Teachers are notorious for being overworked and underpaid, so why would anyone in their right mind choose this profession?
Every day I worked as a second-grade teacher, I asked myself this question. Within the first few days I realized that “teaching” is only 10% teaching, because it’s 80% moming and 10% an infinite black hole of bullshit paperwork.
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.
This was the other phrase that went through my mind repetitively. At my job, I was responsible for twenty-seven 7-8 year olds for almost nine hours every day. It was truly impossible for me to take care of all of their needs with fidelity. By the end of the first week, I was convinced that teaching must be the most difficult job on the planet. No wonder my aunt, who has taught in elementary schools for decades, calls her salary “battle pay.”
The five weeks of my life I taught second grade were tumultuous, painful, and a true test of courage and faith. Meh. What else is new? Welcome to a day in the life of a gold millennial.
From the day I was hired to work at the school, I knew I was in for a wild ride. One does not simply “work” at a start-up. It consumes you. What I did not know was that I would end my time there physically sick with stress, and feeling that it was no longer ethical to go to work.
After much wishy-washy debate between my head and my heart I have decided that I want to share this story. However, I will not be publishing the name of the school or the names of the individuals involved. All names have been changed to protect and respect their identities.
Muckrakers aren’t made – they are born.
In my high school year book Senior Superlatives, I submitted for publication the following:
“Where do you see yourself in 10 years?: Muckraker.”
Unfortunately, the idiot editors of the year book could not read my beautiful script handwriting, and published the word “Nutcracker.” Thank you so much, thoughtful fellow high school classmates. I could not live that one down, trust me. For five years after that my aunt gave me nutcrackers for Christmas. At the time I was too young to see the humor in it, but now I kind of wish I still got nutcrackers for Christmas.
We do not choose to muckrake. It is not a choice. It is a calling. And there is always a reason we have been called. I believe that my reason for being on the scene of this mess is so that 1. I could save my own children and 2. I could save others’ children as well. Because I do not think I would have believed my daughters’ stories if they had simply come home with them to me. Being there and seeing it with my own eyes and being sick with keeping the secret of it has made the reality of it very real to me.
It is my hope that in publishing this story, future leaders of future start up schools may learn and understand what makes a start up school great, and what makes it fail. In following Angela’s recommendation, I would highly recommend the book “Leaders Eat Last,” by Simon Sinek.
Click here to check out our new book club – Leaders Eat Last is our first read for the month of October! If you’d like to participate in reading this book with other gold millennials, join our Facebook group and RSVP to the book club event. Our Facebook group is also one of the best ways right now to stay in touch with us and get updates about new Gold Millennial blog posts. You can also subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter by clicking here.
I am not delusional. I know that other parents I know from this school will read this and will pull their children out of the school. However I can no longer stay silent. I am literally sick of lying to other parents, parents just like me. We all believed in this school. I cried at the parent info meeting. Tears of joy. We believed with all our hearts in the mission and vision of the school. We ate up that shit like it was cake. We all have a right to know the truth.
I wrote most of the following the night after my last day at the school.
From the very first day at the school, I should have seen the red flags and I should have gotten myself and my children outta there like the building was on fire. This is not a drill.
At the end of my first day of work, at 7:30pm, we (staff) were all sitting in the gym on the bleachers for a meeting with Lindsay (self-proclaimed “Head of School”/Principal). The meeting was primarily about how badly dismissal and enrichment had gone that day.
“Enrichment” at this school is a word I have come to despise. It means the two hours before school, from 6am-8am, and the two hours after school, from 4pm-6pm, when children may stay and supposedly partake in enriching before and after school activities.
Jamie was speaking up to explain a procedure that she and Camille had spent all night the night before coming up with and typing out. She said that they had used the procedure that day and noticed several things that they could have done better. She was trying to explain how they would fix those tomorrow, when Lindsay cut her off.
Lindsay had not idea what Jamie was even talking about. Jamie handed down the paper to her and Lindsay just barely glanced at it before launching into a speech about how we would do dismissal her way, because that was the way that was going to work.
Jamie tied to interject why it wouldn’t work, but Lindsay just looked right at her and said, “You are being disrespectful right now.”
