Monday, March 17, 2008

A Letter from the Past

I finally began tackling the old file cabinet I purchased years ago. It is a lateral file that has to weigh a ton. The metal underneath is appalling; it's so heavy it is a perfect project for weight lifting. Among the many items I discovered hidden in the folders was a legal size envelope. Inside was a long-forgotten letter reminding me of a bad teaching experience.

In the early months of our marriage the only teaching job available was in a non-consolidated school 20 miles from the university. The students were from very poor families. Because of the small student population I agreed to be the "librarian" for several periods and teach three classes of English

I didn't think of my other responsibility until my turn for bathroom duty came along. Once weekly I (l) flushed the toilets after every two class periods and (2)cleaned and mopped the bathroom at the end of the day. With such a small group of students, I figured this was a pushover. My first day of duty revealed my low tolerance for odors. The five toilets had their tops and levers removed. I had to reach into the fresh water and pull the stopper (you know which one I mean). The students had never been encouraged to keep paper off the floor. After school I took the mob and bucket, filled it with water and soap to clean the floors, then wipe down the lavatories and toilet bowls. I learned to hold my breath long enough to rush in and out during the day.

The school day was a farce. When he felt like it, the superintendent called any group of students to his office, especially the football players, to "talk." Each of my classes had less than seven students. I brought the problem to him. How could I teach a missing student and get him to hand in his homework? He grinned and said his "talks" were more important than my class.

One day my one football player arrived late to class. I reprimanded him about his tardiness. He looked at me angrily and shouted "You can't tell me what to do, you xx??** teacher!" He turned to leave and stopped at the door long enough to pitch his text book in my direction. As he walked out of the room and down the stairs he continually slammed his fist on the walls, alerting everyone on both floors of his anger.

After school the superintendent asked me to explain my behavior towards his star player. After relating my side of the event, he began with an explanation:
"Mrs. N, you have to recognize how I run this school. I can call anyone to my office anytime of the day. As to this student, he is my star player and I won't have you being disrespectful to him. You should be glad he didn't throw you out the window! He tried that with a teacher once. John is the brother of a school board member and you have to be nice to him--or lose your job."

In the remaining week I heard warnings from the local teachers about the general behavior of this student. I was told to check my room each morning for any signs of snakes or bugs that this young man might put in the desk drawer. I feared my car engine might be tampered with, so I began riding with other teachers. The young man never returned to class. I stayed a total of two more weeks before resigning.

When I changed jobs I began to research the need for consolidation and planned to write an article in the state education magazine. I had discovered that a few superintendents still were holding on to their little fifedoms. I remembered the local teachers having told me how insubordinate they felt, embarrassment from the superintent they had to endure, how grades were changed for favorite pupils, how easily they would lose their jobs if they complained. I thought I had a good topic for discussion in print.

The letter I had saved was written by one of the teachers at this small school. She urged me not to reveal the behavior of this superintendent, as it would harm the remaining teachers and the town itself. I never finished the article, for within a few years that school was consolidated and the superintendent fired for sloppy leadership and failing students. That was proof enough I had vindication.

No comments: