So...let's rewind back to the summer of 2011, during the time I was still writing this blog, but not disclosing what was going on in my then-position as school slave for a small public elementary school in our beloved BX. I believed at the time that the Middle School that was the subject of many posts on this blog was no longer the place for me. Although all of my observations were satisfactory, I felt that as each year went by, I was being more and more set up for faiure. Also, I craved Kindergarten, which was my first position as a teacher back in 2000. I was hired in the summer of 2011 to teach Kindergarten by a principal who shall remain nameless and happens now to be deceased.
I was so excited! (Not that he's deceased, really...) Cutting out apples and phonics and adorable braids and huge brown eyes that drank in knowledge like tiny sponges....I was ready! I couldn't wait.
The first red flag should have been when the school had to be moved across the Bronx over the summer due to deadly toxins in the original school building. It was serious, people were suing. Former students and teachers were coming up with chronic...and sometimes deadly...health conditions.
The second red flag should have been when, after helping the school move I spent hours upon hours setting up my classroom only for the administrative team to come in, glare at me reproachingly, tell me it was all wrong, and that it had to be ready for the first day the next morning. Needless to say I stayed in the sweltering classroom for several more hours, hoping to "get it right" when I hadn't really been told what "right" was. For someone like your beloved Chalkduster who suffers from anxiety, that level of confusion can be torturous.
The next day, the school year in a new school teaching a new grade was underway for me. By then, my former middle school students seemed like characters in a dream. The third red flag was when the principal stood before the whole school and led morning assembly as if it was a dictator's rally. This was not, I repeat, NOT, the soft-spoken man that hired me two months prior.
I'm not going to torture you with all of the sordid details of the next six months. I'll place it in the neatest nutshell possible. This won't be easy, because there were many events that led to my eventual resignation from NYC Schools.
About three weeks into the school year, the principal and his team literally disbanded my kindergarten class, which had low attendance due to the move and the toxins. Because it was known as a Choice School, parents could pull their children out and send them to their local elementary school. The toxins in the old building cut the school's roster by about a third. Yet...I was the only teacher who lost her class. I watched in sadness as my little students....to whom I was already attached...were spread over the remaining two kindergarten classes. Those classes now had a crop of seven new students each. This is how I became school slave.
It was my most stressful year thus far, because I didn't know what to expect when going into school each morning. For about two months, I co-taught a first-grade class with a wonderful teacher. I learned so much from her, she is possibly one of the best teachers I have ever met. We got on like peas and carrots. As soon as the principal saw things were going smoothly, God save his soul...he would yank me out and place me somewhere else.
The only female member of the administrative team was just as awful as her two male counterparts. She scrutinized every move I made. One day, I sent a third-grade boy to her office for misbehaving. She called me in to meet with them and said to the child, "Your teacher is telling me you can't behave in science class. Are you aware of what this could do to your teacher, and her son, who is just your age? She could lose her job. Yes, she could. Because your misbehaving makes her look like a bad teacher." The poor little boy didn't know what to say. I was mortified that she would say such a thing to a child. It's especially mortifying because I wound up leaving not long after that incident, and I always hoped the boy did not blame himself, as children always do.
By then, I was beginning to feel again that I was being set up for failure. Luckily for me, I'm a Sagittarius to the core, so flitting around the building doing whatever wasn't so terrible for me, until in turned into clear path towards harassment. I was constantly pulled in and out of classrooms, in the middle of delivering lessons, leaving me feeling unprepared each day. Being the fill-in person for quite a while, I became familiar with all of the students and teachers, but could never really delve into my teaching, as it had no stable home in which to thrive. Even worse, the fill-in person is easy to track and follow around with a clipboard....especially if the one with said clipboard created the schedule.
It had the acrid smell of vendetta. I felt as though I was under a constant microscope.
Then came my formal observations. My pride...I had always done well, in every school, with every previous principal. I knew the ramifications of having unsatisfactory marks for formal observations. Marks such as these can taint a NYC teacher's name forever, make it difficult to switch schools, therefore trapping you where you are. Which is why I was always VERY diligent when it came to such assessments.