You could have heard a pin drop in that room. I think all of us were in shock. That was the first of many red flags to follow where I would finally recognize a pattern: that the administration treats us like children. We are not only not welcome to share our input or even our observations – it is verboten to do so. I have never felt so oppressed as an employee ever before in my life.
The way they treat us I would expect from a job like if I have joined the Air Force after all. But I didn’t join the Air Force. I took a job working at an elementary school.
Mountains Out of Molehills
The school lied to us about so many things.
But the thing is, I wouldn’t call it lying if the school had just told us what was going on as it developed. No one would say the school had lied if they had just been transparent with parents.
This would have been easy to do on the website or even in the parent Facebook group: “Hey parents, I know we said the food would be organic and amazing BUT due to unforeseen budgeting constraints we have had to make some changes.” That’s all it would have taken. And parents would have understood. No big deal.
Instead, admin decided to stay silent. And of course parents were upset because it came out of the blue. They were still sitting at home and at work expecting “amazing organic” lunch. All of a sudden they saw their kids’ lunch trays plated with unidentifiable “pizza rolls” and puddles of speckled white ranch.
All of a sudden, five days after the fact, they found out their kid’s teacher was gone. We have been losing 1-2 core staff members each week since week one. First the sixth-grade teacher quit. I thought the third-grade teacher was sick for three days before I found out she had quit. The AMAZING art teacher with 12 years of art teaching experience didn’t even quit. She was fired. Over a rumor that wasn’t even true. The head of the PTO even quit and disenrolled her children because it’s not just staff who are being mistreated; even parents are being ignored.
Now my students’ parents are reaching out to me, confused. They didn’t know what’s going on. No letter has been sent home. They are asking me if I’m okay. What happened? Am I coming back?
I was more excited about lunch than anything else, because the school said they would be fixing all the problems of public school lunches where kids only have 20 minutes to scarf down their food. We were supposed to have a full hour for lunch, and school lunches were going to be catered, and 100% organic. These were promises made to us as parent, and never repealed.
As it turns out, lunch is only a half hour block, and recess is another half hour block. Unlike their promise of the whole school sitting down together to eat lunch family style, three classes at a time go to lunch, and because the lunch staff is so uncoordinated and understaffed (not their fault), even if we show up at 11:30, our kids aren’t being served until 11:55. They have five minutes to eat lunch.
OR we can let them sit longer and eat, but it cuts into their recess, because at 12:30 Pamela comes around with her shiny new silver whistle and whistles everyone in from recess no matter what time they arrived there. Either way, the kids are losing.
This school promised a nice long recess AND a second recess and gym every day and breaks in between classes for the kids to get up and stretch because they are little and need that, but none of it is happening.
Lindsay did recommend that I have my kids “do laps” around our classroom in between subjects, but when I tried that two kids collided and smashed into a cubby. Both were crying and one ended up going home that day with a note to his parents about head injuries. *sigh* Never again.
Gym is supposedly a 30-minute block, but the way 30-minute blocks work with transitions is that kids spend a minimum of ten minutes of each block transitioning. Lindsay thinks we can transition in two, but with even the older grades finding it impossible, I don’t see a snowball’s chance in Hell of that happening for our younger classes.
I have friends who were homeschooling and who I convinced to enroll their children at this school. The kids are in fourth and fifth grade, and are coming home complaining that transitions take so long that there is hardly ever any time to do anything in a subject or special in between.
Another thing I was really excited about that I feel the school lied to us about is that kids would be assessed and placed into groups depending on their ability, and then have classes in various classrooms in the pod according to their level.
I will never forget how excited my own children were when I told them they would possibly be having classes together, and certainly be having lunch and recess together every day.
On their website, this school makes it seem like this is an Arts school, and that attracts a certain kind of family. There is nothing in any of the school literature that makes it clear how much more like a Military Academy this school planned to be. The discipline and exceptions are actually very high. Not every parent who enrolled their child was looking for that.
All of it was a lie.
I feel outraged as a parent because I feel like the school lied to me and made me lie to my children, who ended up confused. I think I have a different perspective than many of the other staff at the school because my own children attend, and are coming out of class each day telling me things that make the milk curdle in my breasts.
And as my husband commented so eloquently, “Ew.”
