Last Day In The Schools

Written Monday, June 24, 2019, my last day teaching school.

Here it is, my last day at school. In just a few hours I will no longer work here or have the place to complain about. I'm writing this on a school computers, in a private browsing window because I have scrubbed any trace of ever having been here. I worry that anything I leave behind can and will be used against me. I'm not taking chances.

I still haven't sent my resignation letter though I've been resigned about this place for nearly a decade. My concern is that management could find some way to do me harm. Paranoid? You bet I am. I'll be paranoid about upper management even after I'm gone. This school has left its scars.

People here are going about their work: entering grades, cleaning classrooms, planning for next year, and turning in laptops. I've done all of that except planning next year. I'm done.

It's good but already I feel us all moving on. They have to face another school year, a negative change in management, the probability that the job will become even worse. A couple days, one teacher here said breathlessly and with eyes wide, "it can't possibly be worse next year." Another teacher said that it will be better, but even she didn't sound convinced. I said nothing, having nothing good to say. Later the first teacher asked me, "do you think next year will be better or worse?" I said that it has been worse each of the eighteen years I've worked here. That trend is tough to deny.

What that teacher will do with my opinion is up to him. I have no more influence on this place.

Several times today I've thought of suggestions for next year: a beeper on the doors down the hall, use the vestibule of the men's room for storage. With each idea I have begun to suggest but realized it's no longer my place.

It's not my place to suggest things any more. Upper management never wanted my suggestions anyway. My suggestions here in the school were valued, but in a few hours this will no longer be my place. I'll have no classroom. Only some papers on the walls will remain to show that I was ever here. I'll be gone, gone, and gone.

Come September this place will go on without me. Thinking it will grind to a halt without me is folly and depends on the myth of indispensability. No one here is indispensable. Management seems bent on making us all disposable. They'll all get along without me for better or for worse. There's not much reason for me to think too much about it.

So long, school. It has been something. I'll probably need the next few years to figure out just what it was or maybe to let it all go. That process begins today.

Weird Ending In The Schools

I'm at school and won't be able to say that for much longer. Tomorrow I'll be at a different school to grade the English Regents exam. The next day I might not make it to work — there's an end-of-the-year bug going around — and then I'll have my last day ever in this building, in this school system, possibly in this profession.

It's weird this ending.

I knew it wouldn't be all yahoo! I'm not great at endings. On New Year's Eve I get depressed about the end of the year instead of excited about the beginning of the new. Still, it's tough not to be happy about leaving this school and today I found more reasons to leave as I went through old documents and email.

I'm leaving very little trace behind. For years I've kept home life away from school. Most everything here stays put or has gone into the garbage. I didn't even need a box to get my stuff home. Today I went through the school Google Drive and Gmail. I downloaded a copy (Google Takeout is a good tool) then went through and deleted everything, taking a walk down memory lane which is a dark and dreary path here.

I found emails about my disciplinary meetings, an administrator's note telling me to keep my opinions to myself, a notice from our superintendent about "good work ethic" that busted the contract, and some of my responses to these things. It's all deleted now and I feel a bit lighter but saddened too.

This could and should be a good school, but for the ways in which it is managed. I'm not such a great teacher, but I've been good for this place and could have done more with only the slightest encouragement. Instead, I'm deleting my email, removing every document, and leaving behind very little of my expertise and experience.

This is why I'm glad to leave but in no mood to celebrate. This whole thing was eighteen years of failure, to one degree or another. What a shame. What a waste.

That said, I'm no longer following failure with more failure. I'm leaving and have every chance of making a difference now, of being happy in my work, of doing more than just trying to survive the year.

Still, it's weird, the end of all this.

I'll miss the windows in my classroom, the standing desk, the music playing in the background. I'll miss being here by myself, no kids, no colleagues, and no administrators. But I'll walk out into the wider world and the missing won't amount to much. I won't miss it very much at all.

A Blog Outside The Schools

The new thing at school is to discover this blog. One kid found it and actually subscribed to my newsletter. Today, another kid came to me with a sly smile. I knew what was going on.

I've kept my blog semi-secret from students because what I do on my own time is my business. That cuts at least two ways. One, what I do out of school isn't determined by my job in the school. Two, my personal life isn't fodder for class. Teaching shouldn't be all about the teacher.

Still, I've known that if a lot of kids find the blog, upper management will find it too and will give me grief. Keeping it semi-secret helps keep things at least a little more quiet and calm.

