Heartbreaking Story Inspiration by Joel Wagner - January 31, 2009June 30, 201011 A reader wrote in with the following story. I don’t even know how to begin to respond to it, but I’ll add some thoughts at the end. Hopefully this reader’s experience will serve some of you somehow in the future. When I interviewed at my school, it appeared to be everything I wanted in a job. I interviewed for one prep. I addressed my classroom procedures, consequences I employed, rewards I employed, my teaching style, asked about administrative involvement… and basically heard everything I wanted to hear. I fortunately came to that school with very kind references and evaluations. What I found on my first day were five preps across three grade levels. When I questioned it, I was told that everyone had to make sacrifices. So I did. I also found myself under an assistant principal who was a child advocate – to a point where the children were always right. I was, at different times, told to change a grade or I would not make it through the probationary period; told to take late work – up to 9 weeks late – and grade it for full value (in direct opposition to my stated rules that late work must follow the district guidelines); told to call the assistant principal before I could call out sick so she could determine if I was truly unable to make it to work; told to change my focus from getting the kids to explore and learn to “making” them learn… and on and on. My students quickly came to realize that if they didn’t like my rules (basic stay in your seat, don’t throw things, don’t cheat, etc), they could go and complain to her… and I would be forced to allow the behavior to continue (because we all know kids don’t cheat). I essentially lost all control of my classes. I also was told to spend less time on my appearance and more time on my classes. I look very young, Joel – I could pass as one of the kids. I dress professionally – tailored pants and knee-length skirts, button-down blouses – but I had a 10 minute hair/makeup routine in the mornings. Did I mentioned she only observed me teach once during the year? Additionally, I found myself the focus of several rumors – notably, that I missed three days of school because I had done too many drugs over the weekend to come to work. When I brought this to her attention (damage control – I have no desire to be on the news), I was told that students don’t lie, and that I must have done these things or something to make them think I engaged in this type of behavior. I quickly offered to leave right that minute and go take a drug test and was told it was unnecessary, but I needed to change my lifestyle (???!!!) I was also told I shouldn’t drink in public – not even a beer with my dinner. But it was ok for the rest of the school to go out to happy hours on Fridays. I did set up a meeting between me, my principal, and the assistant principal to try to resolve some of the issues. I left that meeting feeling that the rest of the year would get better – I would have control in my classes again, but offer more chances to correct the behavior; the students would be forced to adhere to the district work guidelines; rumors would be disciplined; and I would plan better for my classes. I then was called to the AP’s office and told never to embarrass her again or my evaluation would suffer. I was burnt out trying to keep up with five preps – up until 1AM grading and planning, then back up at 5 to get ready for work at 6:30. I didn’t eat, drank too much coffee, smoked too many cigarettes, and never truly relaxed. My job became my life. And I left it. Out of all the administrators I’ve worked with, I adored the majority of them. They offered constructive criticism when needed, praised lavishly when they felt I deserved it, worked with me to help students, and responded to my “higher authority” disciplinary needs. But then I think back on these two and wonder… why me? What did I do wrong? I have been out of the classroom for awhile now. I spent a few months resting, relaxing, and getting my sanity back. I spent a few months blaming everyone and everything but myself… until I realized there were some things I should have done differently. I have spent months researching, planning, reading, and taking classes before I take the plunge back into the classroom. I know I was a good teacher, and I know I can become a great teacher. I want to know more and provide my students with the best possible learning environment and tools for learning. And I think this time off will have strengthened my ability to teach. I love what she says at the end about accepting some of the responsibility. The thing we teach kids so often is that they are responsible for their own success or failure. Was it an antagonistic work environment she was in? Clearly it was! But her response was to step back, get out of the situation for a while, and do some self-introspection. This led her to continuing the journey. I’m so proud of her! Feel free to comment, but understand that any comments about administrators in general, or even a long diatribe about one specific administrator you have had are likely to be deleted. Joel WagnerJoel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.