“My professional goals are to not die.”
Last Friday, after working from 6am til 4:30pm I still had to lead an enrichment class til 6pm. I am supposed to teach poetry to a group of thirty-five kids k-6 who barely know me.
I was starving because I hadn’t had time to pack much lunch that day and I think the school food is disgusting so I generally do not eat it (unless it’s a muffin; I can tolerate those when I am really hungry, but I’d already eaten five of those earlier that day). So I was sitting in front of my computer at the back of the classroom stuffing my face out of a box of Cheerios I keep around to feed the kids whose parents send them to school from 6am-6pm with nothing to eat other than the free school lunch they get.
I was playing Youtube videos of songs with lyrics on the screen because I figured that was “Poetry” enough. During “Hall of Fame,” by The Script, my 7 year-old daughter comes up to me.
She tells me,
“Guess what Mommy? Sean and I are boyfriend and girlfriend. We kissed on the lips romantically, for a long time!”
I was in shock but I managed to ask, “Mia, where did this happen?” “In the pod,” she answered innocently. That’s what we call the hallway. So it happened in the hallway, right outside my classroom.
I had my first kiss when I was 17. My daughter is 7. Not only is everything about this school completely out of control, but it has irreparably affected my own children.
Then my husband walked in and asked if I was planning on playing music videos for the kids for 2 hours and I said yep, that’s exactly what I was planning to do, as I stuffed more Cheerios in my mouth.
For some inexplicable reason he decided to come into my classroom and teach my two hour enrichment, while I intermittently supervised and cleaned up my classroom, which is always a pigsty at the end of each day. I don’t know how he did it honestly. He pulled a lesson out of his butt.
Later, Mia’s teacher texted me,
“So a lot of my kids said that they are in relationships and one told me that Mia is dating Sean (cry laughing face) not sure which ones are making up stories but I thought you might laugh.”
I was even more upset after that because this is not something to lol about! These kids are 7 and they don’t understand at all what they are talking about. It’s going to make them grow up fucked up and confused.
The next week Mia told me while I was tucking her in that now Sean broke up with her and is dating his True Love Riley. And that Riley broke up with her True Love to be with her new True Love Sean.
She just kept saying over and over again, “It makes no sense! It makes no sense!”
“I know Mia,” I said, “It makes no sense. And you shouldn’t have to be worrying about all these things.”
She said, “I am happy that I am going back to Evans where kids are just quiet and learning and don’t have boyfriends and girlfriends. And where people don’t throw desks and chairs and furniture in the class and we all have to evacuate into the hallway. It makes no sense!!” She put the covers over her head.
The student who was throwing furniture was suspended for two days. They do not have an IEP.
Cash Rewards for Enrollment
It made me angry, so angry, when I was at the What If festival last weekend at the school booth and I overheard a conversation that should never have taken place.
A mother was talking with one of the school staff and she asked, “Do you take special needs kids?” Staff said, “Sure we do! We have IEPs and blah blah blah.” The mother said, “Ok because my son has Autism and I’m looking for a new school.” Staff gushed, “Oh no problem. We have lots of autistic kids at our school.”
WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! I wanted to shout. Are you fucking insane?! We have ONE special ed lady. ONE. For the WHOLE SCHOOL. She can’t even accommodate the insanity we already have enrolled.
I thought I would die when they handed her an enrollment packet. If I had that kid in my classroom, I probably would. Or maybe he would. Worse has happened to special needs children at large schools. Our budget will not accommodate another special ed hire, so enrolling another autistic child would almost certainly lead to neglect.
Sitting there I was also confused by why we were sitting there at all. I had just stopped by the festival for my kids to get their faces painted. I was not volunteering with the school. But I had to wonder. Why were they enrolling more kids? We are already stretched too thin as far as children, time, and energy.
Later I found out from Jamie that it has to do with minimums. We are just barely scraping above our minimum enrolled now, and because we’ve lost so many already who got fed up early on by the school’s lack of transparency and incompetency and poor communication, we are dangerously close to losing the funding for our charter. If we lose it, we don’t go past the end of the year, the school gets shut down, and the dream dies.
To be honest, I will be shocked if it doesn’t. They are already proving that they care more about numbers and making their school look good and keeping a dream alive than about the health and safety of hundreds of children.
