***The following article got 164 “Shares” on Facebook, 6 Tweets, 4 E-mails, according to social media trackers that appear beneath it, in our state newspaper, the Providence Journal. That’s whopping interest. Is there a market for this important dialogue (education from a career teacher’s perspective?) You be the judge…Check out all the other Op-Ed’s numbers.
Latest data predict dire circumstances for education. New teachers are leaving the profession in droves.
The classroom teacher has little say regarding work conditions, and even if she’s brave enough to transfer to a new building, she’s busted to the lowest level, often losing the only perks this profession allows — good classes, regular room assignment, etc. If one doesn’t get along with the new supervisor, the teacher has no recourse; she must merely endure.
I was a 30-year teacher who taught in four different buildings in an urban district. I believed transferring would keep me fresh in a job that can become mind-numbingly monotonous.
But my last transfer almost did me in.
In all my years, I received glowing evaluations and worked well with superiors. But in my 26th year, I hit a wall. My troubles began when an irate parent ambushed me before school began.
She demanded an extension for her son on the deadline for his English term paper (due dates for these are supposedly inviolate). She claimed he had major health problems. When I suggested she make an appointment with guidance where we all could discuss this, she began screaming, telling me I didn’t care about my students. Since students were filtering in, I asked her to leave. It got ugly.
I found out, later, that she met with my department chairperson and it was agreed that her son would get that extension. I was apoplectic. The “sick” boy had never been absent; furthermore, he’d never missed football practice or games.
The next morning, I found a floral bouquet on my room threshold from my chairperson. I threw it out. I didn’t want flowers — I wanted support in the hard decisions we teachers make every day.
So, I made a decision: I’d transfer to the adjunct building. She and I would only see one another at department meetings.
She had four rooms in my new building to which she could assign English teachers. Two were large and airy; others were half rooms, suitable for resource or tutoring. I was the only teacher on her staff who volunteered to teach incoming ninth graders; other teachers were involuntarily transferred to our building.
On that first day of summer, with a counselor friend in tow, I learned: My department chairperson assigned me to one of the half rooms.
Thirty-five desks jammed against each other, and my work space was so constrained that students could actually touch me while I wrote on the board. Scarce sunlight filtered in, through a narrow, boarded-up window.
When I asked for a new room, she said: “There’ll be no changes in room assignment.”
Next, I began my letter and phone campaign to the principal, telling him I was claustrophobic and couldn’t endure that environment. The whole summer passed and I got no response.
Orientation day for teachers came. Face-to-face with the principal, I told him I couldn’t work under such conditions. He told me my request was “too late” (students had received room assignments in the mail).
My union representative, plant supervisor, and I met in my room one day after school. The plant supervisor confirmed that the room lacked minimal personal space requirements. But that’s as far as he’d go. I was stymied in all directions.
In the next weeks, I taught in that room, but increasingly, I felt like Lt. Col. Nicholson (played by Alec Guinness) in the movie “Bridge Over the River Kwai,” who when caught by the Japanese was put into a hot box to break his spirit.
I couldn’t sleep at night and suffered anxiety attacks while teaching. I wrote registered letters to higher-ups stating my end date at work if a room change weren’t imminent. I backed up my claims with pictures of students and me in too-crowded conditions. Still, nothing changed.
On a brilliantly-sunny day in September, in my 26th year, I stayed home from my job. I was two years short of retirement age, which meant my pension was at risk. If they sought to fire me, I’d get investigative reporters to validate what I experienced.
The upshot? The principal called and promised immediate action.
When he called back, he told me they’d found a bright airy room on the second floor. It was being held “open” for a second semester health class. I was stunned.
Four years later, I left my career, but not without coming away with the following: Teachers must be allowed to grieve the actions of their department chairpersons since they’re spokespersons of administrators. Teachers should be invited, on a rotating basis, to weekly management meetings, allowing them opportunity to weigh in on issues that affect them and their classes.
In other words, teachers must be given a voice. Maybe then they won’t feel so impotent, and maybe then they won’t leave the profession in droves. Here’s the official article. Note the social metrics icons below..Send it to others. It is the story (mine) of a desperate teacher who got no support…anywhere. This is the action I took.
If you’ve read this article before (when it appeared in newspaper), feel free to browse over past Biddy Bytes posts…Go to the side of website for “Recent Posts” or scroll down to bottom of page for “Older Posts” you might have missed…..
If you’re a teacher, feel free to weigh in. My point is: Teaching, today, is hard enough. A teacher doesn’t need unilateral decisions that produce more hurdles..If you’re from another career and have experienced unfair labor practices, tell what you did…Does HR help or hurt?
***Please note: While Colleen Kelly Mellor completes her book Patient Witness, documenting her lifetime experience with the health care industry (it’s ‘wicked interesting’ as they say in Rhode Island), she’ll post to biddybytes on Mondays, only…..