My first formal observation at this school (aside from pop-ins, of course) was conducted by a member of the administrative team, the same class I co-taught first grade. It was a math lesson and I thought it went rather well, except for the fire drill in the middle of it. (Would it sound paranoid to say I think that fire drill was carefully planned?) The administrator failed me. When the meeting came time to find out why, he made up a bunch of things that never even happened. Although I had a witness, my teaching partner, who even voiced that the lesson went well, the administrator had the ultimate power. I was furious. I had NEVER, in all my years of teaching, EVER received an unsatisfactory mark for a formal observation. And as a side note...he came down with shingles about a month later. I promise, I did NOT cast a spell on him, but I believe it was a good dose of Karma.
I now had an Unsatisfactory rating in my file for teaching practice, and this would follow me everywhere. No way was I going to let that happen again. No WAY. One failing lesson could be construed as a bad day. Two would be a mark on my record forever that said, "she consistently can't teach." I took my practice very seriously and the thought of that stigma was horrifying.
The next observation came when I was teaching science to every grade in the teacher's lounge. Yes, you read right, my friends. I was teaching science in the teacher's lounge while my colleagues were eating lunch. Although it was interesting when one of them would chime in, I prefer to teach in a classroom independently. The science supplies were a disaster, I didn't have enough desks and chairs, and the entire school was on my workload. Did I mention that I was an English teacher? Teaching science all day every day was foreign to me, and the administration knew it. And although it was lined up as a clear path to failure, I embraced teaching science. I've always loved a good challenge, so I plugged away with enthusiasm. I mean who, besides the alt-right, doesn't love science?
My observation was to be conducted by the principal, who, had obviously not rediscovered his soft-spoken self with me, he was constantly thick with criticism and liked to follow me around with his Ipad and clipboard. The most difficult class in to school was assigned to me. I really, once again, believed the lesson went well. It was a clear-cut measurement and conversion lesson where the students were using meter sticks they had made to measure themselves and items around the room, and then do the conversions. The room was bustling with learning noise, the kids had fun, and I collected their work at the end of the lesson. I ignored the administrator with the ipad sitting in a chair about ten times too small for him, peering from his glasses.
That was a Friday in February 2012. The post observation meeting was scheduled for Monday. As I left the crowded main office that Friday, the principal boomed "You're gonna need to enjoy your weekend because you aren't going to like what I have to say to you on Monday." Yes, he legit said this to me in front of everyone. I left school with tears in my eyes.
I went home and called my mother, who has years of teaching and dealings with administrators, and my father, an administrator himself, looking for sound advice. I cried and cried and told them I didn't think I could take it anymore. My wise mother told me to compile the data of my students' work for the lesson, and have it ready for my meeting on Monday morning.
I spent the weekend doing just that, and realized that 70% of my class had achieved the learning benchmark for that lesson. How could he possibly fail me now?
I warned my family: If I receive an unsatisfactory mark on this lesson, I will have officially reached my wit's end, and will be out of a job come Monday afternoon.
When I assertively presented my data to him, the principal calmly slid it back to me from his side of the desk and stated, "I failed you because I am The Principal, and it is in my power to do so. I don't care what data you gathered, in my eyes, the lesson was completely unsatisfactory, and a total disaster." He went on to mention that some of the boys had been fooling around while I was teaching, something I had swiftly dealt with, something that also had to do with the particular class he had hand-chosen himself to observe me with. What a snake. Did I mention he's dead? Dropped of a heart attack in his 50s, I heard. Again, Karma?
I rose from my chair and headed for the door without a word. Tears were filling my eyes. I found my way to my teacher's lounge classroom. I gathered as many of my things that I could and stuffed them in my bag, leaving behind some very dear teaching mementos. It's amazing how abuse just kicks me into flight mode.... I told the assistant principal I was going home with a headache. I walked down the stairs, down the hall, and out the door. My tear-soaked face hit the freezing February air, and freedom hit me like a cool waterfall.
I walked away and never looked back.
Little did I know how this experience would not only profoundly affect my career as a teacher, but wound my sense of self as a professional, a mother, and a whole human being. Chalkduster was broken. :(
"And still, I rise." --Maya Angelou
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