We are literally inundated with useless paperwork daily that we have no time to complete and reprimanded when it is never completed. I am so annoyed honestly half the time I throw those papers into my paper garbage without even looking at them. I’m sorry but I prioritize the kids. I feel like admin do not support us in making the kids a priority.
Last week a boy was moved to my class because there was an incident where he was bullied by a group of boys into pulling his pants down and touching his penis. His mother requested he be moved to my classroom.
Today, to my horror, it nearly happened again. It happened during second recess. I feel partly responsible because I had to pee really bad the whole afternoon, but because I don’t have any coverage for over five hours in the afternoons, I cannot go, so I went during second recess. My only strategy is to take my kids to second recess and hope that one of the other teachers will be out there with their class at the same time, so that I can run in and go.
Of course that only leaves a student to teacher ratio of about 60 to 1 on the playground, but what else can we do? So that’s what I did. Around 1:45 I started rallying my kids to line up to go outside. It was nearly 2 by the time we got out there, and nearly 2:25 by the time another class finally came out.
I was so relieved to see my daughter’s teacher coming out the door. I ran up as fast as a pregnant lady can waddle up a steep incline and said, “I’m so glad to see you! I’ve had to go to the bathroom for forever.” She said, “Ok, go quickly.” And I thought about how frazzled she must be since that’s how I always answer the kids when they ask me to go to the bathroom during class.
I ran in and when I came back out, some of my students were running up to me. I knew instantly that something was wrong. They told me that a bunch of kids were pulling down the boy’s pants. I was livid. I immediately called my students in from recess.
We lined up and went straight back to the classroom. I called snack and then pulled the kids who’d told me aside to hear the story. I ended up pulling more and more kids out of snack to talk to me because more and more were being implicated. It ended up being about eight of them who were involved.
It all started with a game of Dare gone horribly wrong. Sally dared Johnny to hump Betty, and he did. Then Betty dared Sally to hump Johnny, but she did not. Then a bunch of kids dared another bunch of kids to pull the boy’s pants down, and they were ganging up on him to do so.
My first thought was, not again. This poor kid. My second thought was that this was bad, bad, bad for all the kids, and nothing like this should ever be happening period, let alone at school. My third thought was THANK GOD my own children weren’t participants or observers. My fourth thought was HOLY FUCK Mia was on that playground too, at the same time.
I wanted to blame myself, but even more so I wanted to blame the school. If I had coverage for potty breaks this never would have happened.
When I shared the incident with my daughter’s teacher later since some of her students were involved, she told me that we are supposed to text Pamela when we need a potty break for coverage. But no one told me that. And even if they had, that’s a stupid way to manage things.
Pamela is never available. Every time in the past I’ve needed to send a child to the office or health room with an escort and texted, no one has ever come. (So I always just say fuck it and let them walk alone).
I was confused, angry, and upset. It didn’t all hit me til later though when I drove home from the school crying.
This was a pretty bad recess incident, and I know that others have occurred before and since. Last week I heard of a girl being attacked and stabbed at recess. I am assuming with a stick. But oh my god.
The school hired a staff of almost entirely brand new, inexperienced teachers totally unequipped to handle high student to teacher ratios in our demographic. We only have one or two veteran teachers on our staff. The rest of us have basically never taught before.
We are so grossly understaffed. The school environment with normal ratios of student to teacher at 30:1 and even higher enrichment ratios has created unsupervised conditions susceptible to neglect and abuse, which are indeed happening daily at this school.
In my own classroom, I am one person for 25-27 children. I have asked the administration numerous times to provide me with an aide or even once daily support in the afternoon from our one special ed lady, but I have yet to receive any help.
At any given time I have at least one child crying in my room for one reason or another. One misses his mommy, another feels sick but can’t go home because his moms both work, another’s finger hurts inexplicably, and two more are sobbing because they just got hit in the head with scissors because while I was consoling one child, another went out of control and started throwing things.
One of them is now hiding under a desk with his backpack on and his coat pulled up to his eyes whimpering, “I want to go home. I don’t feel safe at this school.” Over and over again.
