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Tell us about a time you made a false assumption about a person or a place — how did they prove you wrong?

Once upon a time I worked at a large private school (PreK-8) with four computer labs. I was in the lab for grades 6-8, my preferred age group as a teacher. As often happens in schools, there was a reassignment of teachers, and a guy (I’ll call him Jim) was coming into “our” lab. I didn’t know him very well, but I had the impression that he was unfriendly and perhaps a bit pompous, wouldn’t be easy to work with, and was a little too macho for my liking.

I can only say that his unapproachable manner and dry wit were a cover up for a very nice guy and a good teacher. The head of the computer program was the lead teacher in our lab, and pretty much called the shots. Aside from setting up the curriculum for the whole school, she was an ex-programmer, and her knowledge was beyond ours. We were a great team with another less-experience teacher working part-time. Jim knew more about programming and computing than I did, and was doing a degree in computer security; but I was the one with the stronger background in teaching, writing lesson plans, and grading. We all made up for each others weaknesses and did so with respect for each other and comradeship.

It was the three best years of teaching I experienced. Teamwork really helps make a creative and enjoyable work environment and benefits the students. I had been totally wrong in my assumptions about Jim, and when I got to know him he was indeed caring, curious, and great with kids. His facade remained. He was a tough guy all right, but not really macho.

Our wonderful three years ended when there was another staff reassignment, and it turned out that both he an I left. He had completed his degree and found a job in IT, which obviously paid more, but I know he left with a heavy heart because he really enjoyed teaching. I was asked to work full-time — previously I was job sharing, 3 days a week. At my age and stage, this didn’t suit me, so I left, too, but was fortunate to find a part-time job in a another great school. Different, but nice.

In fact, staying would have been bittersweet. To my mind any team would have been inferior to what I had experienced (especially with that new teacher). It was a good time to leave. When working isn’t fun anymore — or is more pain than pleasure — it’s one’s cue to change.

I’ve had the opposite happen to me, too, when I’ve really like someone I just met, and found that first impression to be faulty. The more I learned about that “friend”, I discovered that I really didn’t like or trust him or her. The upshot is that while we’re urged to follow gut instincts, first impressions can be all wrong. Best to be wary of them and take the time to know someone before declaring them friend or foe.