There I was…all excited about a new year! The previous year had gone fairly well, so why not be hopeful? Of course, nothing could be worse than my years of teaching public school!
My first six years of teaching will forever be emblazoned in my mind. Not because they were great. Oh no, far from that. They were unremarkable, to say the least. I am sometimes still in disbelief about the experiences that I had. Let me give you a quick synopsis:
Year 1: By October of that school year, yes October, the administration was already trying to get me removed from my Teacher Certification program. You read that correctly. Why were they on this evil mission? Because I dared to give students the grades that they earned. They were upset about my failure rate (shouldn’t it actually be the students’ failure rate?), and complained to my field advisor from my certification program.
Mind you, my field advisor had come to observe me on more than one occasion by then, and always gave me stellar reviews. Any advice that she gave me as a new teacher, I took it to heart and applied it to the classroom. She was very pleased with how I was handling my classes. The administration set up a private meeting with my field advisor (unbeknownst to me). She never once told me, prior to the meeting, that they had contacted her with concerns, and did not request that they have me present in the meeting.
So after meeting with them, my field advisor expressed that I was not doing what I should be doing to help the students with their grades. She decided that she was going to put me on a “Growth Plan.” I was livid, and told her that she couldn’t do that based on what was told to her. She could only go by what she observed when she met with me.
To handle that situation, I conferred with my teacher union about the actions of the administrators. They, in turn, contacted the district about the issue. I also spoke to my field advisor’s supervisor, who agreed with me about the entire situation. But he was upset that I had already contacted the union, instead of letting them handle things. How were they going to handle things if my advisor was having secret meetings without me being present?!
The district office sent someone in to observe my class. He stated that he didn’t see anything that I was doing wrong. If the students were not completing their homework, it wasn’t because I hadn’t given proper instruction. So, basically, I was cleared! I was able to complete my program and receive my certification. But the administration was not happy about that! And they were going to let me know it!
Years 2 & 3: For some crazy reason, I remained at the same high school for the next two years. When I say it was hell, that would be an understatement. Because the administration did not have their way the first year, they were determined to give me grief. I was so stressed that I began to have anxiety attacks. I literally kept a paper bag in my desk for times when the breathing was labored.
Throughout the next two years, I had admin change the grades in my gradebook, not once, but twice! The first time, I noticed that the grades of my Special Ed and some student athletes were increased. I kept a separate gradebook from the one on the computer, and compared the grades to ensure that I wasn’t losing my mind. Yep, they had changed the grades for sure.
So what did I do? I went and changed them right back! Why didn’t they understand that grades were not given, but earned. I hated that they didn’t want us to give a grade lower than a 50. Really? Was it fair that someone who didn’t even attempt to do the work could get a 50, but someone who did and struggled with it got a failing grade as well?! I quickly began to realize how flawed the education system was.
The second time that the administration changed grades, it caused an uproar. Students came to class very upset that their progress reports showed failing grades. What? These were students that I know were hard workers and passing my classes. So once again, I compared the computer grades to my separate gradebook. And lo and behold, this time the administration had lowered the grades to make it appear that I was failing students!! You’ve got to be kidding me! They were going to any length to get back at me!
I was furious! I showed the students my separate gradebook to prove to them that they had passing grades. I corrected the grades in the computer. I told the students to be sure to go home and tell their parents that the administrators had lowered their grades! And it was then, that my students started to see how admin was treating me.
For those two years, it was nothing but constant unwarranted complaints and harassment from the administration. They would come and do “walk thrus” in my classroom, almost daily. It became so frequent, that I started to document it. The teacher union couldn’t do much about it, because across the district, administrators were now using these “walk thrus” as an excuse to harass teachers.
They frequented my classroom so much, that my students started to get frustrated by it. It got to the point where I couldn’t keep some of them from going off on the administrators when they entered the room. I continued to document their visits. During one of the visits, I told the class “Maybe we should get a recliner and a table with cookies and milk for all of our daily visitors.” Yep, I said it, with one of the administrators sitting right there.
Another time, the principal did her “walk thru” and left. But I had a feeling that she wasn’t really gone. So I opened the door and there she was, outside the door, listening in on me. There time could have been better spent dealing with real issues on the campus: drugs, gangs, Teen pregnancy, skipping, sex, students fighting teachers, and fires, just to name a few.