At first I doubted myself and questioned my own abilities as a teacher. Maybe my classroom management skills are just very poor. Maybe I’m a bad teacher. Maybe I’m not patient enough, not empathetic enough, not loud enough, not good enough for these kids.
But I don’t think it’s me anymore. I think it’s the kids. And I think it’s the toxic environment this school has created.
Our demographic is broken homes.
Only 6 out of my now 26 students have parents who are still together. I could tell on day one who had a fucked up home life and who had parents who nurture them at home. It’s sad how obvious it is, but this is reality. The kids already have baggage they are bringing with them to school.
On page 7 of “The Seven Principals of Making Marriage Work,” by Dr. John Gottman, he writes,
“In a study I conducted of sixty-three preschoolers, those being raised in homes where there was great marital hostility had chronically elevated levels of stress hormones compared with the other children studied… this biological indication of extreme stress was echoed in their behavior. We followed them through age fifteen and found that, compared with other children their age, these kids suffered far more from truancy, depression, peer rejection, behavioral problems (especially aggression), low achievement at school, and even school failure.”
He goes on to advise that staying together “for the kids” is not wise if they are growing up in a hostile home. However, both bad marriages and divorce are a statistical detriment to children in almost every possible way.
On top of our demographic and the decline of common sense in modern parenting, the school bought a school building last Spring that used to be owned by another school. Other School was shut down mid-year because they stopped paying their rent. Something about embezzlement.
The landlords let the kids who were there finish their year, but the situation was so bad where I guess teachers weren’t being paid that they were down to a ratio of 60 students per teacher. They could no longer fit classes in the classrooms, so they were holding class in the pod.
I found out from one of my kids at recess that 11 of her classmates and herself were at the school last year. she named the names for me. As soon as she did, it all made sense. The puzzle pieces clicked together. I thought, No wonder you twelve are still at a Kindergarten level. You didn’t have first grade. It’s not even the worst of it that they are way behind academically – the worst is that there were zero behavioral expectations at their school last year, and their norm is a completely unstructured, chaotic environment. That’s half my class.
Kids were scaling the school walls and walking all over the roof. Kids were ganging up on teachers and punching them in the stomach. We have heard all manner of stories from the kids. Of course our school is not responsible for Other School’s stories, but they had to have known that they were inheriting Other School’s ghosts.
Then we have another demographic at our school that comes from parents who heard the allure of the 6am-6pm enrichment and thought Whoo Hoo! Free childcare all day! So they just drop their kids off and they don’t really care what goes on here.
I know that part of Lindsay’s charter school application (I read over 122 pages of it) stated her intention to attract latch-key kids, and I see how she has done that with this maneuver, but what the fuck man?! The school is trying to a Vanguard in the ghetto, and I’m sorry but that just don’t work.
Which leaves us with the smallest demographic. I’m guessing it’s about 5%. It’s probably less now because most of us have caught on to what’s going on and not going on and have disenrolled our children as I have.
We are the minority that was genuinely attracted by the school’s mission and vision. Loved everything it was changing about public school. And wanted to be part of the movement. Wanted something better for our kids. Really cared. Interestingly, perhaps not at all surprisingly, I identify those families in the 6 out of 26 of my students.
The Cracks Are in the Foundation
The best way to make a new charter school work is to treasure those parents and work with them as team members, but our leadership is prideful, and does not know how to lead. Does not know how to team. They only know how to boss.
My motto is, “Be a leader, not a boss,” but they don’t understand that concept. They don’t know how to listen. They don’t know how to learn. They only know how to do teacher so they turn and do teacher on us.
If they were more respectful towards their staff and parents, they might have had a chance at making their dreams become reality, but instead they are going to self-destruct.
I will never forget the day Lindsay first came into my classroom after I had decorated it. She read the sparkly foil letters on the bulletin board above my desk out loud, “TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK… huh.” she said, sounding somewhat puzzled, or maybe intrigued. Looking back I realized now why she said it. The concept is totally foreign to her.
The only thing I left in my classroom when I left were those sparkly letters.
We had a fire drill last week and afterwards, Lindsay sent out an email, subject: “fire drill recap.” In it she listed procedure stating that we must turn off the lights and close the door of our classroom before leaving it during the drill.
