The TV ads have already begun. Happy, smiling children dancing, doing flips to Bruno Mars, tumbling out of school buses, Ready. Faces shining, eyes glowing, backpacks bulging, sharpened pencils/notebooks/calculators/jump drives/Ipads at the ready.
As a teacher, now retired, I have mixed emotions about this time of the year. Summer is not officially over and already the brick and mortar folks are on the band wagon gearing up for the shopping binge that takes place this time of year. True, many schools around the country have begun, but Virginia (Hampton Roads) opted years ago to delay opening until after Labor Day to give the student workers a chance to serve the last tourists visiting the area.
I loved teaching, my students and being in the classroom, but I also savored every day of my two month respite (as did most of my colleagues). The mental and physical stress of teaching coupled with low pay requiring most of us teachers to work a second job takes its toll on those in this noble profession.
Generally teachers have to return one or two weeks before school’s official opening to prepare for the onslaught of new practices, new personnel, new procedures. …this year you will have to write out an individual comment on the student’s report card if the student receives a D in your class…Huh?…You mean explain to the student/parent why he/she got a D…Duh?
In teaching, it seems everything old is always new again. That’s the thing about education, a forty year veteran teacher used to say… Gurl, if you stay in it long enough everything comes back around…just with a new name and some new research to back it up. I call this the pendulum swing theory…things were going pretty good (or bad ) and now they seem headed in the other direction.
My entre into teaching was a second career move. Having exhausted the paralegal field working with lawyers of all ilk… from Hollywood medical malpractice to Virginia Legal Aid, I was ready for a career switch. My options were law school (and suit up every day in the lawyer armor) or English degree. The choice was obvious.
During the mid 80s, teachers still had a measure of control over what happened in their classroom. I remember being given a course outline my first year and told that as long as I covered the material, I could be as creative as I wanted in the delivery to the students.
A year later, when I became Department Head, my principal, Mr. W told me during the interview, I had big shoes to fill as my predecessor had been on the job for 30 years. He looked at my size 9 foot and smiling said, I don’t think you will have any problem. And I didn’t.
Under his Joe Clark tempered with Old School cool leadership and the mentoring of other seasoned teachers, I flourished. The 10 years I spent at the middle school were certainly the high point of my teaching career. Not only was I able to influence the philosophy and practices of other teachers, I was able to teach I-love -you -one -day/hate -you -the- next hormonal 12 and 13 year olds, critical thinking and reasoning skills while improving their basic reading/writing skills. And also infuse their lives with some history and culture to strengthen their self knowledge. I was even voted Teacher of the Year * by my fellow colleagues. And appeared in a local television news documentary celebrating the teaching profession.
It was there that I wrote my first book buoyed by my students who wanted “to see a text about Egyptian mythology with faces that looked like theirs.”
All of that unfortunately, ended one day when a student, new to the school and upset because I had given the entire class lunch detention for misbehaving while under the care of a sub, jumped up suddenly and shouted I’m not serving any f###king detention… I’ma blow your mother F###king head off. And ran out of the room.
This incident of verbal assault signaled a pendulum shift in my own life. For weeks, I was stalked by this student even after he was finally suspended. At the insistence of the police officer assigned to the school, I took unpaid leave for the remaining few weeks of school. During this time, I found it necessary to seek medical treatment for stress, anxiety and debilitating insomnia as my bubbly personality and infectious smile disappeared.
Eventually, the case was bought to court (the school assigned police officer had filed a warrant against the student). Ironically, the state of Virginia, had just passed a law stating that verbal assault on a teacher was a crime. The judge sentenced the student to a juvenile facility and apologized to me on behalf of the Court for all that I had endured.
Unfortunately, the damage was done. Being inside a school no longer held joy for me …only anxiety. And for some strange reason, even though I was the victim of this crime, the school administration did not take my side. I think they just wanted me to let the whole thing go…after all the student hadn’t physically assaulted me.
But he had run to his locker to get something after he bolted from my class…perhaps a weapon.
..he had come to the school near the end of the year without records from his previous school and been admitted.
..he had assaulted a student in another neighboring school district.
…he had waited many days following this incident crouched by my parked car until he was chased away by security.
…He had taken away my career,my livelihood, my joie de vie…my love of teaching.
(To be continued…part 2)
Comments welcome. And thank you for Reading my Words.
*Each school selects one teacher.