One day, during the first class of the day, I had four administrators come in at some point during that period. Yes, four! That was absolutely insane. My students started telling me “Don’t forget to write it down, Ms. Brown. Ms. So and So was in here for x amount of minutes.”
Another thing that they did to punish me was to give me a class of students that had previously failed the Math section of the state standardized test. Apparently, they thought I was Jesus, and a miracle worker. And they had the nerve to compare my test results to those of a teacher who taught Pre-Calculus. Really?! There is no comparison.
By the end of year three, one of the administrators actually apologized to me. He stated that “You are not what they said you are.” I understand, he was just doing his job and what was required of him. And I definitely appreciated his apology. But by then, I had had enough of their harassment and mistreatment, and decided I wasn’t returning.
Years 4 and 5: During the summer following year three, I had much difficulty securing a teaching job for the next school year. No one would hire me! The first day of school came around, and I still did not have a job. The second day of school I actually had an interview…with the principal of the high school from which I graduated.
During the interview, the principal admitted to me that the administration from my previous school (Babylon, as I liked to call it) had very damaging things to say about me as a teacher. No wonder I couldn’t find a job! He stated that he was hesitant to contact me, but he wanted to give me the benefit of the doubt. And plus they were in need of a math teacher. Needless to say, I got the job..mainly because the school was desperate.
I didn’t have much dealing with the administration the first year there. They seemed to be pretty pleased with what I was doing for the students. There were no false claims against me, and definitely no harassment.
The second year, I was placed in a special Project Based learning school within the school. I was very excited about the program, but unfortunately, it wasn’t ran very well that year. Students were not being made to hold to the parameters and expectations of the program.
Towards the end of year five, the principal came to me and told me that my expectations were too high. Excuse me?! I proceeded to tell him “Yes, my expectations are high and will remain high. Society already has low expectations for these students because of where they come from. I came from the same community as them, and graduated from this same school. I will not lower my expectations of them, because they will only lower their expectations of themselves. And I want them to know that it doesn’t matter where you come from, only where you go from here.” And you can say that those were my final words, because I decided I didn’t want to work under an administrator that would not want me to push the students to achieve more. It really hurt too, because I was an alumni of that school.
Year 6: Why didn’t I stop while I was ahead? Was I a glutton for punishment? Everyone told me to go to one of the “premier” school districts in the city. So I thought, “Why not? Nothing can be worse than what I’ve already experienced.” Ha!
I interviewed for one position with the district, but realized that I wasn’t really qualified for it. The lady that interviewed me was so impressed with me, that she called all the middle and high school principals in the district and told them to meet with me right away. I interviewed for two more schools, one middle school and one high school. The both offered me teaching positions. I decided to go with the high school, since that is the level at which I’d always taught.
I was informed that the school did not do well with their Math scores on the previous year’s standardized test. And the lady was from the district was hopeful that the Math department would welcome me as an asset to their team. Most of the people seemed friendly, at first. So, I was ready to embark upon a new year.
I was informed by several Math teachers that the lady from the district office who recommended me, was not well liked by many. She was the person who came to tell teachers when they were being fired. And the teachers have given her the name of “Darth Vader.” I didn’t get it. I couldn’t understand why they would have an issue with her. I found her to be very nice and helpful during my time at the school.
As a new teacher to the district, I was required to have two evaluations. I was also required to several trainings. My first evaluation was done by the assistant principal, and it was awesome. She hardly had any criticisms for me.
I had two large classes at the end of the day, 37 and 35 students in the class. On several occasions, I had asked the administrators and the counselors to balance out my class sizes. But it was never done.
The first grading period wasn’t so bad, only a few students earned a failing grade. But it was stressed to the teachers, that we could not have more than 10% of our students failed. That could place our jobs in jeopardy.
My students quickly became lazy and complacent. They stopped completing homework (if they hadn’t copied it from someone else). They knew that we couldn’t “fail” them all, and they took advantage of that. I remember every grading period, trying to decide which students I would “give” a passing grade to, just so I could meet that 10%. Several times I would take students from 20s and 30s to a grade of 70.
And now the administration was upset. Although my evaluation was great, they were not happy about the grades. I had conferences with them, explaining that students were not completing homework, therefore scoring poorly on quizzes and tests. I also expressed how they would copy each other…right in front of me at my desk. But they didn’t care about any of that.