This sounded ridiculous to me, so I hit ‘reply all’ and wrote, “If there is a real fire, wouldn’t it be unsafe to go back to the other side of the classroom to turn off the lights and shut the door?” Her response: “Stacy, these are state mandated processes. Please follow the directions accordingly.”
I called bullshit.
Another admin staff member suggested that we task a student with shutting off the light and closing the door. So yeah, let’s put children even further in harm’s way by drilling them to go out of their way to shut doors during fire drills. The reasoning was so that staff who had to “sweep” the building for children left behind post-drill would be able to find them easier. I’m sorry but this makes no sense. If the doors are closed and the lights are off, wouldn’t it be MORE difficult to find a forgotten child hiding under his desk?
I have done my homework on this topic. There are such “state-mandated processes,” but they only dictate that fire drills be performed once per month. I spoke with Sunny Smalldino at the Fire Marshall’s office Education Division, and she let me know that they DO indeed recommend closing the door, as this minimizes the amount of oxygen flow into a room that would feed a fire. However, whether or not this is mandated depends on the school not having sufficient sprinklers installed. I happen to know that our school does have an excellent, working sprinkler system and passed all the Fire Marshall inspections with flying colors, so this would not be the case.
Sunny said that “each school has their own unique evacuation plan, which would be detailed in your school’s policy.” I do want to point out that if Lindsay had responded to me that closing the door prevents oxygen from feeding a fire, I would have been very satisfied with her reasonable, polite explanation that took my concern seriously. As it was, I felt like I was being spoken down to, and it made me question my leadership to the point where I had to go to the extreme of speaking with the Fire Marshall myself.
In addition to this ridiculous email, staff receive at least two similarly ridiculous emails daily. In them, admin are typically giving us piles of additional paperwork to do, laundry lists of tasks, or yet another ridiculous change in an already ridiculous procedure that one person thought was a cool idea but didn’t run by anybody else before telling the whole school to do it. This is how they operate.
The Day I Lost My Shit
Overwhelmed by the literal piles of freshly copied paperwork on my desk that I would never conceivably ever have time to peruse, I would sit on the floor behind my desk and cry almost every morning, and often during lunch break too, if I managed to have five minutes to sneak away during my supposed 30-minute lunch break during the kids’ recess.
On one particular morning two weeks ago, I completely lost my shit. I had already been working at the school for three weeks. I had been given plenty of classroom management and curriculum instruction strategies to employ, but no resources to employ them, since they all required projecting and I did not have a functioning projector set up, computer, or even a screen installed in my room. With no student workbooks, no way to print, and no reliable support, I couldn’t teach, and I couldn’t manage my classroom. I felt like my concerns were not being heard and my needs were not being met.
As I sat there wracked with sobs I thought to myself, I just need to make myself another cup of stress relief tea. Then I’ll be okay and I can make it through today. I walked over to my tea bar. I swear I fully intended on making myself a cup of tea. But for some reason I didn’t make it all the way to the tea bar.
I don’t remember what I had in my hands but I threw it into the corner and it made a big sound as it fell onto the floor. Suddenly my desperation turned to rage and I thought, That felt good. So I walked back over to my desk, What else can I throw? I looked around.
I ended up moving very quickly back and forth from my desk to the corner I dubbed “The corner of shit I do not have time for.” I threw a few piles of paperwork in there, but the board games were the most fun to throw. I had Scrabble and Upwords and a state capitals game with lots of colored tiles. When their boxes hit the wall, all the little pieces came smashing down from above in the most satisfying cacophony of tinkling plastic.
Admins Pamela and Paul came running to the door of my room. “What’s going on?” They asked. “Leave me alone,” I answered. And they did. They never came back or asked me later what happened. And so I assumed that it was completely normal for teachers to lose their shit.
I want to see the video of that so bad.
After that I decided to be more proactive. I thought about what would help me do my job proficiently, and I typed up a list of 14 “requests” that I absolutely needed in order to do my job at all. I emailed them to Pamela, and I was grateful that over the weekend she did get a projector and screen set up in my room, even though I had to dig for speakers for the set up later that week, and they are crap speakers that the kids can barely hear.
