Sunday, August 30, 2015

The 300 Days: Part 11 - Pure Michigan and The Voicemail

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10
"And I feel them drown my name
So easy to know and forget with this kiss
I'm not afraid to go, but it goes so slow..."
- Jeff Buckley, Grace
As the warm sunlight penetrated through the blinds of Will’s former classroom, he counted the hours until he could take his boxes containing his possessions, throw them in his car, and start life anew.  Before departing for the summer, however, he needed to collect the necessary signatures on the required "check out" form to ensure that Will had fulfilled his final duties.  Once last time, a conversation with Mr. Evans was needed, who seemed almost timid when he was asked for his initials.  “Thank you,” Will said politely as he departed from the office, the door clicking shut behind him becoming a symbol of absolute closure.  Mr. Evans never said “goodbye” or even a “good luck.”
Will never would wish any ill will on anyone, but the largest issue that rattled his soul the most in this whole debacle was that Mr. Evans would never learn or understand of the lives he destroyed over the years, cold and calculated like so many before.  Will was not the only one saying goodbye.  There were about 3-4 other teachers, some of them finishing just their first year, who would now begin their summers like the summer before:  looking for employment in an already saturated teaching market.  These teachers were let go after just one year of employment, and without the knowledge or input of their first-year-teacher mentor who, needless to say, was not happy at that fact.
The only way that Mr. Evans could ever be relieved of his duties would be if he were to commit some sort of illegal act, or if the building assessment scores would drop so low, he would likely be let go.  However, in order for the latter to occur, many former colleagues would suffer through it, and heads would surely roll.  Even worse, then, would that the kids would suffer as well.  Ultimately, there was nothing Will could do.
Summer 2k14 began, and Will awoke daily knowing that in less than three months, he would no longer get a steady paycheck.  Still, he felt lighter, as the stress from his entire ordeal was no longer bearing down.  Indeed, the stress had taken a physical toll on Will.  While shorter in stature, Will always had a compact, muscular/athletic frame.  His weight typically operated between 165-175 pounds, depending on the season.  Will stepped on the scale one June morning, and it read “154.”  The last time Will saw that number on the scale was prior to 8th grade.  In the span of less than a year, he had gone from teaching 8th graders, to acquiring the mass of one.  Indeed, Will had left, but not entirely.  The memories, both good and bad, would stay with him for weeks, then months, eventually leading to forever.

Ask anyone what their greatest fears are, and you will surely get a plethora of responses, ranging from spiders, to snakes, to heights, to death.  But one underlying fear likely can captivate us all, and that is the fear of the unknown.  A child that fears the dark doesn’t fear the lack of light, he or she hates what it represents.  Unable to identify the scene before them, they are left with nothing but conjectures, their own worst fears, inside their mind.  Will’s entire future was an unknown, a sea of pitch black.  His mind was his greatest enemy.
As he and his fiance drove up to Northern Michigan, Will felt at least some comfort knowing he would find serenity, even in the smallest of doses.  For over two decades, Will had gone to the upper portions of Michigan for family vacation.  It always seemed to grant him the smallest amounts of tranquility.  
As Will’s aunts and uncles sat down for dinner and caught up on eachother’s lives, Will’s was a main topic of conversation.  When asked how his job was, he did not mince words:  “terrible,” he would say as he gave the Cliff Note version.  Needless to say, many were concerned.  They saw how will was psychologically beaten down.  Some even asked if he was healthy, as they noted his less-than-typically-plump state.  It wasn’t panic mode time, at least not yet.  Will buried his anxiety deep. Hoping that it would not need to surface.  He didn’t want to imagine laying on a beach in Mexico, his wife at his side, afraid for his future.

