Many events—such as Spring break, graduation preparation, eight (!) days of end-of-year testing, and a 7:15 a.m. emergency meeting about swine flu (message: please wash your hands and stay home if you are sick, thank you)—have been happening at the home of the Buffaloes where there is less than half of a term left of the year. (Already!) So, forgive the long post, but, it’s our life. And since you’re the one who came here, you must want to know.

First, as with all school districts in the state, ours is suffering from budget cuts. This includes a cancelation of all field trips and no free lunch for those of us on lunch duty. It also means the dreaded task of every principal: facing a reduction in force, i.e., letting some of your team members go. Some of us still in our first three years of teaching, including yours truly, are not having our contracts renewed. As we don’t have clout, tenure, or guarantees, we are the first to go.

Before we go any further, let all interested parties understand that we are fine, and somewhat relieved, with this development. As much as I love teaching, there were certain aspects I had to consider in regards to remaining at the Buffaloes’ home next year. My notification was, as a fellow English teacher aptly put it, an answer to prayer, though an answer I wasn’t clear on until it came.

A few red flags went off when I read a two-sentence email a couple of months ago stating an administrator needed to meet with me, and if I want union representation presents, please make arrangements. “Representation?” I thought, imagining a room with angry parents accusing me of saying something I shouldn’t have or being unfair to a student. As I’m trying to recall if any such incident has occurred, I go to my surrogate mentors, Herr and Frau Sweet. These fine people are both retiring after each having taught for over 40 years. Herr graciously lets me use his room during my prep period, and much advice and encouragement have come from him and his sweet Frau. (You know they are good people when they tell you they pray for you. Wow. And you can tell they are doing so for other fine teachers like yourself.) This fine German teacher wanted me to take over the excellent program he created, as well as some of his other classes because I have the necessary qualifications. He made a point of telling the higher-ups that he was leaving them with a highly qualified teacher to take over his position and he expected them to follow through. So, when I asked about this somewhat cryptic email, his wife quieted the nightmare scenarios in my head and said she knew of a few teachers who had been to such meetings with administration lately. I told them I wasn’t part of any union and didn’t know who to talk to about representation. They said they’d take care of that; I just show up at the meeting. After a few glances at each other, we parted, wondering, but suspecting, what was going to happen.

I started thinking about my current situation, and how I would feel if I was asked to leave. A few months ago I would have been devastated. Not that I don’t love teaching, mind you, rather, I don’t care for the atmosphere and conditions themselves. I had noticed that certain office folk avoided eye contact as we pass in the halls. Interesting. Then it seems that support regarding punishment is not coming from where it should be. I complain to the appropriate people about certain students’ behavior. No change in behavior. A student complains about the same students, as he is the recipient of said behavior. Said students get a slap on the wrist and get sent back to my class the same day. No change. Ahem. I talk to the informant’s mom, thanking him for backing up my complaints. Behavior continues. I complain to three (count them) administrators who come to my room when I call for them. I give them names, report the behavior, and the aforementioned student is there to back up me up. I tell them he has complained, too. They act serious about the complaint (as they should considering what it involves), say thanks and leave. Next class period, I tell this student that I’m still waiting to see what will happen and this decent student looks at me with a disillusioned stare and says, “I hate to tell you, Ms. E, but they’re not going to do anything.” Sadly, I notice he’s right as the students are no longer phased by trips to the office, suspension, or parent notification. I do my best to take charge and thankfully rely on the offered help of other teachers, since certain other support is not apparently available. When students don’t take the office punishment seriously and parents have been contacted with no change, there is little else I know to do. So we get creative—and annoyed as we realize that, from the looks of it, the students are the ones running this school, and they know it. And I’m the one who gets blamed for behavior that administration itself can’t control and let slide.

Then an incident occurs with funds. My school mentor, a good guy, tells us to spend our district funds or give it to another teacher to use before the deadline. The German teacher wants to buy dictionaries and asks if I can help pay for half. Of course! In return, he’ll let me have his English dictionaries for future classes, which is what I was going to use my money for. I talk to the appropriate secretary and the form is filled out. A day or so later, the form is returned with the note, “Rejected: not part of content area.” Hmmm. I show German teacher and ask him how I’m supposed to share my money if they don’t let me. He goes to talk to whomever and ends up ordering the books on his own. As we wonder about this, I start to feel like high school games are not just for high school students and hope I’m wrong.

The email comes and the meeting arrives. My mentor “represents” me. As I said before, I had been thinking, searching for solutions, and had come to terms with whatever the principal is going to say to me. (Do I stay or do I go? Alright either way.) As he starts talking, I realize what’s coming. I also realize that my mentor knows exactly what’s coming and, with a shock, I realize further that not one of us had prepared each other for this 1 1/2 minute meeting, and now there is no way that I can reassure my mentor, who has seen me upset before, that I am just fine here and he doesn’t have to worry. The principal gives his rehearsed, “as a first year teacher, you’re not guaranteed a renewal of your contract for next year, so thank you, but we choose not to renew.” And interestingly enough, I feel a huge relief wash over me and I almost smile as I take his letter and leave. This answers quite a few things for me. Half-way to the room I share with a fellow English teacher, I realize I left my poor mentor in the office. He pokes his head in the door a few seconds later and comes in very slowly. “Are you OK?” he asks me. Fellow English teacher looks at me, now aware of what my meeting was about. I smile genuinely and tell him honestly, “I’m fine. Really.” He walks in slowly and says, “Well, I feel sick.” Poor man hated how the whole thing was handled. I try to reassure him (I later find out he was depressed about this for a day), then go to break the news to German teacher, who took it relatively well. Just got a very hard, angry look on his face. Fellow English teacher says she was going to get the same message, but surprised them by giving them her letter of resignation first. As we leave for the day, she quietly asks me if I’m really OK, and as I try to explain my relief, she simply says, “So, it was an answer to prayer?” and I say, “Yes, I guess it was.”