One of the items on my list bears further mentioning. A very large whiteboard in my room had a broken wheel. Every time I tried to move the whiteboard, the wheel would stick. It looked to me like a dangerous situation waiting to happen. So I requested that the wheel be repaired as soon as possible.
Pamela was not able to fix it (it really should not be her job anyway). She said that her son had taken a look at it but needed some tools that he would have to bring to fix it on the following weekend. I acquiesced and thanked her son for his future service. Little did we know that it would be too little too late.
On Thursday that week, one of my special little boys refused to stay in his seat. Actually I don’t think he’s been in his seat for more than a minute in the past two weeks. Anyway, on this day while he wandered around the classroom, I did my due diligence in following up with other students diligently doing their work, or more likely needing to be re-focused.
I was squatting in front of Valeria’s desk in the front row when all of a sudden I felt a breeze on the back of my neck and a very loud BANG shook the classroom. I turned around, and there was Johnny standing behind the incredibly heavy whiteboard, looking stunned.
I did write him up, but in the referral I did mention that the wheel had been broken before, and that I had already recognized it as a problem and requested that it be fixed sooner. I tried to lift the board to prop it against the wall, but I could not lift it. All I can think about is what if Johnny had been in front of the white board? What if I had been one inch further back towards it?
Since the beginning, and more and more recently, I have been feeling like I am going to pass out and throw up at the same time while I am “teaching.” It feels like stress sick. One day I felt the half black-out immediacy of fainting so intensely I had to sit down immediately and eat a banana. Fortunately I had a banana which was perfect for the situation. I pulled my desk chair front and center in the room so I would still be present for the students.
Just then, Paul happened to pass by my room and observed. Later, after my first parent-teacher conference regarding a bullying episode (one of many), he asked to talk with me for a few more minutes, so I stayed in the room.
He said that it was important to traverse the room while teaching. I knew what he was referring to and felt the need to explain that I am constantly up and down and around the aisles of my students, but at the time he had come in, I was literally about to pass out so I had to sit down.
I mentioned that I had still been feeling this way all day. He did not comment. And so I assumed that my administration did not give a shit about me, my health, or the health of my baby. Whatever. I left the meeting and hoped I would just feel better tomorrow.
Admin has demanded that staff work 7:30-4:45 every day, and truthfully we signed agreeing to this. It is written in our employment agreement. However we are also required to work two hours of enrichment per week at minimum in the lowest pay bracket. I chose the lowest, but I was still working 54 hours per week, and not getting paid overtime. And that’s not counting at all the fact that in reality I worked many more hours than that between prep and simply cleaning my room after school, which is a requirement.
This is no small chore, as nearly every day I have some sort of incident such as the following: I gave my kids a science booklet activity that involved coloring. Since whenever I give them markers they draw all over themselves and each other, I now give them crayons.
Well, one particularly special little boy who does not have an IEP decided to break about 50 crayons into tiny pieces and throw them around the classroom. When I insisted that he clean them up, he proceeded to smash them into the carpet with his shoe. Which is why that day I spent over an hour just vacuuming crayons.
Lindsay sent out an email, i.e. book that stated somewhere along the lines of page 7 that all staff are to clean their rooms and have morning work on desks before leaving the building each day.
Since it takes me an hour to clean my room, I requested of my next-level chain of command Pamela that I be allowed to come in early in the morning at 6am to clean and prep then instead. I am tired at the end of the day. Possibly because I am pregnant, but probably just because I am fucking tired after working 10-12 hour days.
On nights my husband takes evening classes, I need to be able to take my children home and feed them and put them to bed. They have been forced to stay at the school with me, cleaning my classroom or waiting for me to finish cleaning it til 7:30 or later many, many nights. They don’t get dinner til 8:30 or put to bed til past 9. And then I often have to wake them up again at 5am.
She refused to allow it. I was shocked. “No,” she said, “As requested by Lindsay, Paul, and myself, we need our rooms clean by the end of each day. Task students to help with clean-up and aide in the prepping of the room for the next day.”
Unfortunately, my students don’t know how to follow directions, and they don’t know how to clean. I have experimented with many different ways of making this tactic work, but my students still cannot clean the room.
I have tried giving them lots of extra time to clean. Doesn’t work. I have tired cleaning alongside them. Doesn’t work. I have tried bribing them with stickers on their sticker charts (5 stickers earns a treasure box prize) – sort of works but still doesn’t really work.