They required me to go to more training, implement class notebooks, and send a note home for every missing assignment. Mind you, that was a lot of notes! So here I was, experiencing everything all over again. But this time it was worse!
Many of my students were on drugs. One was a drug dealer, and apparently admin knew and did nothing about it. Students were coming to class high, and having fights all the time.
They even began to be very disrespectful and hateful towards me. Most of the male students lacked all form of respect. There was a threat of putting razor blades in my desk, the N word was written on my wall with a sharpie, and one student even assaulted me. Yep, that happened. He threw something and hit me in the face. He was never suspended, or even removed from my class. They listed in the attendance record that they suspended him for three days, but he was actually on campus all three days. And all my requests to remove him from my class fell on deaf ears.
Then one student decided to lie and say that I wasn’t helping the students, and that I was always threatening to kill them. OMG!! Wasn’t I the one that was just assaulted?! All of these lies, because she was failing my class. Her father was even upset that I gave her a passing grade. He asked me not to do it again, but to give her whatever grade she earned because she refused to do her work.
This grave lie was told on a Thursday. The assistant principal called me in the next day to discuss it. I told her that none of it was true. She stated that she was going to have to report it to HR. I was so done! I took off on Monday so that I had more time to mentally prepare myself to return to work.
When I returned that Tuesday, I walked into my room and saw a pile of hall passes on my desk. I wondered why the substitute would leave all those hall passes there. After closer inspection, I realized that the passes were for almost every kid in my last class period (the same period of the little liar).
Another student from that class came to me and said “Ms. Brown, I wasn’t here yesterday. But I heard that the kids were called down to the office and a lot of them lied about you. I don’t know what the principals said to get them to lie, but I promise you even if I was here, I wouldn’t have done it.” Wow!! I knew something had to be going on. When that class came in for the day, they were all so quiet and whispering. And some could barely look at me.
The administrators sent someone to watch my class and requested my presence in the office. The assistant principal showed me some so-called statements that the students wrote about me. She tried to block out their names with a Sharpie, but I could still see them. These statements accused me of the same lies the girl had told. What was interesting about it all was that some of the handwriting didn’t belong to the students. And the sentence structure and vocabulary were definitely not that of my students.
A couple of days later, a lady from HR came to tell me that they would not be renewing my contract for next year. I think they expected me to be so distraught, but I wasn’t. My response was “Ok, I didn’t plan on returning anyway.” What they didn’t know, is that they had just made a grave mistake.
As a new teacher, I am allowed my two evaluations before they can even make any decisions about renewing my contract. I consulted with a lawyer, who did confirm they were in the wrong. But he also stated that it would be difficult to sue them because it was my first year in the district.
So, with the advice of the lady from the district office, I filed a grievance. They were not ready!! That grievance letter ended up being four pages, typed. I told them everything that had gone on all year, and how the administrator handle it, or not at all.
When I took the letter to HR, the same lady who told me my contract was nonrenewed, was the same one who received my letter. I sat there and watched her face as she read it. She then stepped out of the room and brought the head of the HR department back in with her. They sat their reading the letter together, giving each other looks of surprise and disbelief.
When they were done reading the letter, they thanked me and apologized to me for what I had endured. They also apologized that HR hadn’t intervened with any of the major issues. They stated that they had never been informed of them. Never!! Never told about the N word on the wall! Never told about the threat of razor blades in my desk! Never, ever told that I had been assaulted!
What???!! They promised that the administration would be confronted and reprimanded. I would get my second evaluation as well. They asked how I wanted to proceed. I explained that I wanted out of my contract immediately.
I was given the second evaluation by one of the academic deans. Once again, a great evaluation. The district worked out an agreement with me so that I could sever my contract immediately. And I was given administrative leave, with pay, for the rest of the school year (about 6-7 weeks).
I vowed to myself that I would never, ever step foot in a classroom again. I felt like I had endured enough. And I had wanted those six years was just to teach.
I changed my mind and had a good first year at the private school. I had finally found an administrator that I was proud to work with. So why did we have to get a new administrator? Well, we got a new one, and she swept in like a dark cloud….
Have you had supportive administrators in your teaching career?
Stay tuned for Part 3. If you missed Part 1, read it here.