After a quick visit with his adorable niece and nephew, Will returned to his cabin to grab some lunch.  Typically, Will left his phone in his cabin all day, as he truly wanted to detach from the world.  He checked it for a moment, and saw that there was a missed call not two minutes earlier.  Before he could cross check the number, his phone buzzed as the “Voicemail” icon flickered.  He pressed the “play” button with his thumb and put the receiver up to his ear…
An 8th grade position became available a week or so prior, and the principal was contacting Will to see if he would like to interview.  The district was quite small, on the rural periphery of Columbus.  
Will felt he could judge people and their character rather quickly.  As he dialed the number listed in the message, he considered what this could all amount to.  The principal answered.
“Hey,” the principal said, “we were wondering whether you’d like to come in to interview for our science position.”
“I would love to!” Will replied excitedly.  “I’m actually on vacation right now up in Michigan, so if we could set up sometime early next week that would be great.  But if you’re looking to get these interviews setup as soon as possible, I would happily cut it short up here and head back a little early.”
“Oh no no no!”  the principal chuckled as he responded, “we won’t ask you to do that.  You’re with family; life happens.  We’ll get it done.  Let me check with our Director of Teaching and Learning and see her schedule next week and I’ll get back to you.”
A few days later, Will was driving home Friday afternoon, and his phone rang once more from the principal.  They agreed on a mutual time Tuesday morning, just days after Will was to attend an out-of-town wedding, and hours after moving both he and his fiance to a new apartment.  His preparation time was minimal;  Will skimmed through his “interview notes,” printed off a few portfolios, and picked out his handsome blue shirt to wear.

The tone of the interview seemed to have been set back from the phone-call Will had the week prior.  The principal seemed professional, yet kind.  The phrase “we will get it done” seemed to stick to Will.  It served as a means to, more or less, take a deep breath and relax.  This district seemed to be willing to wait to see what they had in Will.  Whereas most districts would simply say “here are the times, take it or leave it,” they were willing to extend their process for the sake of one man.
As Will dialogued back and forth with the principal and Director of Teaching and Learning, he felt comfortable.  He noticed that the format was fluid; the conversation seemed to roll as it needed to, and nothing was forced.  Will was positive, but not overly enthusiastic, as perhaps this would be a sign of a lack of legitimacy.  He felt like he was a professional again.  Will shook the hands of both, thanked them for their time, and their willingness to “wait” for him, and saw himself out.
Once again, as custom, Will pulled into his gym parking lot, turned off his phone, turned on his music, and detached from the world for 60 minutes.  When he was finished, Will’s sweaty hand reached into his bag and turned on his phone.  The Apple icon illuminated the screen as he walked toward his car.  A final moment of serenity before returning to the world…

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The 300 Days: Part 10 - Spring Break 2k14 and The Hope

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9

Pictured:  Will, somewhere in the back, drowning
Spring Break 2K14 started with a bang, as will made the quick drive from school to central office.  There, waiting for him in a back room, was the district superintendent, the director of human resources, and the union president, there in support of Will.  Considering the seriousness of the meeting, Will was still slightly disappointed that nobody wore a black cloak or mask.  
The meeting was short and professional.  Will knew better than to sugarcoat this.  When the superintendent finished his spiel about “the right fit,” Will calmly slid his letter of resignation across the table, shook both men’s hands, and found his way out of the room.  While it was incredibly difficult, there was still a huge weight off his shoulders.  There were no more mysteries of the future:  Will knew he was no longer welcome there, and he was not returning.
While most will do some light traveling, perhaps to a warm beach, for their spring break, Will stayed put.  Hunched over his laptop, he meticulously updated resumes, applications, and everything in-between.  The following Friday, exactly one week after he resigned, he saw his position officially posted.  It stung a bit.
A haze surrounded Will the first day from break.  He could not focus;  his anxiety gripping him.  But soon enough, there was a spark, that would softly illuminate his surroundings…

Will turned on his phone after school that Monday to find that he had a voicemail.  He put his ear up to the receiver and heard the sweetest voice (next to his fiance’s of course) he had ever heard: “Hello Will, this is Miss Secretary from [Prominent District Schools] and are calling you in regards to the science position…”
Call it fate, call it Divine Intervention, but Will felt like this was it.  
This was why he suffered this entire year.  He quickly called back and excitably set up a time for an initial interview.  One week later, he sat down with the principal and articulated his responses to the usual teaching inquiries.  Before departing, he was informed that he was one of 15 that were selected “out of over 300 paper-applications” for this 1st phase.  Phase two would then be the four finalists.  Will knew he didn’t have to be THE best, just top four, so he liked his chances.  At the end of the week, he had his answer:
“Hello Will, this is Miss Secretary again calling for [Prominent District Schools] and wanted to set up our final round of interviews…”  Will grinned and pumped his fist into the air, knowing that he was one step closer to getting that dream job.  Will was nervous, but almost cautiously optimistic.  It just made sense:  resign on Friday before spring break, get called Monday back from spring break.
The next few days took forever.  Whenever Will had a free moment, he read hundreds and hundreds of sample teacher interview questions.  He practiced his responses in the car, articulating to the cars up and down the highway, and making sure to avoid any taxi cabs.  Will felt his morale slowly get better.  He wanted this job badly, and his cohorts began to rally around him too.  He got words of support from all kinds of teachers from all parts of the building: “Good luck, Will!  You deserve this.  You really do.  You got screwed…”  Some even gave him some reading material to “study up” on Common Core methods.  It felt nice to be cared for.

