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.

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.

Recovering Teacher

Looking for a new job has intimidated the hell out of me and I've been wondering why. I'm pretty smart, I write fairly well and am well read, I'm not too ugly, I can walk and chew gum at the same time (but can't rub my stomach while patting my head or vice versa), and have worked in challenging schools with really interesting kids for over two decades. I've done adjunct teaching at a couple local colleges and come out with glowing reviews. Why then do I have such difficulty imagining I could get a new job? Why do I feel so unworthy?

It's because of teaching.

There's the claim that teaching is a soft, cushy job. You get your summers off! Teaching kids is considered women's work — for years only women could be convinced to do it &mdash. This hasn't been meant as a compliment. Teaching is classified as something other than real work, whatever that's supposed to be, and there has been a very public assault on teaching and teachers that began before I graduated college, intensified under Clinton, continued through W, became even worse under Obama (who broke my heart), and was really embraced by miserable fractions of manhood such as Scott Walker. The message was simple: teachers suck and deserve no respect or pay. They are everything wrong with society.

Thanks, fellas!

Some of that message has stuck despite my knowing that teachers do good, tough work under intense conditions. I know better than to give the attacks any credence, but they've dragged down my spirit nonetheless.

Closer to home, I got mugged by the performance reviews. One year I was to be evaluated on New York State Regents scores. I teach at-risk kids who don't test well, and needed two-thirds of them to pass.

I had one kid taking it.

She didn't pass. Not even two-thirds of her.

I was rated "developing," the second lowest mark, and put on a teacher improvement plan. I was rated developing for three years straight. The ratings were all bogus, but being told annually that I suck took a toll.

This year, burned out on teaching, I decided to quit. Everyone asked, what are you going to do instead? I shrugged. I didn't know. I couldn't imagine anything for which I might be qualified. I'm a teacher and teachers all suck. Those who get poor ratings on a bad system suck even more. I really felt worthless and depressed. Instead of applying for jobs, I fell further into depression.

Yeah, I blame teaching.

I'm coming out of that depression. I've applied for jobs and had interviews. None of the jobs are in public school teaching. It will be years before I can go back to that. I'm applying for jobs that feel beyond me but which friends assure me I'm qualified. I'm learning to trust them rather than the cruel voice teaching has cultivated in me like some awful parrot repeating, you suck, you suck, you suck.

I've been a teacher a long time. It will take a while to shake off the side effects. Meanwhile, tell the nearest teacher that they don't suck, that they matter beyond their ratings, and that you appreciate them doing tough work you wouldn't ever want to do. I'm not the only one feeling the side effects. I'm not the only one quitting. And I sure hope I'm not the only one recovering from the side effects and coming to believe. We all deserve that.