No Compromises

After having a very passionate “discussion” with my father yesterday, I have realized something: I can’t make compromises when it comes to being an educator.

When I was in CT and after I graduated from Columbia, I taught HS English for two years at two different schools right after grad school. At the first school, I was completely unprepared because there weren’t any English textbooks! As a young teacher right out of grad school, I had no idea initially that that wasn’t normal. I thought that it was a rite of passage, something you just had to deal with. And with the school being so small and isolated from most of the schools in the area, it made the problem more intense. I had to teach day by day on my own. Do you know what’s it’s like to reinvent the wheel every day for FOUR MONTHS STRAIGHT?! It’s so draining, emotionally, physically and spiritually. I looked for any excuse to you use my vacation time. And to make that worse, because the school had so few teachers on staff, the administration rarely hired substitute teachers. As a result, whenever a teacher took vacation time, the other teachers “left behind” had to cover the classes. So you can imagine the tense discussions I had with my supervisor whenever I wanted to take vacation time when other teachers were away. It was horrible! Sure I had a full-time job with great benefits, but for what? Killing myself every day while my students and school administration reap the benefits so I can be tied to a desk/classroom?!

PLEASE! It wasn’t until the new year that I finally got any books for my classes. In this case, I can to choose hardcover plays for the second half of the year for my students. That part of the year went a little more smoother (for my sanity at least) but the old problems still remained. To make matters worse, I felt trapped. I thought I was tied to that school forever because that was all I knew. No matter how often my parents would tell me that I could leave, I felt like a girlfriend/wife in an abusive relationship, I just couldn’t leave. And I didn’t, even during the summer. Luckily, my uncle encouraged me to bid my teaching-free time volunteering at another HS in the area. It turned out that its principal was a member of my church and a trusted friend of my uncle’s. So I went to the school only to do some clerical and computer work to keep my sanity but fortuniously, I left there with a transfer for a new job as an English teacher at that school.

Being at the school was like finally opening your eyes into the dawn. It was glaring at first but I saw a whole new world. Teachers had textbooks, their own Assistant Principal by grade level for support and substitute teachers when they took vacation time!! As small as those differences were, they meant so much to me knowing what I experienced in the previous year. But issues arose in their place. As a teacher, I had parents “starting confrontations” with me because they trusted their children’s word over my own, other parents of students would rather blame me for displinary issues of their children than embrace their own mistakes, students who blantantly disrespect me every class, co-workers who disliked me from the word “Go” and the mandated test prep materials to teach my students so they could pass the state exam stemming from NCLB (that’s No Child Left Behind). These issues weren’t as bad but they definitely took a toll on me everyday. Even with the best administration backing me for every unnecessary parent-teacher confrontation, the daily pressures provided to be too much for me. Call me a weakling but at least I got out of it alive.

So I have to realize that certain things cannot be compromised in order for me to ever consider going back to teach in public schools. The first thing is that there needs to be 100% support from the school’s administration. That can look like a particular Assistant Principal for each grade level, a specific disciplinary plan for unruly students, or effective Professional Development for its teachers. The second thing is that besides of having quality health benefits, the salary needs to exceed $50,000 a year. This is not a statement of status or making a lot of money; it’s about meeting my own needs as an independent, single woman. I don’t want to have to choose between materials for my students or paying my bills. Finally, the third thing is being at a school where there is a developed PTA program. That way, teachers and parents are in comfortable interactions with each other, avoiding the angered confrontations from my past experiences. I feel like if those objectives are not reached by a school, I can’t teach there. I don’t want to be a mule; I have a life outside of my job. I only hope schools in FL as well as anywhere in the country can find these objectives equally important. They could recruit more quality teachers that way!

Have a good day!

Christmas Eve

So it’s Christmas Eve and I have blissfully completed all of my gift shopping.  Thank God!! Now I have the time to become a little reflective over the events of the last two years.  This time two years ago, I was in my own apartment in CT, recieving my younger brother and off to NY for the holiday to see Dreamgirls.  Well, it was so great to be with my bro, it also felt a little empty without my parents.  I remember enjoying the freedom of roaming the streets of NYC alone and showing my bro all the cool places I liked to go.  But it felt different. 

I also remember coming back home to CT and being unceremoniously laid off from my teaching job that January of 2008.  I remember scrambling to find a job to pay rent and bills, ending up as a substitute teacher, a Customer Service Representative, and a part-time college professor teaching two classes.  Hip hop artists like play up the concept of “hustling” but they never really explain or show what that looks like (or what’s worse, insinuating illegal activity). I was hustling. I worked like a crazy person, hitting overtime almost every pay period to make rent. 

I remember being really tired (obviously) but I liked the idea of not asking my parents for money.  I wasn’t making much but it was mine and I loved that.  Work naturally kept me busy so I really couldn’t date anyone.  I also really didn’t meet anyone who could really understand me.  Put it this way, I was (and still am) the youngest faculty member at every college and university I teach at and everyone else are much older and married (not my type in any way).

But then my supervisor at Customer Service needed to downsize and started with me (even though she tried to make it look like there was something wrong with me) so I lost a paycheck.  The semester needed and I lost another paycheck.  By April, I was drowning.

So I guess it was a good thing that my parents rescued me when they did even though it felt more like a forced retrieval.  I felt like a failure for not being able to stick it out.  I mean, my parents made it through hard times like those and came out on the other side with limbs intact so why couldn’t I?

After an entire summer of unemployment checks and resentment, I tried to get certified to teach in Florida but then I heard about the layoffs and frozen salaries.  Luckily, one of my parents’ friends from the School Board heard about an opening at a local university for an English professor.  I got the call Thursday, came in to look at books on campus Friday, and started classes that Monday.  I was (and still am) very appreciative for a real job with benefits that I like.

So now as the end of the year approaches, I’m left to feel very blessed for the mountains and valleys that I have gone through.  If it wasn’t for the valleys, I couldn’t appreciate the mountains.  And now that I finally am applying to grad school for a doctorate in Higher Education to be an administrator at a university, the sky is the limit! I have read Barack Obama’s memoir Dreams From My Father, learning about his meager beginnings and it gives me hope about my future.  If he could make something of himself with that background (and BECOME PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES) then I can do whatever I want to do.  He has become the physical manifestation of all that my parents have told me I could be.

Merry Christmas!