The room was warm, likely due to the poor circulation and the number of bodies that were currently occupying it.  The sun beamed in through the blinds, causing Will to gently squint. He was cautious to ensure his brow was not furrowed or wrinkled, as Jaden Smith is a terrible human.
What is this?
What are you?
Please stop.

He could feel the sweat streaming down his back as he answered question after question that were flying at him at machine-gun pace.  He was on the hot seat, sitting next to three science teachers, the principal, and an 8th grade team representative.  He felt he could barely breathe.  His mouth was dry, as he felt he had been talking for 45 minutes straight.  Still, he felt pretty good about his responses.  As he was escorted out of the room, the principal informed him that they would be in contact “within the week” to decide the finalist who would then meet the superintendent as a means of formality.  Will was reassured by the principal that he "had never had a candidate turned down after the committee made their selection." The issue was, the district had just elected a new superintendent not two days prior, so it would "take a little time.”

One week; no word.  Making sure he was pro-active, Will emailed the principal at the end of week to inquire as to whether a decision had been made.  A quick reply was made, informing him "a decision has not been made” and that they were still in a “holding process.”  He was assured that they would be in contact by the next Thursday.
Next Thursday; still no word.  Again, Will emailed and received the same response: “sorry, we are still in a holding process.  We hope to know by next week.”
“Hope to know?”  Will was a bit confused, amongst other things.  Even if the district was waiting on the new superintendent, why wouldn’t they inform the candidates of their choice and simply say “congratulations!  Be patient, and the new superintendent will be contacting you in the next few weeks to hopefully finalize your candidacy.”  As each day passed, Will’s confidence again shrunk.  References were not called.  There remained only a tiny bubble of hope…
The bubble then burst on a Friday afternoon commute.  His phone vibrated in his pocket. Pulling it out, he recognized the number from his two voicemails and flexed his abdominal to prepare for the gut-punch: “you were a great candidate, very strong...but you are not our finalist.  Thank you for your time.”  Will saw the writing on the wall, but it did not stop it from hurting.  He pondered how close he was to securing that elusive job.  As it would turn out, he was not even close.  Not even the same zip code.
Will would learn (from a rather beautiful, well-connected inside source) that the reason for the stretched time-frame was because of hiring of a new superintendent.  However, it was because of the actions of this new superintendent for the delay:  upon his arrival, he had insisted that he bring in his own candidates for consideration.  Ironically, the candidate who was chosen came from the same district from where the superintendent originated.  What a small world!

After enduring these interviews, after all of the preparation, after all the stress, everything amounted to the same quantity that Will began this ordeal with:  absolutely nothing.  With all these trials and tribulations, Will found a few bright spots back at his lame-duck school district.  He would find that many of his cohorts were rooting for him, almost living vicariously through him.  “At least you can get the hell out of here,” one math teacher muttered to him.  There seemed to be a common theme involving the sentiment toward Mr. Evans, as well.  But it was not just contained to the district:
  • one of Will’s closest “advisers” confided in him that her son, who also used to be a teacher, had also gone through a situation similar to this, where he was “let go” without any sort of indication as to why.  As a matter of fact, her son went through the exact same the exact same building...with the exact...same...principal.
  • one of Will’s references, who was an administrator at the time, wanted to confirm that his principal was indeed Mr. Evans, because he thought that his wife may have worked with him at one point.  He was correct.  According to his wife, Mr. Evans was “a terrible administrator,” “a weasel,” and “a prick.”  Yup, that’s him.  Oh, Captain my Captain.
Will had the perspectives of an army of professionals, from former teachers to current teachers, and one wonders:  what was the common denominator here?

