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Tag Archives: schools

The Blog That Was A Decade In The Making! Part Three

28 Sep

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.

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The Blog That Was A Decade In The Making! Part Two

21 Sep

September 21, 2011

Part One appeared in this blog last week and can be found by clicking HERE.

 

I had started my teaching career in September and by January it was clear that I wasn’t going to be long in my position. I was either going to be fired or I’d quit.

The students were out of control and the Principal was encouraging it. I was brand new to teaching and I wasn’t yet any good at classroom management. Lesson planning and marking tests is only part of being a teacher, and I tend to think that it isn’t the most important part. Classroom management is, and the only way to get good at it is by experience. And I was having a trial by fire.

The main thing any new teacher needs is support. I had so little support that when the school year began I did not even have a classroom. The school was tiny, grades six through eight, and only four classes of each grade. That’s a very nice amount of students but not in that building. We were a new and experimental school and we were in a converted apartment building that was far too small even for our little populace.

We had no supplies. While other schools had giant bookrooms (the high school I later taught in for nearly a decade had six, and that was just for the English department) we had a cabinet. One cabinet that held every book, piece of tape, and eraser for the entire school. I never had a full set of books.

I taught five periods a day, and six on Wednesdays, for a total of 26 periods each week. I taught those classes in eight different rooms. I had no home base. I had to carry all of my belongings with me from room to room. Anything I could not carry I stored in the teachers room. The room schedule was a problem for everyone but no one had as many rooms as I did. I taught classes in other teacher’s rooms where they would not let me erase their boards so I had to tape poster paper to the walls. I taught humanities in a science room where the kids played with the sinks and threw water at each other.

And for the first week I taught three periods in the cafeteria.

It was so bad that I had to change rooms in the middle of a double period class and walk the students to another floor.

By December I was given a room that I was in almost full time and the Principal told me “I did it to make it easy on you.” I replied back “no you didn’t, you did it to try to keep the kids out of the halls.” By then everyone knew I was on my way out. And not by choice. Besides getting yelled at every other day I was always getting written up for ridiculous and unfounded charges. I was the only teacher who got written up for failing to control students at dismissal.

Each teacher had to walk his or her homeroom class out of the building and one day I was written up because my students ran out of the building, an alleged security violation (it was not) that every student in every class committed.

I was written up for failing to keep accurate attendance records. Anyone who worked with me later on will be shocked because one thing I was known for was keeping meticulous records. Back at the start of my career I was always fighting over this.

NYC schools keep attendance on bubble sheets. If a student is absent the proper circle gets filled in, if present, no mark. The forms were delivered to the schools blank and the roster printed at the individual schools. My school always printed them badly. The names never lined up with the proper bubbles. I’d try to use a ruler to line them up but most of the time the names were printed on a slant. Try as I might, I’d often mark an absent student present and a present student absent. No matter how many times I showed the skewed sheets the Principal always said that no one else had a problem. And I knew it was a lie.

The most obvious thing she did to tell me it was time to go was assigning me a mentor. On the face of it that sounds very positive but it wasn’t. Three times a week she’d sit in the back of my class and when it was over she’d offer me advice. Invariably, her advice was that “the students are animals. You should leave.” But that wasn’t the worst, it was offensive. I was told “why do you want to be in the classroom? There are plenty of jobs for teachers in the Board of Education offices.” (We were still a Board, not a Department back then.) So not only was I being told to get out, I was being told to get out of teaching. I have no idea what the mentor thought of me or the situation. Even though I knew that everything I told her went right back to the Principal I told her everything in hopes that I could get some real advice. I never did.

But she did write me a nice letter of recommendation that I never used. I still have it.

By February I could not stand going to work in the morning and was throwing as little of myself into the job as I could. While I may have been the most miserable teacher I was not the worst. In the weeks between September and December six teachers had left the school, a huge percentage of our tiny staff of twenty-four. That does not include the teacher who was pushed down the stairs. While the other six left on their own, he, despite being a victim, was somehow blackmailed by the Principal to not make a report and he was the only person, student or teacher, to be investigated in the incident. He left in January, escorted out by security.

