacher 10 years ago because I wanted to work with kids and this is not how I imaged it would be. However, in any tough situation, you always need to find the good. I am thankful to be in the building with my students and staff. Even though I can’t interact with them as we have in years past, I am grateful to see them all each day, even if it’s through a computer screen or from the classroom door.
Why did you become a principal?
Since I was in 2nd grade, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher - All thanks to Mrs. Toomey. She was my kindergarten and 2nd grade teacher at good ol’ St. Rene Catholic School. She is the reason I started working with kids in the first place. Her passion of learning and love for her students shone through each and every day-and her hugs were just the best!
Fast forward to year 3 of teaching, my then principal recommended that I apply for my Masters in Administration at a Catholic university. While in the program at SXU, I met an amazing human being- Eileen Sheedy- who has helped me in my personal and professional life and been by my side since our very first day of grad school. We both became principals in the Archdiocese, graduated from CTEL at Notre Dame, and she continues to inspire me on the daily with her faith filled leadership!
Back to the question….So to be honest, I became a principal because my then principal saw something in me that I just didn’t know was there. When I was little I did not write on my kindergarten poster “I want to be a principal when I grow up”… but I’d say I’m doing a damn good job at it!
What’s the most rewarding part of what you do?
As a teacher you always look forward to Christmas gifts or teacher appreciation week because, let me tell you, some of the thank you gifts are pretty sweet! But that’s not why we as educators do what we do. Listen, I love Starbucks gift cards, but the most rewarding part of my job is showing love and being loved in return, not by material things but by our words and actions. Crazy right!? I love my people, even those parents that contact me daily about x, y or z. Even those that aren’t very nice some days but super sweet the next. Even that teacher that doesn’t answer my emails but makes their students laugh daily. Even that student that can’t seem to keep their mask on but screams my name as I walk by.
I continue to do what I do because I love my people - parents, teachers, students, and staff. Principals rarely get appreciated and rarely hear the good, but I do this job because this school family of mine keeps me coming back. My heart is full from working at this place for 10 great years!
Thank you, Michelle, for being a dedicated educator. Your concern for your students, their education and their future is what will help shape them into successful adults. One day, you'll read an article where someone says because of you, they chose to become an educator.
Thank you for making a difference!
Do you have a woman you'd like to nominate for a feature? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay safe and healthy,