Will’s support didn’t seem to be whispered either.   During a Building Leadership Team meeting, one of the head intervention specialist loudly claimed to the committee (Mr. Evans included), “we all know the only reason why Will isn’t coming back is because of Miss Marley.”  Rumor has it Mr. Evans said not a word.
Another incident, this time during a department meeting, occurred at the hands of Mrs. Handler.  As the team was discussing the next year’s plans for science, she asked/pronounced “I just don’t see why we can’t keep Will…”  Mr. Evans scoffed.  The topic and it's surrounding tension would eventually come to a head, as the two remaining science teachers were discussing who Miss Marley would “assist” for Supported Science the following year.  Knowing that they could not throw Will’s successor to the wolves so quickly, Miss Marley was to support the two veterans.  When presented with this fact, neither were happy, as neither of them wanted Miss Marley in their room.  
“I don’t want her in my room, because I’m concerned she’s going to tattle on me like she did with Will,”  Mrs. Handler proclaimed. Again, Mr. Evans scoffed and said it was “more than that.”  Eventually, conversation got so heated, that both teachers were asked to leave his office. "This meeting is over," Mr. Evans said, sweeping another issue under the rug, yet again.

After Will had met with Mr. Evans to conclude his third observation, they barely spoke or interacted.  But this was the kind of “man” he was.  He tended to stay away when the heat turned up.  His methods for dealing with uncomfortable issues largely seemed to be that of a young deer after hearing a loud noise in the wilderness, be it student discipline or a staff issue.  However, this did not prevent Mr. Evans from discussing issues.  
After Will had tendered his resignation, he had commented to Mrs. Handler that Will “seemed almost relieved and happy” and that was “weird” to him.  In this occasion, Mr. Evans was 100% correct:  Will was relieved.  He was relieved that the charades were over, and he was going to get the hell out of there.  “I may have to have a talk with him,” he sternly said.  About what, no one could know.  Apparently Will was not allowed to show the slightest bit of happiness at even the smallest nugget of joy.  Needless to say, Mr. Evans never approached Will, as that is not something a coward would do.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The 300 Days: Part 9 - The Guillotine and The Holding Cell

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8
- Daniel Plainview, There Will Be Blood
For a few moments, Mr. Evans explained the scenario to Will, and the process of hiring teachers, both evaluating and maintaining them.  But rather than offer concrete answers to Will, or even words of assurance, Mr. Evans gave rather opaque responses.
"Sometimes it isn’t a good fit.  For example, we had a teacher who came from high school that was used to older students.  If I recall, you came from elementary…”  The clincher was how Mr. Evans explained how evaluations were conducted, as he continued: “these things aren’t even really my call.  I turn in the paperwork to central office, and the assistant superintendent basically decides who stays and who goes.”
For months, Will had been duped.  He had been deceived by a sheep in wolf’s clothing wearing sheep's clothing.  Mr. Evans had maintained a front of being supportive and kind; behind the scenes he was manipulative, spiteful, and cold-hearted, likely from the fact that he had his own professional insecurities.  If only there was a single term to summarize the character of Mr. Evans…
Will went ahead and scheduled his third observation, knowing very well it was a fruitless endeavor.  He had no intention of going quietly, and knew that no matter what happened, he was going to lay everything out on the table.  Like the old sports addage goes, Will played “for pride”;  pride for himself, but also for his fellow teachers, who knew of his plight, and his students.  His fate was already sealed, but the court of public opinion could weigh in, and heavily at that.
Everything Will had fought for, the relationships that he had built, the clashes with Miss Marley, everything was burning up before his eyes.  He had been trying to solve a puzzle with half of the pieces.  Once his services were no longer required, he saw things for what they were:  Mr. Evans’ feedback was nothing more than a wild goose chase.  As Will retraced his steps and interactions with Mr. Evans, he realized that no matter what he did, no matter how much he improved and what he improved, it was never going to be enough.  Mr. Evans had made his decision on Will’s fate back in October, with Miss Marley credited with the assist.

