Some Things I Should Have Said: The Teacher's Severance
Before I got fired from my second teaching job, my administrator asked me a series of questions which, in essence, involved asking me to justify my work over the preceding year. I was cautiously polite in my answers, because I was already pretty sure I wasn’t going to be coming back the next year (getting into a screaming fight with your boss is not generally good for your career), and I’m possessed of both too much pride and an inordinate tendency towards tears. So I choked down my stronger feelings — don’t let the bastard see you cry — and said that I was proud of the work I had done, that I felt I had continued to grow as an educator and hoped to have the opportunity to continue in the next year with some of the projects I had begun that year.
Here are some things I should have said:
I have watched a hundred-odd nervous freshmen begin to blossom into thoughtful, interesting young people. I have, I hope, made some small impact on their lives for the better. I have heard about their hopes and dreams, their failures and regrets, the things that have gone wrong (sometimes terribly, tragically wrong) in their lives and the things that have gone right (sometimes beautifully, joyfully right).
I have given them the opportunity to explore and write thoughtfully (and sometimes not so thoughtfully — they were freshmen, after all) about causes they were passionate about. I have helped them gain skills that might help them someday effect change in their own communities by teaching them to identify problems, find solutions, and write passionately and persuasively about why any of it matters.
I have laughed — sometimes at, but more often with them as they learned to inhabit the space between childhood and adulthood and fucked it up. Constantly. (Like, one of them drank my water. Out of my water bottle. What the fuck, kid?)
Despite having no real training as a reading teacher (and if you’re not aware, let me assure you that teaching reading is absolutely a different skill than my specialty, teaching writing), I have sat with fifty-some struggling sophomore readers and helped them find books they were excited about reading. I hope that if they have learned nothing else in my classroom all year, they have learned to find the persistence to keep going even when the work is hard.
When my administrators failed to order the books I’d requested (and was promised), and which I’d planned to read with my students during the first quarter of the school year, I have reworked my entire plan, very nearly from scratch, on the fly. (Have you ever heard the cliché about building the plane while you’re flying it? Yeah, it was like that.) I have used my own outside connections to get sixty copies of an alternate text donated to my students, so that my reading classes would have something to read.
I have spent my evenings and weekends rehearsing and directing student actors for a pair of one-act plays intended to resurrect the school’s long-forgotten theatre club. I have figured out how to create a set with a budget of $0. I have watched 24 young actors flush with pride and astonishment when they got the applause they’d worked so hard for.
I have spent hours of my time during free periods and after school helping one of my seniors, an undocumented student, find and apply for the few scholarships for which she was eligible. I have listened to her hopes and fears about the future and offered her what paltry advice I could. I have attended her piano recital. (And now, several years later, I have feared for her safety under the current administration.)
I have spent hours more of my time after school listening as one of my students unburdened himself to me about his friends, his family, and his life, all because he just desperately needed someone to hear him.
And only after he has left the room, I have sat at my desk and cried for some of the things he has told me. (About the night his mother tried to kill him. About the friend who tried to kill herself.) And then I have dried my eyes, gathered up my things, made the hour-long commute home, and spent the rest of my night grading papers.
I have not done everything perfectly. I have learned a great deal, and have a great deal more to learn. But I have done nothing I’m not proud of.
So take your condescension and your bullshit platitudes (if I ever again hear someone ask me to “hear their heart” and they’re not holding a fucking stethoscope I will end their life right then and there) and that veneer of quiet congeniality beneath which you hide your peevish contempt for anyone who disagrees with you and particularly for uppity women, and shove up it your ass, you prick.
He was going to fire me no matter what I said, and truth be told, I cried anyway.
I don’t teach anymore.