Herr Sweet, concerned, tells me later that he feels the administration doesn’t like him, and he hopes their decision regarding my position wasn’t influenced by the fact that I associate with him and his wife. I, disgusted, told him that was the administration’s problem, and if that was the pathetic high school game they were going to play, they could have it.

As we hear about other staff leaving and wonder what is going to happen with our departments, a counselor comes to see me. With an excited look on her face, she verifies that I’m certified to teach German. The new high school needs a German teacher. Am I interested? Um . . . On der Meister’s advice, I get more information. The ensuing conversation is . . . confusing. All transfers and schedules have apparently been made for the new school, yet their language department is incomplete and up in the air. I ask what exactly would be offered in German. They don’t know. There is one class, but parents and students have expressed interest so there might be more. (Ah, so parents are raising their voice!) They had thought to bus the kids from there to here to take the language classes. (????) And there might be a chance to teach half of the classes here and half of them there at the new school. I told her I’m already not coming back to this school. Short awkward silence. (So, communication between departments doesn’t happen. Hm.) I ask about books. They don’t know about funding. (They offer a class and didn’t order at least a classroom set of books? Hm.) And they don’t have a French teacher either. I can’t help them there, I say. She’s sure the principal can give me more details, but of course just because I put in an offer doesn’t mean I’ll get the position. I tell her I’ll think about it and contact the principal myself if I want to. I leave thinking, “So they have no idea what’s going on with their schools. They suddenly realize they don’t have teachers they need and are now in a panic. And the best they can offer me is, ‘We need someone! But we just don’t know any details yet. But you can ask!’ You’re desperate for anyone and don’t collaborate with the administration so you even know what is going on or what I can do. This is not the way to run a department. I don’t want to be the teacher hired in desperation without anyone checking my credentials because you are in a panic and will take anyone. No thank you.” Herr Sweet is annoyed with the higher-ups and worried about his students who need college credit in languages. We hate to think of his finely crafted department falling apart.

Third term comes to an end. Grades were due by 3 p.m. At 11 a.m. [“Hey, it was literally the eleventh hour!” Thanks for the chuckle, Lady M], an administrator comes to me and tells me a parent complained that my grading scale is too hard. I try not to laugh as I look him in the eye and tell him I use the default grading scale for the high school (which the district is apparently OK with, as they helped us set it up during new teacher orientation) and I make any adjustments as I see fit. He says the other teachers don’t use that one. They use their own. (And I’m told this now?) He takes me into another teacher’s room and I feel like a problem as he dumps me in her lap before running out the door. I spend the time changing each grade by hand in the office with the kind lady in charge of grades because this made me half an hour passed the due time. There were a lot of things that went through my head here. “I’ve had this grading scale since the beginning of school, and now, third term, the day grades are due, the special parent calls and I have to change things. Interesting.” Another thought was that other teachers didn’t seem to worry about my scale. As one teacher told me, it’s a hard scale, but it’s doable. High expectations and all that. Yet another thought was how this situation seemed similar to a former one I was in years ago. I felt like they were complaining about any little annoying thing they could to make me not want to stay because they didn’t want me there, but had to keep me on for a while longer, so they’ll be picky until then. I hate feeling a bother and unwanted. Later, Herr and Frau Sweet ask me what administrator had said. I chuckled and said, “My grading scale is too hard.” They paused for a second then laughed outright. Their thought mirrored mine: Heaven forbid, we challenge the students.

Herr and Frau Sweet have contacts. I put my application out. (Again.) He writes a very complimentary, confidence-boosting letter of recommendation for me which makes me look at my progress in a new light. Someone actually notices that I am teaching and students are learning. He and I share some students and has, unbeknownst to me, asked them about their English class as he notices an improvement in their knowledge in his class. Wow! I feel I am a successful teacher, which I needed to have affirmed.

As we have heard many rumors about the German classes, we three get a good chuckle about a notification I get on a position that I am qualified for! It’s for the Buffaloes’ district, this high school, for an English/German teacher. I laugh outright when that comes my way in the mail. We are happy that German is apparently going to be continued, contrary to the many rumors about it being cancelled. (Even the state office of ed took interest in that. They want kids to go to college and kids need two years of the same language for that.) The Sweets laugh with me when we wonder what would happen if I applied.

So there you have it. The new developments. That and my seniors are very excited to have the year end. I’d love to see them all graduate, and hope they do, at least with my class.

Life is good and we are happy and—though it came in an unexpected way—rejuvenated, and excited for next year. Crazy, isn’t it? When school is great and fun, it is glorious!

Advertisements