"You should write a story about this." One of my professors says to me at the English Department workshop. She had asked the deadly question: "Where have you been since you graduated?"
The sad part about this story is that it begins so happily. I had graduated from college in 1999 with a good old 4 year degree in English Education and was just simply hoping to land a job that would benefit me more than hurt me. This meant "praying" (even though I am not religious) for a job in Minnesota since, as everyone knows as if it was law, North Dakota didn't/doesn't pay squat.
My first interview came at the end of the month and BAM I was hired on the spot. As I drove the hour and a half back to Fargo, I was still in shock. My mom was elated and my ex-boyfriend suddenly wanted me back in his life. It was a great feeling. The pay scale pleased me (the student who had visions of a better car and a student loan to pay off someday), but it was the enchantment of a new life that peered before me that excited me more than anything. My own classroom to decorate, new students to challenge, and my very own teaching experience to crack open and make more awesome with each passing year. With visions of a cabin on the lake, dogs, and a cute hubby lingering in my future, I moved to a lake town situated near Fergus Falls, MN and prepared for the coming year.
Staying at the school, my second home throughout the 9 months, became almost fun. I adjusted the layout of the room and books to my liking and also acquainted myself with the custodians, secretaries (one even said "You can do whatever you want to the room- it's YOURS!"), and the program I would use for producing the school's yearbook.
Before the first day began, I stood fixing my hair in my bathroom feeling nauseated. What if I failed? What if the students ate me alive? To me, the worst thing you or anyone else can do to you is to make you doubt yourself and that's what was occurring as I stared at my paling face in the mirror. I inhaled and exhaled and then lost my breakfast in the toliet. The rest of the day, gratefully, went much smoother.
For one, the faculty was quite welcoming and seemed to take me under their wings. The older females considered me their adopted daughter, and one of the older males joked with me about being so "liberal" as he put it. And I was. (Still am.) I was full of new ideas. Ideas that, yes, needed to accomodate to each year, each student, and each situation, but they were and still are brillantly thought out ideas. I was too modern for this town, I thought sometimes, yet I knew that these students needed me. They needed me and I needed them just as much.
After dodging age questions with my seniors first hour that day, the rest of the months seemed to fly by. I just simply tried my hardest to keep up and try not to take anything seriously. Vocalized criticism was rarely there and when it was, I took it into account and thought through the possibilities of arranging it to work for all involved. Like I mentioned, though, the criticism wasn't there and my ego began to inflate without my help. The students liked me and didn't want to tick me off (a great way to discipline for me) and parents liked my enthusiasm and ability to look them in the eyes and be honest about things that were happening with their kids.
The people that couldn't look me in the eyes were the the ones that would end up determining my future. At the end of my first year, reflection for next year began and at about the same time that I thought of all my changes I was called into the superintendent's office for a "meeting." He (who had never stepped into my room for longer than a sneeze) proceeded to tell me, he even had a list, all the things I had done incorrectly while the principal sat there and said nothing. The principal, one who had tried to retire a few times already, had given me high marks in every evaluation.
The list included, but was not limited to, my relationship with the students (I was "too friendly"), my attire (my "panty line" was of major concern), and teaching style (allowing the students to think and feel instead of memorizing facts and how they should think and feel about the literature we were reading). I feel NO need to defend myself because I know that nothing I did was wrong - it was, simply put, different and that scared him.
I probably scared a lot of people in that community. I am a young, female teacher that defends her beliefs and ways of doing things. Plus, I didn't want to date (long reasons why) in the community and so that was excessively taboo to them.
Luckily, I was allowed to come back and try to improve myself (which meant to be a little less me and more of someone else I wasn't). I was grateful to come back because of the students. That is the reason many teach. It's obviously not the pay and it isn't the parents and it isn't the administration. It IS the kids.
I spent most of the summer as far AWAY from the community as possible. This was the lake town I had fallen in love with at first glance and I was spending the warm summer back in Fargo with my sister and best friend. I began to doubt myself and my teaching and I also thought many people were talking about me. My parents worried about me and my friends told me to leave the teaching position.