My poor 6 year-old just had a meltdown in my classroom two nights ago.
I was vacuuming but I heard her sobbing over the roar,
“Whaaaa! I hate this family!! All we ever do is stay here and clean clean clean every day and I’m hungry and tired and I’m always so hungry!!! And I just want to fly far far away from here and I wish I was never part of this family. Only with me and Papi in the family. Ahhhh!! Ahhh!!”
My heart went out to her in that moment. And then I felt enraged at my leadership for being so cruel. I decided that I must henceforth disobey them in order to avoid neglecting my own children.
Other staff have corroborated my feelings and agreed that they often simply disobey Lindsay and Pamela when what they request is unreasonable. I have talked to many other staff and parents and with my own husband who has volunteered at the school extensively, and I hear more and more discouraging, frightening stories.
I hear things like “enrichment is dangerous” and “the upper grades have it worse, they don’t know what the hell they’re doing over there” and “it sounds like a cult” that make me wonder what’s seriously wrong with me for going back to work another day.
So no more days. I have heard and seen and felt enough at this school to be sufficiently traumatized. I am not sure I even want my children going to another public school. All I can do is hope and pray that all of these poor kids at the school can be placed in other schools in their districts where they will not be subjected to neglect, where they will get more than five minutes to eat lunch, and where they may thrive and – crap on toast what a concept – maybe actually learn something.
Whose blowing your whistle now, Pamela?
Revolutions are what I do.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I can’t help it. I’m a community organizer and that’s what I do. So I organized a symposium for teachers at my house last weekend, something I think we all wished our leadership would do. I wanted to create a space where a free interchange of ideas would be welcome. Or as Angela put it, “my rebellion.”
We discussed and I started a google doc with notes from our meeting. We would all agree, polish the doc of our observations and recommendations, and then present it to admin as a group. My idea was that surely they would not be able to ignore us if we spoke together.
I had some great ideas – like that we could resolve transitions being such an issue by having longer perhaps 45-minute blocks, and still fit in all our subjects and specials by having A days and B days.
But only four teachers came to my meeting, and when I emailed everyone the notes afterwards, no one commented on them or made additional notes. I don’t know for sure why, but I do know for sure that admin has created a culture of fear and control that hasn’t helped teachers feel comfortable, or even safe.
I am pretty sure that if I hadn’t quit, I would have been fired, because I was dissenting.
Since I left, several parents and some staff have been in contact with me, and told me even more stories. Every time I heard a new story, I was appalled, and riled up even further to publish this post. I am not going to add their stories now, because I think you get the picture, but suffice it to say that there are even more. They might put on a fake smile, but not a single soul in that building is happy.
Happily Ever After?
The fact is these school conditions became intolerable to me by the end of the fifth week, and I’m honestly not proud that I powered through as long as I did. My girls asked to go back to their old public school, so we brought them back. They are very happy there.
On their first day when I brought them in, they went from excited to nervous the closer we got to the classroom doors. It occurred to me that they might have actually been traumatized by the school we had just come from. I was happy that I could be there for them for emotional support.
I decided to come back later that day and eat a blissful 20-minute long lunch with them too. It was the perfect amount of time. As I sat with Mia at lunch, she said to me, “Mommy, my class is so quiet. And we are actually learning.”
The founders of the school I worked at wanted to innovate. They wanted to be innovators in the education system and make an incredible vision become reality. I think with 6 start ups under my belt, I have a prerogative to appreciate that. I honor their dream and their intention and hold sacred space for that. However, the truth must be told, and the truth is that sometimes things are the way they are because they work. The public schools do things a certain way because, well, because they work.
I think that this experience has taught us all a lot about schools. What we can take for granted and what we have to sincerely appreciate. I know my girls appreciate the quiet learning that goes on in their public school classrooms now.
I never thought I would love public school so much. But there are good teachers there. Good people. Good food. Good kids. And good education.
Thank you to all our Gold Millennial readers, followers, and fans for reading to the end. I know this wasn’t a short one. Thank you and welcome new readers! As always, we hope you’ve been enlightened, inspired, and entertained. To subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter digest, click here.