A big part of the reason why I stopped blogging last month was because I've been struggling with a desire to be more authentic in my writing. I don't want my blog to be a giant TPT advertisement or limited to surface-level linky parties every day. I'm not saying it's bad when other people do this, but I want a space where I can talk about the things that are more personal. This post is my first step in that direction, so I hope you'll stick around for the journey...
This article popped up in my newsfeed today about a Chicago Public School teacher who is now banned from working in CPS despite previous excellent ratings all because she didn't print out her lesson plan for the day of her evaluation.
The story struck a nerve with me because I understand what it's like to be a dedicated and passionate teacher who is kept from the job she loves. I'm going to do my best to share the short-version today, but it's a pretty involved story...
I was fortunate, or so I thought at the time, to be offered a job at the school where I student taught. I was in a top-ranking school district with endless resources at my disposal, and I was assigned to teach gifted students, meaning, for the most part, my students enjoyed learning and were eager to please. The team of teachers with whom I was assigned to work were like the dream team. We all got along, personally and professionally, and not a day went by without laughter.
It wasn't long into the school year, though, when I learned that my principal had a reputation for making people walk on eggshells. She had her minions, as we called them, who were her prized teachers and could never do wrong. The rest of us, I learned, had to learn to live in a state of paranoia, afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing that a minion would report back to the boss.
This principal split up my dream team for my second year, and I ended up working closely with a new teacher, whom we recruited from another district (when her former principal and mine became buddy buddy). She and I were assigned to a split LA block, meaning each of us taught one period of the block. It didn't take long for our roles to be established: I was to do all the planning and creating, and she would run copies. Each morning, like clockwork, she'd come to my room to collect handouts for her class and ask me what was on the agenda for the day. I mention this because it will be pertinent later.
In my two years at this school, I really did love my job. I developed great relationships with my students, parents, and the few teachers I knew I could trust, some who are still friends today. I was cordial to everyone and worked hard not to ruffle any feathers because I had seen the consequence of this the year prior when a fourth-year colleague, who was about to become tenured, was let go for using sarcasm in her classroom. No, I'm not kidding.
In this district, first-year and second-year teachers were evaluated four times by two administrators. Two evaluations are planned, and the other two are pop-in. The evaluation lasts one period, even during a block class. All eight of my evaluations were great. In fact, during my last one, which happened in February, under suggestions for improvement, my principal wrote "None" with a smiley face.
Imagine my surprise when I was called into her office two weeks later and berated for an incident that had happened SEVERAL MONTHS prior. To this day, I couldn't tell you how she even knew about it because she certainly wasn't present, but I guess that's why she had minions. Anyway, here's the story...
A girl on my 7th grade team (not one of my students) had a crush on one of our male teachers. This was not a secret. EVERYONE knew, including him. Honestly, I thought it was pretty harmless and certainly more innocent than my crush on Channing Tatum. To be fair, this teacher was very young and looked even younger, so I could understand the appeal. I was supervising the hallways after lunch one day (a job I was not even assigned, BTW), and heard this girl yell, "Mr. XXX is so hot!" She immediately looked at me, and I giggled awkwardly and replied, "Um... maybe you should keep comments like that to yourself?" She nervously apologized and continued on her way.
And that was it. As far as I was concerned, the story ended there.
Until I was called into my principal's office and chastised for not being more stern with this student and addressing it with her parents and a detention. I sat there dumbfounded. It never even crossed my mind that this was a punishable offense. Never. (In my defense, I approached several other seasoned teachers and administrators about this incident after this fiasco, and they ALL replied that they would have reacted in the same manner.)
Flash forward to two days later when I go in to my pre-scheduled summative evaluation. This is when we're supposed to talk about all those glowing evaluations, but instead, I see that she has marked me as unsatisfactory, meaning that I do not possess the basic teaching skills and am not recommended for re-hire.
And her reasoning? "Inappropriate relationships with students," which is SUCH an inappropriate label, because she thinks I don't hold myself in a professional role at all times and am too friendly with students. I told her right then and there that I have NEVER had any conversation with any student that I wouldn't be willing to repeat verbatim in the presence of every administrator and parent, but of course, her decision was already made.
She also informed me that she would be "watching me" and that I wasn't to discuss this with anyone. I was literally too scared to even casually socialize with anyone for the rest of the year. In Illinois, teachers have be notified of their status for the following year 60 days (I think) before the end of the school year. This means, it happened in March, which meant I had to come back and teach in this school every day for 2.5 more months. It was TORTURE!
Of course, I went to the union, and my reps took it right up to the president, who was weeks away from retirement. He encouraged me to write a rebuttal for my records but basically said there was nothing I could do and that principals have absolute authority to write whatever they want on an evaluation.
I learned later that the new teacher on my team was promised longevity in her position at her interview. I found that very interesting because we knew going into that year that we were going to lose two teachers. She was also promoted to a team leader for the following year because, apparently, she showed great leadership and dedication using MY LESSON PLANS!
My unsatisfactory rating not only kept me from getting other positions in the district, but she also managed to ruin my chances at a job in another district the following year because she lied to me about what I should write on future applications. I suspect she needed a reason to let me go so she could keep the new girl, which is bad enough, but I don't know why she had to be so vindictive. My rationale is that she's just an evil person. A well-connected, evil person.
It's been four years since I left that school. I've worked in may schools since, but I haven't had my own full-time classroom in Illinois since, something I'm still seeking today. I also think I have some PTSD or something from the experience because I trust no one. When I'm at work, I live in a constant state of anxiety. Not enough to paralyze me or make me dislike teaching, of course, but enough to keep me from thinking anyone in my building is a friend. It's sad, really.
And you know what? In almost every school I've worked since, I've encountered teachers who are terrified of their administrators. Too many teachers live in this same state of fear, worried for their job safety. Even those who are tenured worry about being moved to new assignments or losing leadership positions if they upset the wrong person.
Something is wrong with our evaluation system when we have passionate, dedicated teachers who are unable to do their jobs because one administrator decides so, especially over such silly things. I continue with the hope that I will find my home school, and I will be able to move beyond this once and for all. I desire to work for a school where my administration is an ally and resource... please tell me they're out there!