The grinning kid said, "I had found something really interesting online." He showed me a post I had written about Chris Offutt's book My Father, The Pornographer. It was a teasing moment from the kid (who is likable), one meant to see if I would flinch.

I didn't.

"That book is incredible," I said because it really is. "I read it during our free-reading time in class." I told him how Offutt finds out the extent of his dead father's writing. I described Offutt trying to find his place in relation to his lost and unknown father. It's a book of difficult mystery and masterly prose. "Offutt," I told the class, "is a genius."

While telling this, I pulled up a file and printed copies of this excerpt from Offutt's earlier book No Heroes:

I walked my mother back to her job at a new building that had formerly housed a laundromat. She smiled at the door, resuming her role as a sixty-five-year-old employee in an olive skirt, the ubiquitous green of a redhead. Her hair was a different color now, but her taste in clothes was the same. She thanked me for lunch, straightened her skirt, lifted her chin, and gave me the smile of a receptionist seeing a person out. She nodded once and turned away. I watched the door close after her.

I realized that I knew very little about my mother's life, and that lunch had offered no insight. I didn't even know if she was happy. I hoped that my coming home would allow her to open herself to me. She never talked of her childhood and had told me nothing of her mother. I don't even know my grandmother's name. She died young.

When I was a child, some wild boys drove a hot rod along the dirt road on our hill. It was jacked up in the back with short pipes that produced a rhythmic roar. A large black swastika was painted on each door. I had never seen that symbol before. I thought the car was cool, the driver was cool, the loud music roaring was cool. I especially thought the swastika was cool. For some reason I decided to carve it into the lid of a wooden box on my mother's dresser. I was about ten years old. I used the sharp end of a diaper pen. When my father asked if I had done it, I said yes and told him about the car. He said the box had belonged to my grandmother. It was the only item my mother had from her. I never saw the box again. (112-113)

I read that to the class and we talked about how well it is written, a three-paragraph story that winds and builds like the dirt road along the hill on which he lived as a boy and returned to in My Father, The Pornographer. It was a good teaching and learning moment, perhaps even a moment of grace that began with a kid needling me, my outside-school blog, and discussing a book with the word pornographer in the title. It was a deft bit of teaching on my part, but I'm really glad that I'm quitting.

I love moments such as these. I love to teach. I love to help students learn. And I really love working with kids who push hard against the boundaries. I have learned so much and am glad to have worked with these kids, but I'm still relieved to quit because otherwise I'd worry what upper management might do when they found out I have a blog, that students read it, and that we talk about things in class with supposedly naughty words in them. I would worry about being taken out to the administrative woodshed. I'm glad I'm quitting because I don't have to be consumed by that dread.

The kids' new thing at school is to find my blog. My new thing is quitting school and setting out for new adventure. I'll write about it here on my blog which is open for all to see.

Letter From The Schools (Never Sent)

Dear Administrator,

It just doesn't work.

Eighteen troubled students are enrolled in my Tuesday-Thursday 10 AM class. They range from seventh to twelfth grade and need individual attention I can't deliver because they aren't just any kids. They've been asked to leave their home schools due to problem behavior and other difficulties. They have been sent to a program advertised as six-to-one on its website. Such a program might help these kids but doesn't exist at our school. The program that does exist just doesn't work.

Two years ago, a new program was created and placed at our small school. It occupies two of the four sections available for the program I've described above. Kids once spread across four classes are now stuffed into two. What would have been two classes of nine students each — which is still too many given the kids with whom we work — is now one class of eighteen kids and a free-for-all. We don't stand a fighting chance, the staff or the kids, unless the program overhauled. I'm not holding my breath.

Truth to tell, none of this matters much to me. I've got fewer than ten days of classes, then I'm done, so I finally feel almost safe offering this critique without fear of reprisal. I haven't felt safe despite tenure and that culture of fear does the organization no favors. It hides the truth and stymies positive growth. Last school year I offered some criticism and was told that I wasn't being a team player, that my opinions weren't welcome, and that disciplinary action would result if I persisted. I shut up but the problems metastasized and have continued to get worse. I am sure that next year will be more difficult for teachers and less effective for students. That's a lot of why I'm leaving just four years shy of retirement.

I could be wrong. Class size may be reduced. Teachers may receive more support. Additional staff may be put in place. Supervisors may no longer be shared across too many programs. Upper management may welcome opinions, ideas, and criticism. Staff may no longer be forced out after one or two years. The dark cloud of dread, anxiety, and cynicism may lift.

I hope so, but again, I'm not holding my breath. No, I'm getting out.