Guys, it’s about to get real. I have been sitting on this blog post idea for a while, pretty much terrified of writing it, but knowing that it’s one of the most real things I can talk about- how teachers are treated by other teachers and administration.
DISCLAIMER- my current job is the end all, be all of my teaching career. I’ve pretty much told anyone who will listen how awesome my job is and that I will either die in my classroom or retire from this school. None of these problems exist where I teach now, and that is why I love it so.
Okay, most teachers know that there are several noxious personalities within a school that affect the morale and overall happiness of a staff. We are going to talk about these, and then talk about how to deal and rise above. Or know when it’s time to get out.
The Toxic Team
Let’s start with the toxic team. Whether you collaborate as a grade level or content area team, or both, you know that one bad apple can spoil the bunch. I don’t know about you, but I’m a venter. I need to talk to my teammates, tell them what is bothering me, and then once that pressure has been let out of the teapot, I’m good to go. Basically, I need some adult conversation in my day with people who understand the things that I’m experiencing on a first-hand basis. Now, I know that I am extremely emotional. Heck, anyone who has been around me for more than half an hour knows that. Venting is my way of processing. My husband even makes sure before we start a venting session that I only want him to listen, I don’t want him to fix it. So when I speak to my team, tell them what’s bothering me, and then we talk it out, that’s usually the end of it.
Let me be clear, I’m not being disrespectful to admin or another staff member during these vents. I’m just talking about everyday frustrations that teachers deal with- parent emails, kids not turning in assignments, students with excessive absences, endless meetings during our planning time…you know, run-of-the-mill, educational junk. So when you build a relationship with your team, you know whether or not you can vent to them. Unless they fool you. Maybe they listen and commiserate, and then they go and tell your admin everything you said. That’s a fun one, huh? What about the team member that never bothers to be on time for the meeting holding everyone else hostage until they arrive? How about the one that never contributes information to parent conferences?
A toxic team member can single-handedly take a well-oiled machine and dump sand in the gears.
Let’s move on to merciless management. Maybe it’s a team leader, a department head, an instructional coach, or an AP. They want you to do your job and their job, and then they pass it off as their own work. Any of this sounding familiar? Have you ever disaggregated data only to see it pop up on a spreadsheet during a staff meeting? Presented by someone else? Have you ever been told that you need to use your conference time to observe other teachers and write reports on your observations because you didn’t teach curriculum exactly the way another teacher did? For example, you didn’t have your juniors LISTEN to Of Mice and Men ON TAPE?
Yep. That’s a true story.
Here’s one about a friend of mine: They worked at the admin building and ended up doing the work of three people for the pay of one. So they started job hunting, interviewed, and got the new job. In the interest of trying to avoid an expensive move to another city, and because they had been there so long, they asked if their current district could match or beat the offer.
But here’s the kicker- a few days later, they asked my friend to meet. Guess what they said?
“How should we post your job? We’re not sure how to list it because of all the work you did.”
I wish I were kidding, but again, true story.
The Unprincipled Principal
Moving onto another poisonous presence in schools- the unprincipled principal. Have you ever worked for a bully? Unfortunately I have. A couple of times. Once, I actually had to resign to get this particular individual to back off. I was ready to leave teaching, with no back-up job, just to get out from under this person’s thumb. Luckily, this person backed down, and I actually never had any trouble with them again. I didn’t realize until then that a bully will, many times, make you their target until you stand up to them. I thought that was just something kids had to worry about. Sadly, it applies to adulthood as well.
It’s a horrible feeling to know that you have put everything you have into your job, and it doesn’t really mean anything to some of the people it should. In my former district, they would rather let you leave so they could hire a first year for less money than listen to what you are saying. I didn’t get renewed once because I didn’t want to coach cheerleading anymore due to the time commitments. I taught pre-AP English I, and have a proven track record, and that “educational leader” decided they needed a cheer coach more than a teacher.
Just so you don’t think I’m some degenerate that probably deserved what I got, I’ll give you a few high points from my pedigree. I piloted a multi-level GT program that a former district still uses to this day. I was named teacher of the year for my district. I have served as an NJHS sponsor, student council sponsor, Key Club sponsor, campus technology rep, team leader, and cheer coach because I loved being a part of the schools I was teaching at in a bigger capacity than just a classroom teacher. Basically, I was an “all-in” kind of educator.
I’m proud to say that, with the help of my gratitude journal, my friends, my family, and my new teaching community, I feel like the teacher I once aspired to be is slowly coming back. I realized that the harm that adults in the school had caused me didn’t mean that the students didn’t deserve the best me I could give them. After almost losing the love for what I know is my true calling, I appreciate my current school even more for helping me recover my love for the profession I was meant to have.
I wish I could tell you I was strong enough to remedy all these situations on my own. Nope. I was moved from one campus to another in one district (basically demoted) and non-renewed in the other. The only time I actually did anything was when I stood up to the bully. I was so sure I could make it work that I let myself be treated poorly. I loved the job itself, so I was willing to endure the treatment from my school leadership. If that doesn’t sound like an abusive relationship at its core, I don’t know what does.
How do we fix this? In the current educational climate, we have teachers striking and using their voices to speak out about their mistreatment. That is huge because teachers have, historically, been a grin-and-bear-it bunch. I think that’s because we know that, if we leave or fight back, it’s the students who will lose. At least until the tide turns in our favor. I hope that this movement of awareness that teachers have started becomes a strong force for educators to take back the respect for our profession that should never have been lost.