What they don't prepare us for in college (this is me speaking now 20 years
later having graduated from college), is what types of circumstances we
might find ourselves in as new teachers when we get picked up from schools.
There are administrators that are covering their tails for one reason or
another. We used to think administrators were supportive of their staff as
public liasons, but the pressures are great...and they are likely to believe
anything bad about a teacher they hear! Not all adminstrators of
course...as there are good ones. Still, the pressure is enormous on their
There are budget concerns where the community is breathing down their necks,
and because sports is everything to perhaps a smaller community...they can't
and wouldn't dare trim the budget from any athletic programs!
There are districts attempting to perpetuate an image and work with the town
council/representatives to draw in new families to increase state monies,
growth, etc; One such system I was in was attempting to create a "Little
House in the Prairie...nothing ever bad happens here!" appearance. A small
town that was growing economically, though "we don't have the problems
bigger cities have!" ...hoping to draw families wanting to raise their kids
in a better environment.
That was a joke. Most the farms in the surrounding area were going under,
and led to divorce, drinking, suicides. Seventy-percent of the students in
this 2,000 plus populated high school were from single families. Many of
you know that art teachers and other elective teachers are the one's that
counselors like to become buds with...because if any teacher has a pulse on
what students are doing which is good or harmful, we do. We hear it.
When it was discovered that I loved the students, and the students loved
me....and that often would come to me to share some tragic things, the
process for my being let go was initiated. The administrative policy was to
sweep the truth of such things under the carpet. They did not like dealing
with the community with genuine problems. "It doesn't happen here!" Thus,
a large city school is more willing to allow drug advocacy groups organize
clubs, etc., for a school because everyone knows and can't hide from the
fact its there. Its often worse in some smaller communities!
The advice given to me by the other art teacher there at that time was his
own policy, (he was there long enough to have established tenure prior to
things worsening), "never let yourself get close enough to the students
where they tell you what's going on in their life!"
Such an administration often adapts an attitude that their job is to help
teachers improve. That notion "to improve" implies that there is something
wrong with each and every teacher, and "by God I'm going to find out what it
is, bring it to light...and that individual will change to MY satisfaction
or find the sharp edge of my axe!"
I had an incident where a young girl of 14 admitted to being raped at a
brother's beer party. She was 12 years of age at the time of the rape. Of
course, legally...you have to report such a thing. For some reason, because
she loved art...my emphasis on self-expression, and the sense of a safe
atmosphere my room provided for kids to be themselves...she felt she could
and would devouge such information to me. She went the course of drug
addiction to cope with her secrets and pain, and was becoming suicidal.
Oddly enough now....isn't it interesting that as teachers we may be judged
as to our effectiveness in teaching (actually more our academic subject
peers will be judged) by the state based on scores, yet...what test is there
that determines the frame of mind kids are in due to divorce, violence and
drunkenness in the home, etc? How important is math to a girl whose mother
is in the hospital due to her father's drunken rage, for example?
Well...no surprise the mother was in denial of this young girl's exposure
and dependence on illegal substances. You know the, "not our little girl!"
thing. The administrator feeling heat from having to follow up told me that
I "was hired to teach, NOT TO CARE!" and mandated I speak no more, nor
listen to any further things as concerned coming from this young lady. The
head counselor insisted that I needed to maintain such contact as the only
adult she was willing at that time to speak with.
Gosh....and I thought I was just going to teach art. That I'd walk into the
classroom and students dying to receive what I had to give them would be
there to soak everything in most gratefully! I'd buy a house, raise a
family and live happily ever after!
Now...the real irony was, this administrator giving me one demand, and the
counselor whom gave the other conflicting mandate...were actually married to
each other! I hear some 12 years later they are no longer married.
Well...enough about all that, and I dont' want to go further here with
details, but...you can find yourself innocently arriving at a district that
is a virtual hornet's nest! Keep yourself clean, do your job...work for
your tenure, and keep eyes and ears open to discover the real nature of the
system you work in and decide if you actually want to stay there!
I've learned to observe from subteaching in many districts prior to landing
another full time position....that if teachers are laughing and chatting
quite freely in the faculty lounge and suddenly go quiet when an
administrator walks into it....that's a pretty good sign of an oppressive
situation and bad health.
Its quite humiliating to discover administrators are going thru your desks,
drawers, shelves, looking for anything they might hang you with. What a joy
when eventually you find yourself in a much better environment! I lost out
12 possible years of teaching, lost retirement of seven prior years that I
did...and am basically starting over. I am enjoying myself now, and find
vindication in my value being understood where I am now teaching. My art is
selling in regional galleries and online....and life is pretty decent.
Always there is some good that comes out of things, and the 12 year
sabbatical gave me plenty of time to be productive as an artist. Time to
sort many things thru. I took all that had happened quite personal, but
after a decade had past...learned that as many as 9 art teachers have come
and gone in that district over the past 18 years. Now I realize from day
one, they were looking to fill that position for their three year tenuring
period while at the same time strategizing on the means to justify getting
rid of someone. A way to keep the pay scale at that position at its
minimum. I was actually there for all three years of my probation period,
so evidently I was better than others that apparently were let go earlier,
or, (now that I think of it!) I was more ignorant than the others who saw
what was going on right away! hahahahah...oh well, folks....live and learn!
We press on...
for me, having faith in God, myself, family that loves me...and my own sense
of mission in life does not hurt!