September 28, 2011
You can find Part One of this series by clicking here and Part Two by clicking here.
I had left my old dysfunctional school and was about to enter a school equally as dysfunctional but in far different ways. I had no way of knowing it but if I did it would not have mattered to me. It was a change. I was now working in a high school and it was only five minutes from my house.
Although you can find the names of some of my coworkers and the high school in many of my old blogs, I won’t name them here, and I remind you that any names you will read I have changed.
The high school was in transition. They had gone through a pair of one-year Principals and though they did not know it yet there were more to come. The Principal when I started, Mr. Cooper, was also new to the school and he didn’t want to be there. However, he was professional about it and did a good job but when a chance to leave came he took it. I ran into him years later working in a district office. The following year brought in a new Principal, Mr. St. Clair, who also did not want to be there and it showed. He didn’t do much. He was bored and uninterested. He observed my class for a formal observation and spent the entire time looking out the window. It freaked me out that he wasn’t bothering to watch me during a formal observation, and then it angered me that he was setting such a bad example for the kids. The third year opened with my third Principal, Mr. Stevens, and for some veteran teachers it was their fifth or sixth leader in that school in as many years. Unlike the others, he wanted the position and one year later, when I began my fourth year at the school, we finally opened with an experienced leader.
No matter what you think of a Principal, good or bad, having the same one year to year is preferable to starting over every year with someone who has new ideas and ways of doing things. I cannot overstress the importance of continuity.
One side effect of the revolving door of Principals was that the real power was held by the long-time Assistant Principal, a man who ran the school like it was his personal dukedom. He was nasty and arrogant. He was mean and rude. And he was also looting the school like it was his personal bank account.
Mr. Anderson was a wealthy man. Though I never saw it, he owned a camera shop which did fantastic business, I heard. But I and every other person in the school knew that his wealth really came from being on the books for a dozen or more cushy jobs within the school. For example, every school has a “fireman” who is in charge of making sure various safety rules are enforced. He was it. Any paid position or position where money was controlled went to him if he could manage it. Certain jobs that required hands-on effort he’d pass on, but if it was a more or less do nothing job he’d grab it. I personally saw him punch three or four time cards for various jobs that he was getting paid for at the same time. So once his official hours as AP ended he was on the clock from 4 to 8 (for example) on a variety of concurrent jobs, none of which required any (or little) work.
Though I was a new teacher in my first semester in the new school, I was chosen to be an inaugural teacher in a prestigious, privately funded program, Getaway.
The Getaway Program was to be a school within a school. Those students would have their own schedule, dedicated classes, and a dedicated room where they could study, get tutoring, even hang out during their free periods and it would be their home inside the school. When we were setting up the program I had the responsibility of spending dedicated Getaway money on supplies. Of course, the money went through Mr. Anderson.
I ordered a lot of electronics, from cd players to a pair of giant televisions. All of it was delivered to the school; none of it was delivered to the Getaway program.
Furthermore, while we were given a room we not given any furnishings. We were assured they were coming. None did. For weeks the room sat empty and unused. My boss, a wonderful person who was not (but should have been) involved with the program asked me every day what was happening with the room and every day I told her “nothing.” All of us in the program were under pressure from the foundations and corporations that granted money to Getaway. This was a large program running in many schools and if it didn’t work here, they’d move it to another school. We had to get this room open.
Two or three times a week if I had a free period I’d ask Mr. Anderson about the furniture and he’d give me the same answer, it’s coming. After a few weeks two things happened. One, he told my boss that I was “harassing him,” and two, the furniture arrived.
But not really.
Someone in high authority finally told him to get it done so he had me and another male teacher go to the storage room on the top floor to move the furniture. You see, to pay me back for making him do his job, he claimed the janitors couldn’t move furniture. He fully expected me not to move it either but we called his bluff and we moved the furniture down two floors, no elevator.
However, he had the last laugh. This was not the new furniture the program expected, this was old and beat up, left over school supplies. Where did the money we allotted for furniture go? Where do you think?
And we only got some of the electronics. These I knew for a fact were ordered because I ordered them and not only did I see the invoices, I saw the actual electronics. Weeks after the program started I knew the supplies had been delivered because the invoices were on the Getaway coordinator’s desk but we were never given anything. So I “harassed” Mr. Anderson again by politely asking him when we would get it. To punish me for daring to ask for our supplies, he told me that I would have to get them myself. I took a cart down to the vault where I became one of the very few teachers ever to see the inside of it. It had a big bank-style metal door but inside looked like nothing but a normal, dingy room. All my supplies were there but I could not take them all alone, and Mr. Anderson had a “backache” so I had to do it myself. I took all the small electronics and one of the two giant TV sets. I planned to get the other set later.
The next day I was not allowed to go to the vault, and eventually it was obvious I never would again.
This was where I learned CYA, “cover your ass.” Mr. Anderson was complaining about me. He claimed it was because I was harassing him but in reality it was because he could not steal from the Getaway program while I was around. My boss gave me a heads up and from then on I had to keep a record, one copy for me and one for my boss, of every interaction Mr. Anderson and I had, just in case.
I am not making the statement about theft lightly. Not only did we never get the second television, but Mr. Anderson soon claimed that we only received one. I was the only teacher to see the second set. Who was I to claim he was wrong? I could always go back and check the invoice but strangely, it went missing. And eventually the story became that we had only ever ordered the one set.
I said then and I say now that the second giant-screen TV ended up in his garage.
The postscript to the Getaway room is that when it was finally furnished it was padlocked and the only key was held by the coordinator who locked the room when she was not in it. And she was not in it six out of eight periods a day so in effect, the room was almost never open to the students. Each Getaway teacher was scheduled to staff the room at a certain time. I was scheduled when it was padlocked and the coordinator refused to give me (or anyone) the key. Don’t forget, this was for the students, not me.
Mr. Anderson complained that I was never in the room, and he was right, but only because I could never get into the room. So, CYA, I had to document every time I tried to get the door opened and failed.
Eventually the Department of Education caught wind of Mr. Anderson’s shenanigans because the Principal Stevens reported him. Bad move because he had some naughty things going on himself and the upshot was they both “retired.”
We were then assigned a new Principal who was the worst person I or anyone else would ever work for, but she will come into the story later.
But while my new school was in shambles at the top, I was doing pretty well for myself, as we’ll soon see.
TO BE CONTINUED.
Part Four will appear here next Wednesday.
You can find Part One of this series by clicking here and Part Two by clicking here.