Will’s third “lame duck” observation came and went, hours upon hours sacrificed once again.  The post-conference was scheduled two days after the formal observation, and Will’s plan was to straight up ask Mr. Evans “what is my status in this district?  I want to be here and continue my career, but if that is not the case, I need to know as soon as possible so that I can update my resume and applications.”  However, the meeting was delayed until the following Wednesday, after school…

The final bell rang on Wednesday, and Will was monitoring his leftover “bussers” in his 8th period class when Mr. Evans walked into his doorway and asked if he could speak with him.  Will assumed this was student related, as there were many issues that year. However, once Will entered the hallway, Mr. Evans began:
“Hey, I know we are supposed to meet here in a little bit, but I wanted to let you know that the assistant superintendent is going to sit in our conference.”
That feeling again.  Like being dropped.  Still, Will gave an excitable “sure, no problem.”
As the last student left, Will gathered his artifacts for the conference, and sauntered down the hallway, like a felon on death-row.  When he walked into the conference room, the assistant superintendent introduced himself, shook Will’s hand, and gave him a letter asking him to attend a “meeting” that Friday that would discuss his future with the district. "What future?" Will thought to himself.  With that, he promptly left.
“I didn’t know he was stopping in,” Mr. Evan’s said, breaking the brief silence.
“It’s whatever,” Will replied indifferently.
“Did you still want to go through the post-observation?” Mr. Evans asked.
“Sure,” said Will.  Mr. Evans had pretty much wasted his time for all of this, so the least Will could do was waste some more of his.
After going through the motions of the observation, Will asked whether the letter was an indication that he was going to be non-renewed.
“Typically, yeah,” Mr. Evans replied.  He then reminded Will once again that he wasn’t responsibly for any cuts in staff, “the superintendent and HR director do that," as if to reassure Will "yes, I am a coward. I was the only person to observe you this year, and I filled out all the paperwork that allowed for a decision to be made. I don't pull the trigger on these types of things. I simply buy the gun and ammunition, load it, and aim it between your eyes."

On his lowly drive home, Will called three people.  First, he called his district’s union president, who informed Will that this is a sign that he is going to be non-renewed by the district, and that he could either accept it, or he could tender his resignation.
The second person he called was a representative from the Central Ohio Teacher’s Association, who informed him “you could be an amazing teacher and the greatest thing since sliced bread.  But since you are in your first year there, all they need to do is fill out the correct paperwork.  They don’t need any rationale to let you go.”
Finally, Will called his fiance and broke the news.  They had both suspected it, but it was a tough pill to swallow.  She cried over the phone as they both pondered what they were going to do.  It’s hard to plan for a future together when 50% of the relationship’s members have zero clue what they're is going to be doing the following year. It was quite possible she would be exchanging vows with the unemployed.
Will’s mind was a broken record, replaying all of the steps and interactions he had had that year.  What he could have done better, how we could have made things right.  As he did this, he pondered to himself:  “is this a sign that I shouldn’t be in teaching?”
Lord knows he spent hours and hours searching, applying, and interviewing to land this one job, that one district he thought he could remain for the duration of his entire career.  But after this entire ordeal, after all the drama coming from all corners, after enduring the back-stabbing from Miss Marley, after being turned in by a weasel, maybe this was the world’s way of telling Will to change his shoes, and walk a different path.

The shadowed figure, confined to his cell, slowly pushed the earth away from his body with his palms.  Sweat ran down his naked back, that not weeks earlier, was ailing from a bulging disk.  He looked up to an old television, broadcasting the mayhem swarming Gotham City.  The corpses of three bodies dangled by their necks from a bridge.  Horrified and furious, the man launches a rock toward the broadcasting device, shattering the screen, interrupting the image that would personify the terrorism that was surrounding Gotham.
The need to act pulsated through his veins, as he hammered out stomach crunches inside his cell.  His body must be built up.  He was not going to die here.
“Fear is why you fell,” his elderly cellmate declares.
For a moment, the motion stops.

“I’m not afraid,” Bruce Wayne replies sternly, “I’m angry...”