The next school year began easier than the first and like many schools in the area, we had another new batch of teachers coming in. Of all of them, I hooked up with three of the ladies and we all started hanging out. Stress was illeviated with getting together to vent, drink, and smoke. I make no excuses for these activities because without them I would have probably killed myself or ended up in a mental facility. And these activities were not because of how the kids affected me, but because of the everyday chaos: parents who think their ideas are better and administration that appeared so shallow even the youngest students could see through their fake exteriors.
It was rough, but with every evaluation from this new principal, I got better and received high marks again. Out of all the bad things mentioned the May before, the outstanding thing I had managed to do was produce an excellent yearbook. So once again, we did. I knew my attitude towards certain people was lacking, but they were lacking in both directions. The respect was not there and I was getting treated worse than when I was first in student teaching and just learning everything unspoken of in teaching textbooks.
In March, I was informed of a meeting to discuss "next year's curriculum" and within my gut came the indescribable feeling of knowing I was about to get fired. I knew it just holding the letter. So, that Wednesday afternoon, I headed to the same office from the May before. While walking through the Media Center, I sighed and knew that it was happening for a reason. An unknown reason to me at that time, but a reason, nonetheless.
He was blunt. My contract was not going to be renewed, the reason was that I didn't add up to "district standards," and that I should finish up the year "strong." They then proceeded to ask me what to do with certain classes, as if I cared. I wouldn't be teaching them.. wouldn't be the one standing there in my classroom benefiting from my kids and the light bulbs I had grown accostom to seeing light up above them on a weekly basis. I was shocked, pissed off, and crushed. Like a love affair gone insanely wrong.
I sat there as they blabbed about that, "firing people," not being a fun part of their job, and I thought of beating them up. You have to understand, I am not a violent person and here I was with so much adrenaline inside of me that I could have exploded with fire. They made me doubt myself - that was what hurt the most.
In a daze, I returned to my room and e-mailed my family and close friends. I was still in shock as I told my girlfriends throughout the evening and they took me out because all of them knew that deep down, I needed companions that night. I am still grateful for that and always, always will be.
The students wouldn't find out for a week because it had to be "okay'd" by the school board the following Tuesday and I even sat in on the meeting to try to look into the eyes of the parents that had told me I was doing a great job throughout both years. They never looked up and it was all taken care of in seconds. Again, I was utterly crushed.
Trying to teach class the next day and months to follow were difficult. I wrote out what I needed to say to them so I wouldn't choke up. Besides not being violent, I am also not one that ever wants/wanted to show my feelings to the students. They were either completely shocked, saddened, or mad. Many voices were raised in anger towards anything that had to do with it all. Some tried to convince me to stay as if it was my choice. I received hugs the entire day and frequently until the end of the year too. Heart-wrenching is not the word for it. I am still recovering.
I used many things to numb the pain from that day on. Denial, partying on the weekends, and various trips to see friends to simply get away and drown myself in my music while driving in my car. My decision as to what to do next, however, was made only hours after being "let go." I was going to Grad. School. I didn't want to deal with any school politics anymore. No one deserves to have to question themselves constantly, to doubt themselves, or to get such little respect.
On graduation night that May, the girl who spoke first on behalf of her class, Natalie, brought me to tears as soon as ones started to stream down her rosy cheeks. I finally cried, and it hurt. Yet, as she spoke of going onward on their paths through college and life, I realized that that pertained to me too. "Everything happens for a reason" people say.
Why did this happen? Maybe simply for me to grow and maybe for me to write this to inform everyone of what really occurs out there and WHY we can't get any teachers to STAY in the schools.
This is dedicated to all my students who will remain in a big chunk of my heart forever and who I will always defend when older people say "Kids these days!". This is dedicated to all the teachers that let their students think and feel and love so powerfully that they feel good about themselves. This is, finally, dedicated to those teachers that have doubted themselves and have soul-searched and have realized the reason for them standing in the classroom is what is right in front of them.