Sunday, January 6, 2013

Opportunities, Fear and Hope

It's been an interesting week for me at work.  First I was called in to work for a teacher whose daughter was having her first baby, so the teacher would be out of town for a few days.  Her class is small and self-contained, and the students have some very challenging issues, but I decided to jump in for the three days.  It went well over all, but it wasn't easy.  Then, during that three day odyssey, I was asked by the principal if I'd consider taking a long-term sub job for another special ed teacher with an ongoing health issue.  The job is open-ended:  the teacher could be back in weeks, months, or not until the fall - or later.  This teacher also has a small, self-contained classroom, with students with very different needs from the last class I worked in.  I agreed to take the job, knowing that it's for an unknown duration.  I hope the teacher recovers and can come back to her classroom, but I'll be there for as long as I'm needed for her kids this school year.  I start there in a week.

I had another long-term job in the fall of 2011, that went for 10 weeks while a teacher was on maternity leave.  For whatever reason (I'm not sure why), that job didn't freak me out the same way this opportunity is doing to me now.  I'm quite a bit more anxious about it this time, and I think it's because the class will have the students plus two additional staff (a classroom aide and a 1:1 aide for one student), and there's the potential that I might want to apply for a permanent position in the school soon.  There's more at stake for me, and I'm wary of the interpersonal stuff with the classroom staff, which isn't meant to be any complaint about the two people working in that room right now.  But I've carried some serious fear and anxiety with me from those first long-term sub jobs for all these years (15 plus years!), and I want to finally put those fears to rest, and tear down the walls of those strongholds.  I don't need to drag this fear around with me any more.

My first teaching jobs (all long-term subbing, 8:1:1 classes, 4 positions over three years at one school) had multiple staff in the room (4 at a time) - classroom aide, 1:1 aides, and monitors (for students with aggressive behaviors).  During the end of the second full year sub job, two of the staff made a serious allegation against another staff member working in the room.  I reported it immediately to my principal.  Two of the three staff were promptly reassigned.  It was really painful, because I thought I knew all of them fairly well; it was a betrayal of my trust in them.  My principal told me that he wanted to hire me full-time for the next fall for that class, and I waited through the summer to hear officially.  I didn't hear about the full-time job, but I was still asked to report for teaching at the usual time in August anyhow, which raised some red flags for me.  The first day I was back, I was called in to the principal's office, where I saw him and the administrator directly above him.  The administrator told me that I would not be offered a full-time position based on what had happened with my staff the spring before (that I should have known what was going on between them, and that I wasn't the "kind of teacher" they wanted to hire permanently").  But I was told that I could stay on as a long-term sub for the year if I wanted to, with no employment after that.

I was absolutely crushed.  Shocked.  Blind-sided.  My principal couldn't look me in the eye.  I decided to keep the sub job - it was too late to apply anywhere else for a full-year position, and I didn't want to go day to day at that point.  We wanted to start a family; we needed the money, or so I thought.  I wasn't thinking clearly.  Looking back, I should have told them to take a flying leap and walked out.  I was used, scapegoated.  The aides kept their jobs, were reassigned with a letter in their files, a slap on the wrist.  They were union members.  I was not protected by the teachers' union as a sub.  I was used so the administration could say they'd "done something" and still cover that class for the year.  I was good enough to teach the same kids in the same room for a further full year, but not good enough to hire permanently.  What a load of B.S.

The teachers' union rep in the school, a wonderful teacher and co-worker of mine, asked me if I'd consider being used as a test-case to get union representation for long-term subs.  I thought about it, but declined.  At that point we didn't know how long we'd live in the area, and I was afraid of being black-listed if I made waves.  Administrators talk.  All it would have taken was a bad word from that one person and my reputation would be trashed throughout the county.  I couldn't take that chance.  She said she understood, and tacitly agreed that my fears were legitimate.

So I finished out teaching that school year, and left at the end, expecting our son.  I left with no mark on my record, no formal reprimand in my file, but the deep-seated feeling that I was NOT GOOD ENOUGH and that I couldn't trust any superior in the school administration to stand up for me and do the right thing.

Fast forward 15 years.  I'm grieved and appalled that that experience has stuck with me so deeply and for so  long.  I'm taking this long-term sub job, and hoping to apply for a permanent teaching position in this district  at some time in the future.  I hope I can trust this principal, this administration, these staff.  And I think I can - but I thought I could trust before, and I got hurt.  I'm not sure if deciding to go through this again is faith, or insanity (doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result).  But this is a different school, different people, a different ME.  I would like to really BELONG in a school someday, to be part of the team for good, not just be a pinch-hitter or temporary teacher.  I hope I can find my place, and continue to teach and influence students to make good choices with their lives.

I hope.  And so I'll try again.