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The 300 Days: Part 8 - Observations and Investigations

"Well I don't belong here
Don't fit your style
Felt your left foot,
Now feel my right..."
- Chevelle - The Meddler

The unique experience of a 2013-2014 educator was largely dictated by a series of new systems.  The first, and most well-known, was the implementation of the Common Core Standards as well as new learning standards for Science and Social Studies.  The most stressful and time consuming was that of the new Teacher Evaluation system.  Carefully concocted in the guarded kitchen of ODE, this new method of evaluating teachers took the old method and pan seared it, rolled it in cayenne pepper, stuffed it with habanero peppers, and shoved it up the rectum of the lifeless corpse of Guy Fieri, whose culinary prowess and E.T.-like body could not withstand flavors that far “out of bounds.”
In short, every teacher was to be observed twice per year (one each semester) by his/her superior.  Prior to the 45 minute observation, a 45 minute “pre-conference” was necessary, in order for the teacher to more or less outline the expectations of the lesson.  Then AFTER the 45 minute observation, another 45 minute “post-conference” was necessary in order for both teacher and supervisor to discuss the lessons, the pros and cons, and everything in between.  In order to fully prepare for these three “phases,” an electronic outline was filled out by the teacher, detailing things such as lesson goals, tools, class expectations, methods of differentiation, the whole works.  For many teachers, it took six hours to complete everything.  Needless to say it was exceptionally time consuming and nearly redundant:  can a principal truly tell how effective a teacher is in just a 45 minute snapshot?  Or, can a teacher truly fool a principal every year by creating lovely lessons full of “jazz hands” just to keep up on appearances?

For every evaluator (typically the principal and sometimes assistant principal), they must meet with each teacher two times a year a total of three entire class periods (one for pre-conference, one for observation, one for post conference).  By applying the lessons learned from algebra, this means that six class periods are devoted to each teacher.  Now, multiply six times the total amount of teachers that need to be observed and the days begin to add up.  Oh, and also the “observation” window is only like 2-3 months every semester.  Oh, and there are also snowdays in the winter, causing meetings to be rescheduled.  Oh, and there’s also that parent that’s still pissed about that one thing that happened.  Then there’s all the committees they’re on, the meetings before and after school, and it all adds up.  In short, there is unnecessary tension, stress, and time needed on both sides.

As always, Will was an ambitious learner, and set his first evaluation in late October, near the beginning of the “window” allowed by the state.  His intentions were to get as much feedback as possible, to throw himself to the wolves so that he could show ample growth.  He purposefully scheduled one of his “rougher” classes, near the end of the day.  Will knew it was pointless to schedule his best behaved class, as he would be only fooling himself.  What would be the point?  What would he learn?  Sure, stacking the deck in his favor would be advantageous.  But Will didn’t want to just have a good evaluation; he wanted to be a good teacher.
Will was always receptive to feedback, his undergraduate university supervisor calling him “the most coach-able educators I’ve ever worked with.”  So when Will completed his first observation, he was candid. “It didn’t go as well as I’d hoped,” Will spoke honestly as he outlined the things he saw and the things he would change.  Part of being a good educator was being self aware, knowing one’s limits.  The classroom can be quite unpredictable, so even if a lesson goes sour in some ways, a good teacher will be able to point out those things.  As Will sat and discussed the lesson with Mr. Evans, pros and cons were outlined.  Mr. Evans gave some things for Will to work on, even mentioning “I’d like to pop in before Christmas break, too.” Will thought nothing of it.

Second semester rolled around, and Will opted to get his 2nd evaluation completed early on the window once again.  There was one thing that Will despised, and that was the looming threat of a deadline.  The sooner he completed his observation, the better off he would be.
His approach to was quite simple:  continue building on the strengths and improve upon the weaknesses outlined from the first observation.  Once again, after hours of paperwork, Mr. Evans returned to Will’s classroom to observe a lesson on the Law of Superposition (geology).  It was fun, it was interactive, it was thought provoking and challenging.  Will knocked it out of the park.  
The next day, Will sat down in the guest chair of Mr. Evan’s small office, and they went through the evaluation rubric together, with Mr. Evans providing his grade for each domain, and what he saw from the lesson.  Mr. Evans even noted the aspects in which he wanted to see improvement, and indicated that Will had “swung into the next domain over.”  Will felt his confidence soar.  The meeting lasted approximately 40 minutes, and the first 35 went great.  The meeting then took an abrupt turn as Mr. Evans’ tone changed.  “I noticed you called on (Student 1) multiple times,” and “Student 2 finished a portion of the lab with minutes to spare, and she pulled out a book and was reading.  We can’t have that.”  With seconds to spare in the meeting, it was concluded with “I would like to do another observation.”
The alarms begin to sound inside Will’s brain, and he began to hallucinate little red flags flying at every turn.  The cause for concern was twofold:  1) Will had spent HOURS preparing the lesson - and a good lesson at that - only to have it shat upon in the closing moments of the meeting, and 2)  Mr. Evans was willing to sacrifice his own valuable time as a principal at a rather large middle school to meet with Will before, during, and after a lesson, on top of properly filling out all of the paperwork he was required to complete for the state.  In short:

The soft glow of his alarm clock illuminated half of Will’s bedroom, creating a blue shadow on everything.  12:04 the clock read.  Will had less than 6 hours before he would wake to begin his psychologically damaging drive to work.  Will’s brain ran on full steam as he pondered why Mr. Evans insisted on yet another observation.  So, Will sleuthed.

The next day, Will scoured whatever documents he could find:  board policies, Ohio Department of Education, and the Ohio Teacher Evaluation website, where he would find his answer.  There, in small print at the bottom of the observation template:  “Teachers subject to non-renewal may be observed a third time…”

Will felt a burst of warmth fill his face, as his heart began to pulse blood at a much higher rate.  Not wanting his heart and brain to explode, he immediately emailed Mr. Evans and asked if he could meet after school the following day.  He obliged.
The next day seemed to take forever.  Will felt powerless, and he opened up to Mrs. Handler:  “Have you ever heard about anything like this?  Should I be worried?  What can I do?”
Mrs. Handler seemed to kindly shrug, dejected that she could not help “I don’t know, Will.  But I think it’s good you’re going to ask him.  You deserve to know.”

The stampede of adolescents subsided, and Will waited anxiously outside Mr. Evan’s door.  A moment later, the door opened, and Mr. Evans kindly asked him to come in.  Will closed the door.
“So what’s up?” Mr. Evans politely asked.
“Well, to make a long story short:  I know that you want to observe me a third time, and I was reading up on the Teacher Evaluation System, and saw a little blurb about ‘teachers being subject to non-renewal may be observed a third time.’  Like, is this something I need to be concerned about?  I love teaching here, but quite honestly, my confidence is a little shook up at the moment.”
It took Mr. Evans about 3 seconds to respond, but Will had his answer in less than that.
In a split second, Mr. Evans looked down, and grimaced, through clenched teeth began “well….”  It was precisely that moment that Will knew that he was no longer welcome at that school and in the district.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The 300 Days: Part 7 - The Second Meeting and the Steel Blues

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

"Then I got a taste of the benefits, five foot and change
There's no better way to hash it out
So let's set up your time to fail
Well, cause now the cracks, should we intervene?
I hold this albatross..."
- Chevelle - "Face to the Floor"

It was like a scene straight out of Groundhog Day, except it wasn't funny.  

On two more occasions, Mrs. Chapman informed Will that Miss Marley had again walked into her classroom and gone on some sort of adolescent tirade about the most trivial things.  For the most part, Mrs. Chapman ignored her, or would continue working at her desk as Miss Marley unleashed a plethora of obscenities.  When Miss Marley would finally come up for air, Mrs. Chapman would calmly ask “have you told him any of this yet?”  Once more, Miss Marley would rant about Will “not listening to any advice” and “only doing what he wants to do.”  
While Will wanted nothing to do with this woman due to her exceptional ability to question his professionalism and dedication, he realized that as much as he did not care for her tactics, he still had to maintain a working relationship with her.  He emailed her, requesting that they could meet in order to "get on the same page." It would be the last time they would meet one on one. It was agreed that they would meet in Miss Marley's room the next day, before school began. Once again, as history is the greatest of indicators, no progress was made...

