As I have written before, I was terrible at classroom management. My first two years were miserable. I hated teaching. Then it happened. I absolutely believe that I would be the same teacher today that I was then if it had not happened! You see, I wasn’t fired but in a moment I lost my first teaching job.
We had a friend of mine come in to work with the high school band and the two junior high bands. He is a retired band director and is an outstanding clinician.
He came and worked with all three bands. My band (the second junior high band) was bad. I knew that. I had kids who would talk back to me and just wouldn’t participate and everything else. I figured it was because of the city I lived in. It wasn’t as affluent as the school where I student taught, or any of the other schools I had taught private lessons in when I was in college. It was more rural. So I blamed the kids.
After my class, he pulled me into my office and basically ripped me a new one. He asked what in the world I was doing. He asked me if any of our mutual friends would be proud of the work I was doing there. He told me he was disappointed.
Later that week, the high school director said that the clinician had recommended that they not renew my contract. He told me that the next school board meeting was when they would vote to approve contract extensions and they weren’t going to vote to extend mine.
I was devastated
After all of the work that I had put into rebuilding the program and the morale of the students at the high school and elementary, I was going to have to find a new job. And what stung the most to me was that it was a friend who had made the recommendation. What if I had never invited him to come over? What if I had only told him to work with the high school and the top group at the junior high? Why did I have to do that to myself anyway?
Decision determines destiny
I had a choice. I could finish out the year sour and bitter over the whole issue, or I could learn from the experience. I made a choice. I got on the phone almost every day from then on and was calling up other teachers. I visited other teachers in my class. My new mission in life was to find out how to not lose my next job.
A Burden lifted
I turned in my resignation (so I could check the box that says I have never been nonrenewed) the day before the board meeting. Spring break was the following week. I sacrificed my spring break and spent four days in classrooms in other band programs. I asked the directors tons of questions. How do you do this? How do you do that? For a list of some of those questions (and soem of the answers I got), go read Questions That Will Save Your Career.
I came back from spring break a new man. The kids didn’t know what hit me. I became a benevolent dictator. I was in charge of the classroom (instead of letting the kids take over as I had previously done). I explained the new rules on Monday. By Tuesday, I was dishing out detentions left and right. it took a lot of work, but I finally started to see the ship turn.
- My classes started getting quiet
- My students began to get and stay engaged in the learning process
- My students began to retain interest
- My students started learning!
- Despite being strict, my students started liking me
- The HS director began to notice the change and the completely different atmosphere in the class
- I slept well each night
How I did it
I already told you about the questions I asked. I also changed my entire frame of mind. I didn’t formally announce it to the students until the last two or three weeks of the year. But a lot of them knew because I had told a few parents and rumors started spreading. What I noticed was that I wasn’t all that concerned any more. If the kids dropped out of band because I was making them follow rules, well maybe they didn’t need to stay in the program after all. I was not being mean, but I was being strict. I basically used the remainder of the year as a classroom management lab session for myself.
And it worked. The spring concert in May was the best concert I had in the district the entire time I was there.
The change in mindset was exemplified to me one day when I was at the high school. The restroom next to the band hall had been a student restroom, but was recently had a lock added and was converted to a faculty restroom because of some concerns they had with student usage. I honestly don’t know why.
One of the students came up to me and asked if she could use it. I told her, “well it’s a faculty restroom and you’re not supposed to, but what are they going to do, fire me?” I said it with a laugh, and she got sad, but it’s true. Sometimes administrators like to major in minors and focus on minutiae rather than the really important things. Before I resigned, I wouldn’t have let her go. I’m a rule-follower generally.
What else changed?
I took things less seriously. I enjoyed spending time with the kids while I was still there. I continued talking with friends and asking more classroom management questions. I have come full circle now and have almost become a classroom management evangelist. Why? Because I know firsthand both sides of the coin. On one side, you have a room full of clowns trying to take advantage of everyone. On the other side, you have the same group of kids behaving well because they know there are consequences to their actions.
Great story, but I just got fired! Now what?
One of my new blogging friends, Keri, has recently lost her job. So what practical advice can I offer her (or you if you fall in the same category)?
- I used all of my local sick leave days
In Texas, we have state sick days which transfer from district to district. We also have local sick days, which do not transfer. For the last 9 weeks of the school year, I used a sick day a week. I made some four day weekends, I had a job interview one or two days. I just sat at home and slept in some. Heck, if you don’t have local days, just take some YOU time anyway. The kids don’t need you. The administrators don’t need you.
- Don’t burn any bridges
Get a letter of recommendation from as many people as you can find who will recommend you. Have them on file. These will help tremendously with your interviews. I didn’t get any because I left on positive terms with everyone involved. My situation was unique in some ways.
- Deepen the friendships you have built
It always pays off to have other friends in other districts who will be there to help you out. Need the name of that one book that the kids enjoyed last year but you didn’t write it down, but it had a girl in a pink dress on the cover? Maybe one of the teachers there still can help you out! Or maybe the librarian can check and see what books you checked out. Whatever the case, it always helps to cement those relationships while you can.
- Update your resume now!
Need some help? Go here.
- Get as many interviews as you can
The worst thing you can do is limit your options because you want a specific area of the state. I say that and I live in Texas. I had interviews 500 miles apart in two days at one point. If nothing else, you can some great interviewing experience through the process. The best jobs are available in May and June. Don’t wait until August before you widen your range of acceptable jobs! Take interviews on school days. You’ll be able to see the school in action, and it will give you a productive use of a day off.
- Rekindle old friendships
Some of the best jobs are never advertised. Most of the best jobs are filled by people who know people who know people hiring people. Brush up on your social skills.
This was a period that found me seeking the Lord more than I ever have. It was August and I still didn’t have a job lined up. Summer band had already begun for most high schools around the state. I was falling behind. But God was in control. I had to submit to Him. I had to tell myself that everything would work out. And it did. I love my job now. I am in a place I wouldn’t have dreamed of wanting to go, but it works!
I know, lots of information to digest here. Have you ever been fired? What did you do that worked well for you? What did you do after losing your job that you wish you hadn’t done?