I was referred to as a "teacher bully" twice in the last two weeks. Not to my face, mind you, but on Facebook, filtered through the small town grapevine and shared with me by concerned coworkers. I'm not sure if my name was mentioned directly, I'm not sure what exactly was said, and honestly, as well-meaning as I'm sure the people who told me about these instances are, I'd rather never know about it. Because both instances are things that I stand by, things that I wouldn't do differently next time. I think of myself as someone with a strong personality, and yes, a tough teacher in a lot of ways. I'm not a pushover and I have high standards. I never imagined those qualities would make me the kind of bad teacher parents love to rant about on social media.
Instance #1: A student was making racist comments in my class and I spoke both with the student at school, and his parents at conferences last fall. It obviously didn't go over well, but the student did show improvement after the tough conversation and I thought things were fine. Apparently, last week (four months later), was the time for the parent to rant about the bullying teacher at conferences. I had no idea there was an issue, and since nothing was ever said to me, and maybe this was just an instance of someone needing to complain about school with spring conferences coming up. I don't know. I do know that I won't ever apologize for confronting an issue with racism in my classroom.
Instance #2: A student wasn't taking advantage of rewrite opportunities and his grade was slipping. His homeroom teacher brought him in to talk to me about what he needed to do and a plan for when/where/how it would happen, no excuses. I told him that he'd be coming in to work in the mornings instead of playing video games on his iPad in the entryway before school until the work was complete. I said that he'd probably be miserable doing that instead of playing, and that's why it's important to stay on top of work and take advantage of opportunities right away. Apparently, that's not how it was translated at home. At home it turned into me threatening to make every day for the rest of his middle school days miserable. Instead of emailing or calling me about this, the parent first posted a horrible (so I hear) tirade on Facebook about me, then came straight to the principal the next morning. I went in to the conversation totally blindsided, and thankfully the discussion with everyone got everything cleared up about what actually happened. So everything's okay.
But not really.
Because I guarantee neither parent went back to Facebook later to clarify that it was just a misunderstanding and that they take back the nasty things they said. And I know I never received an apology or acknowledgment of poor behavior from either one. So while I'm a big girl, and I'm going to try hard not to dwell on it beyond writing this post, it still hurts.
It hurts to be attacked without warning or chance to defend yourself. It hurts to be tried by public opinion when the only information comes from a 13-year-old's point of view. Were all of us rational, completely competent beings with perfect memories when we were thirteen? Or was there maybe cause to check with teachers or adults to get all sides of the story? Or maybe, just maybe, it's okay to have an issue with a teacher or school and not blast it all over social media? Maybe before publicly calling someone a bully, people should consider how harmful that type of cyberbullying is.
I know there are plenty of teachers who wouldn't take this to heart, and I'm trying not to. I think I'm getting better as I get older at realizing that I can't let everyone's opinion of me affect my opinion of myself. And I've certainly heard enough commiserating horror stories from coworkers over the past few days to reinforce that I'm not alone in having this situation happen. I know that in a small town, anyone who interacts with the community is an easy target for public scrutiny. I know that I'm not an easy person to get along with sometimes. I know that soon the chaos of my career will make me think of this less and less.
But it does make me think about the "teacher bully" role. Are some teachers bullies? Yes. Could I be considered a bully because of my classroom management style and personality? Yes. Does this mean only the meekest, nicest of people should be allowed to teach in order to prevent damage to children? No. Because people in the "real" world complain enough about how we're not preparing kids enough for the future. And in everyone's future, at some point, he or she will have a boss or someone in a power position who is not very nice all the time, someone who calls him or her out when he or she has done something wrong. Social skills are one of the most important parts of middle school learning, and learning how to appropriately deal with someone you don't like is just as important as knowing how to get along with those you do.
As my student teacher takes over my classes, I have more time on my hands during the day. I was bragging about how productive this allowed me to be when grading papers, but I quickly realized how depressing it can be to grade papers in isolation all day. This week, I've been using my extra time to fill other roles.
We have parent/teacher conferences this week, so yesterday I took on the role of office helper. I delivered progress reports, assessment data, and report cards to homeroom teachers for their conference folders. It gave me the chance to pop in and out of other classrooms; something I never have the opportunity to do during my regular teaching schedule. I also had the satisfaction of easing some of the burden on our secretary, who puts in a lot of work behind the scenes to make things run smoothly.
After being the friendly neighborhood delivery girl, I asked my social studies colleague and friend across the hall if I could be a student in his afternoon class. He was game for it, so I sat in and did the day's assignment. It was fun to see what they were working on, and to be a part of the student environment. It was also an excellent reminder of what it's like to be a student.
Dropping into a class for the first time ever obviously left me with a lot of questions about how to do the required work. I asked my neighbors for help since their teacher puts them in collaborative groups for class work time. It was such a difference to be on this side of the equation. There were a few who were completely clueless about the essential knowledge required to do the work. I also could not believe how many simply had no idea as to what the assignment was, even after what I perceived as specific instruction.
I was struck by the way it's so much more distracting to be a student than a teacher. Packed in tight next to other bodies made me notice every little movement and sound around me. Even when I tried my hardest to concentrate, my close proximity to others made it impossible to stay focused on the teacher at times. It was also a welcome reminder about what's most important to middle school students: socializing. It's how they learn to be humans. I forget that sometimes when I'm trying to get them to work. I offer them plenty of peer response time and group/class discussion, but how much unstructured social time do I allow them? Not enough. In my effort to keep my classroom a well-oiled machine, there are times when I've most definitely sacrificed giving them freedom to interact on their terms. It's something I need to build in more time for.