Miss Marley walked into her own classroom late. Will was sitting atop a student desk, pondering over what he would say and how he would say it.
"What's up?" Miss Marley said somewhat cheerfully, clearly oblivious to actions.
"Well, I wanted to get on the same page with you in regards to our expectations. I was talking to Mrs. Chapman, and apparently you were complaining to her about me..."
When Will brought up her exceptional ability of slandering his name to other teachers, she would got extremely defensive.  And why wouldn’t she?  She had been caught being undeniably unprofessional, speaking negatively and even cursing about a fellow teacher with a fellow staff member.  Rather than talk about what they were going to do, instead, Miss Marley wanted to make excuses.
“...just, in the future, if there is an issue, come to me first”  Will calmly requested.
“I try!  But every time I come by your room, you are gone!”
“Ok.  If that is the case, you can email me.”
“This isn’t something to talk about through email, Will.”
“Ok.  So then email me to set up a meeting like I just did.  I just don’t see the reason to involve Mrs. Chapman in all of this.  She has enough on her plate as it is, and it really isn’t her job…”
“Yes, yes, it is her job, Will,” Miss Marley interjected.
Miss Marley continued her complaints and excuses, but Will could not make eye contact with her.  He refused to acknowledge her existence as a human-being. All respect had been lost.  For the remainder of Miss Marley’s sermon, Will peered out into the hallway, counting the seconds until she was finished, offering only a simple “yep” or “okay” between her statements.

As usual, Will and Miss Marley tolerated each-other for only a few weeks until the pot was once again stirred.  This time, Mr. Evans would intervene, orchestrating a meeting as referee between the two.  Again, Will was relieved as he could address the issues surrounding their professional partnership like adults.
The meeting began, and immediately Will could feel his brow furrow as he listened to her complaints once more.  This time, however, he stared right at her.  He didn’t just make eye contact.  He stared into Miss Marley’s soul.  He hoped that he would perhaps incinerate her, breaking the spell of her reign of terror.  However, as Will unblinkingly squared up to this unprofessional cohort, it was quite clear that she did not have the necessary equipment, her body vacant of conscience.  The room maintained its cool 75 degrees.  
Mrs. Handler had once told him how Mr. Evan’s had raved about his piercing blue eyes after he had left his interview.  Now, months later, Will’s steel blues had failed him, unable to set another human aflame.
Miss Marley concluded her diatribe, pertaining to issues relating, but not limited, to:
  • the lack of quality in his lessons
  • how she did not feel welcome in his classroom (despite being 5-10 minutes late every day)
  • the lack of time given to modify her lessons.
That word again:  “modify.” Will had expected someone of her experience and expertise to know the difference between “accommodate” and “modify.”  These two terms are very prominent in the world of Special Education, and often they are mistakenly used synonymously, like in this case.  However, there is a clear distinction between the two:  to accommodate merely means a teacher will change how they teach, whereas to modify means to change what they teach.  Will had read through his students’ IEPs (Individualized Education Plan) many times, and there was no mention of any sort of modifications.  Typically, modifications were reserved only for the most extreme cases, such as a non-verbal student or a student with an exceptionally low reading level.  These were also students who were not subject to the typical standardized testing as other 8th graders.  Seeing as all of Will’s students were to take all of the Ohio Assessments, his logic was pretty solid:  help students master their learning targets, while preparing them for the state assessments (as they would be a means of evaluating his effectiveness as a teacher).

When it was Will’s turn, he was quite blunt in his analysis of the situation:
“To be perfectly honest, I do not feel respected one bit.  I have no trust.  I have heard complaints and tirades on three separate occasions from other staff members, and each time I organized a meeting with you.  Quite frankly, I’m sorry that you feel unwelcome and “unequal” in my class, but perhaps if you greeted the students at the door as I do every day, they would view you as an “equal.”  I don’t think it’s my job to go out of my way to make sure that the students see you as they see me.  You have to be there.
Secondly, I have never heard you give me any positive feedback.  This past week, you had two substitutes in for you.  Before they left my class, both of them thanked me for letting them come in and work with the kids, and said how much they loved the lesson and how I worked with the kids.”
Being in front of the principal, Miss Marley surely knew she could not be her usual brash self, and apologized for her lack of positivity. She once again mentioned “not having enough time,” to which Will interjected, “Ok.  How much time do you need?  I've sent you my plans the weekend prior.  Tell me when I should send them.”
A rough translation.

Miss Marley paused, and simply said “well if you do a lab or something on Monday, get it to me by Thursday night or Friday morning.”
“Thursday night or Friday morning…” Will said aloud as he scribbled in his notebook, not only for his well being, but to repeat for all to hear, to ensure there was no confusion this time what the expectations were.  The meeting was adjourned, as the three exchanged professional pleasantries as they departed.  Will felt like a newly planted tree, thrashing amidst a powerful storm, holding on for dear life, praying that the next gust wouldn’t cause him to become uprooted