My biggest blow came when my friend Catherine, who had a far, far easier time than I did (she had the highest level students) could not take it anymore and quit right at the start of the new year. She left teaching all together.

One day at the start of February I could not stand the thought of going to work to the point that I was physically shaking. I called out of work that day. I had been calling out a lot by then and it got to the point that the secretary didn’t even ask me why anymore.

I got in my car and drove to every high school in Brooklyn handing in resumes. I started at the farthest one and circled back in. I didn’t have much of a resume. In some schools no one would see me and I’d have to leave my resume with a security guard. In other schools I, having no appointment, would have to wait for an hour before I was given a quick and painful interview. The only school I skipped was South Shore, which everyone in the school system knew was a violent pit but somehow the press never bothered them like they did the school I ended up in. (Years later when I was in a postion to know certain things I found out crimes that happened in South Shore that should have have shut it down.)

The cliché goes that you always find the thing you are looking for in the last place you look. And that is true because after you find it you stop searching, so of course it was the last place. But this was literally true in this casebecause I was hired on the last school on my list. And better yet, it was a mere five minutes from my house.

I got there at 3:30, after most kids had left but while the staff was still there. I didn’t know it but they had a vacancy in the English department that they had been unable to fill and were desperate for a teacher.

The right place at the right time.

The Assistant Principal of the English Department, a woman who over the years I would come to admire and respect as the best boss I ever had, not only interviewed me but gave me a quick test. I passed with flying colors, and I do mean “flying” because she grabbed me by the arm, ran with me down the hall and down a staircase, her other arm waving, all the way to the Principal’s office.

“I found a teacher! I found a teacher!” She was screaming with joy.

Anyone else might take that as a warning but it was music to my ears.

The Assistant Principal looked up from his paperwork, asked, “does he have a file number?” I said that I did, he said OK, and that was that.

But I couldn’t start right away. I had to inform my (now) old school and give the school system time to do the paperwork.

I told my old Principal that I was leaving and she didn’t bother to hide her happiness. She already had my replacement lined up. I told some of the teachers but not many. I never really fit in with them and kept to myself a lot. And I never, ever, told the students.

I had six days left in my time at the middle school and little by little, day by day, my belongings were going home with me. Once I got a room I had filled it but now it was emptying out and by the time I left it was empty. On my last day I walked out with only my near-empty school bag. Despite seeing things disappear daily, the students never put two and two together. On the fourth day one of the students told me that another teacher said I was leaving. I lied. I said I wasn’t going anywhere.

On the fifth day somehow word got out and I was asked by a dozen kids if I was leaving. It was the end of the day, right before I walked them out for dismissal, and I said no. I wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction. They wanted nothing more than to see the last of me. I was the guy who yelled at them all the time.

Believe me, I didn’t like yelling. I am not a yeller. I tried everything to motivate and get through to them but it all just caused chaos and I ended up yelling. I learned from it though, and in my later career I can only recall one or two times when I yelled. By then I knew far more effective- and scary- things to do to students.

On my last day the cat came out of the bag when in the morning another teacher, one of the few I got along with, came to my room during class. She had a going away present. (The teacher’s standard present- a Cross pen and pencil set.) I did not want it. I refused it. It was just so hypocritical, a present from the teachers that didn’t help me, from the school that forced me out, a symbol of the misery I experienced on a daily basis, but I took it for one reason only, because the teacher said she thought I deserved it. I didn’t but I took it out of regard for her.

The rest of the day was a chaotic mess. The same teacher, when she was free, took over my classes just to give me a break for once. And she had the kids make me going away cards, cards which I actually kept for a while. They ended up with me in my new school, in the back of my file cabinet, and I tossed them out about a year later.

At the end of the day before dismissal the kids were being especially wild and as a going away present I, for the only time in my teaching career, told my students just what I thought of them. I won’t go into it but I did tell one student that I’d see him in a few years when he was picking up my garbage.

Not my finest hour.

And then I walked them out of the building, kept walking, and I was gone.

TO BE CONTINUED 

Part One appeared in this blog last week and can be found by clicking HERE.

 

 

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