I heard an amusing term during my time at the charter school: Shawshanked. A teacher used that term to describe how a teacher prepared to resign. She started sneaking out small amounts of her classroom materials each day, not enough that anyone would notice. This is in reference to the character in The Shawshank Redemption who digs a tunnel to escape from prison. He sneaks the dirt out into the yard, a small enough amount that no one ever noticed.
I began to do that as well. Instead of planning extensively for my lessons, I began to go through all of the materials that I had acquired for my classroom. Even though I received my job at the last minute, even though I had not had the money to acquire large classroom purchases, I had still acquired a great deal of odds and ends. I threw out many items. Others I decided to donate to my mentor teacher, the art teacher. I knew she could use the supplies. I also decided to donate my prize box items to another teacher.
I will never forget the advice of one of the teachers. A few days before, I had told her that I was being laid off. She was sad for me. As we spoke one day after school, she recommended that I only take out the items that were mine and that I had made. She encouraged me to leave the staples in the bulletin board, to leave the name tags on the desk, to leave my words on the word wall. “They don’t care about you. Why should you care about them?”
I was surprised by the advice of this teacher named Angel. “Wow,” I thought. “Angel has a little devil in her.” I chuckled, but in a way, I was grateful for her advice. I had planned to try to clean out my room entirely before I left; it was nice to have the permission to leave a bit of a mess.
A friend of mine told me about a recent layoff that had taken place at her husband’s office. The laid off workers had heard ahead of time that they were losing their jobs and engaged in office sabotage. I do not condone the behavior by any means, it’s never a good idea to burn bridges. Furthermore, that kind of behavior really only hurts one’s fellow co-workers. Even so, I understand the temptation. Boy, do I understand the temptation. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself but there were times when I would pass my old school and I would be sorely tempted to throw an egg at the window. Immature, I know, but the temptation was there. When I found out my former school was under investigation, I was delighted, mostly. (I worried for my friends.)
My frustrations with the lack of communication at the school, and my sense of apathy, continued to grow during my last week. I felt out of the loop with events going on in the school and I was torn between bitterness and indifference.
At the same time, I was haunted. I felt that I was a terrible teacher (which I was; I had been teaching for less than two months) and my students came from very difficult backgrounds. Several of them had been held back a year or more. They had troubled family lives. I would try to call parents only to discover their phone had been disconnected. School was very difficult for them and my lack of organization did not make it easier for them. I will never forget one student walking back to his car with his fists clenched in fury after difficult days in school. That image will stay with me for the rest of my life. My students needed a good teacher to help them and I knew that I was leaving them in far more capable hands than myself.
For the most part, teachers at charter schools have less experience. At the same time, the student population is at risk. I don’t know what the solution is, it seems backwards that inexperienced teachers frequently end up in some of the most under served populations. I think this can be a recipe for disaster. Under served schools do not need teachers who are still learning their craft.
I could talk a lot more about education in this country, and I likely will over the rest of this series. But up next, my last day.