It was fun to wander around yesterday and insert myself in situations I'd never normally experience. I'm hoping some of my other colleagues will allow me to enter their rooms and be a student (I already have a date with a PE class and some dodgeball next week). It's a good way for me to learn from other teachers, and an even better way for me to learn from students by placing myself in their shoes.
I had a partial seizure while running on the treadmill this morning. That sounds more dramatic than it is in reality, since a partial seizure (for me) results in little more than a 30 second brain scramble headache that I can only describe as "painful deja vu." I finished the last mile of the run because I'm stubborn and sometimes stupid, but I haven't had a seizure in over a year, so it was disappointing to acknowledge that I'm still an epileptic and haven't magically cured myself. It was a bad start to a chaotic day.
A freezing rain/ice/blowing wind/snow storm hit Iowa today after students had already arrived at school. Too late for our district to call a delay or cancellation, too forceful to continue through a full day. The announcement that we'd be dismissing early at 1:15 was expected by pretty much everyone.
What wasn't expected about today? (Aside from the seizure?)
The fire alarm that went off fifteen minutes after we scrambled to change the schedule to make sure students still rotated through classes was unexpected. The hundreds of middle schoolers sliding, skating, and slipping on the ice as we shuffled outside was predictable. Me staying upright even though I chose to wear heeled ankle boots in an ice storm was a feat of balance and an exercise in humility.
The fire alarm that went off five minutes after we returned from the first fire alarm? That was just bull$h*t. Luckily, they stopped us from going back outside when it was obviously a false (or malfunctioning) alarm.
Any career involves a certain amount of chaos every now and then, but throw in being responsible for living, breathing, troublemaking 13-14-year olds during all of this and I'm beyond exhausted. Whenever an unscheduled alarm goes off during the school day I'm filled with dread. It's a clarion reminder that I'm not just responsible for their brains and hearts while they're in my care: I'm responsible for their safety and lives. I think of it every time school shootings splash through the media, but it's not just those extreme events, it's the everyday disasters, too. And the thought that they'll be going home on buses in the middle of a winter weather storm is just another cause for worry.
It's a short day today, since teachers who live in the country can leave right after students are dismissed in order to make it home safely. I'll need to meditate and take a nap, and let the chaos of this morning settle.
That title is overly dramatic. I'm not being replaced. But there are aspects of being a cooperating teacher that I wasn't quite prepared for. Specifically: feeling useless. Even the word "useless" is dramatic here. I know I'm not useless and there's still plenty of work to be done. But it is strange to slowly give up control of your classes. It's strange to direct students to the student teacher when they come in with questions about an assignment. It's surreal to sit in the back of the room, watching a bizarro-world version of lessons I teach.
My student teacher is wonderful: enthusiastic, friendly, motivated. She's a quick learner and has already established a natural connection with the students. So why do I dread the transition to her (almost) full takeover?
I need attention and interaction. I'm embarrassed to admit to needing attention, but it's the truth. I like being an eccentric personality in my students' lives. I like engaging them in discussion over what we're reading and writing, and it's hard to watch someone else take over those primary roles. I'm still reading their writing and giving feedback, but I miss the amount of verbal communication that daily class discussions provide. I miss the way I let lessons take us somewhere new and different in each class and the way I allow myself to get carried away when a student takes discussion in a direction I'd never thought of. I like all of those unpredictable, unplanned parts of teaching, and they aren't happening now that I'm not in my facilitator role. I miss the hours and minutes with my 8th graders, knowing that I'll only have them back for a month before I never see some of them again. I miss teaching.
It's an interesting thought as our district starts to write a grant for Teacher Leadership Compensation (I'm on the committee to write it, so I'm sure I'll post about it later). Part of a Mentor Teacher's role is to leave the classroom and be a mentor to others. Could I do that? Would I want to leave my classroom on a regular basis knowing how this feels right now? If the opportunity were to arise, would I take it? I like to view myself as a leader, but I'm not sure I would sacrifice my classroom teacher role in order to be a leader. Maybe that's the problem with finding a unified force for teacher-leaders. We care too much to leave the classroom, and while we're full-time teachers it's pretty hard to be full-time advocates for our profession, too.
On the flip side, today I had the opportunity to team interview a potential replacement for our social studies position. I've mentioned before that this change impacts me on a personal level: the current social studies teacher is also one of my best friends. So while I want to find a dedicated, intelligent, dynamic coworker to fill his shoes, I also couldn't help myself from slipping into this sappy thought: Are you a person that could be my friend?
That's obviously not a requirement of the position. There are certainly many coworker that I adore working with that aren't really my friends, and that doesn't change how much I love and respect working with them. But the position across the hall has been sacred to me, this friend and colleague who was hired the year after I started. I've had a close ally through these years of teaching, someone who's known me on a personal and professional level, and I'm afraid of what it looks like around here without that. The candidate today was amazing, and certainly someone I'd love to work with on an intellectual and collaborative level. I'm excited to meet the other candidate later in the week, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to stop myself from thinking: Could we be friends? I hope that doesn't cloud my judgment too much when giving my input on the hiring.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.