In a recent blog post, I wrote that my employer had become my enemy. That was re-posted on The Washington Post's educational blog, The Answer Sheet, and I suppose my employer really took it to heart. At my RIF hearing yesterday, the LAUSD lawyers were armed and ready to take me down.
After an hour of testimony and an hour lunch break, I returned to the stand feeling pretty good. I had answered well and was confident that I would continue to do so. That was until my entire personal blog, 90 pages of posts dating back to 2007, was brought out in printed form and submitted to the court. The lawyers had scoured my musings for ammo, and they found some key posts that did, in fact, make me look like a bit of an idiot for a moment or two. Taken so far out of the context of a school, and particularly my school, some of these posts made it seem as if I was full of it when I testified that I am a competent and active teacher. I wrote about days when I didn't feel much like teaching, or days when I didn't feel that I had taught very much. I wrote about the nature of my job in the library and its clerical demands, and how on some days I felt like I did nothing but shelve books. I wrote about allowing students to watch a movie trailer for Twilight. I wrote about having a slow day in the library. I wrote about times when my teaching practice seemed to be eroding slowly because of the cuts in clerical staff, meetings, etc. I wrote about times when kids worked collaboratively as I stood back and observed, therefore not directly 'teaching'. I wrote about feeling frustrated over the struggle to teach certain content. I wrote honestly and emotionally, reflectively, as one does on one's personal blog.
So, yes, I wrote about times when I wasn't delivering direct instruction, and they claimed this evidence impeached my testimony that I 'constantly' teach. Well, obviously I used the word 'constantly' in the widely accepted usage meaning very frequently (I constantly go to the gym. I constantly go to the movies.) No teacher, not one, constantly teaches in the literal sense of the word. We use the bathroom, we eat lunch, we chat with other teachers, we file papers, we clean the classroom, and yes, we do make personal phone calls sometimes or even, god forbid, answer a personal email between classes.
I failed to mention at the hearing, and I'm still kicking myself for it, that as the librarian, I am at school about 2.5-3 months more per year than the classroom teachers due to our year-round schedule. So even if I did nothing but shelve books or even read the paper for the equivalent of 2.5 months of the year (which I most certainly do not!), I would STILL be meeting the district's requirement of teaching at least 75% of the time in order to return to classroom teaching. Like I said, I didn't think of that zinger until later, so it's now a moot point. So it goes.
On the stand, the fact that the vast majority of what I do is really teaching wasn't apparant to anyone but me, so I looked the fool. Luckily, my lawyer objected to the admission of my personal, emotional, reflective blog into evidence and the judge sustained his objection, admitting only the pages discussed prior to the objection (possibly quite damaging already), and leaving the other eighty-plus pages out. Other than this blog, it didn't feel like they really had much to go on. Well, except for the fact that they suggested I forged a dozen or so letters of recommendation, but the judge didn't buy it. (Can you believe?) I don't know what the judge will rule, and after Friday, I'm not sure it will make a difference to me anymore.
The thing about this that stings is how I feel now, after the fact. I may feel worse than I have ever felt about anything that didn't involve death. They were clearly ticked off at me. I spoke out, wrote an editorial, called the lawyer a weasel in my blog (oops, and I am sorry. That wasn't nice. It really wasn't.), and they brought in the big guns. A top dog from the district (at least, he looked like it) was even there to watch. And maybe they won here, because the way I feel, I just want to get away from them as fast as possible and never look back. I spoke out and I got crucified for it. I'm not sorry I wrote what I wrote, but I am sorry I insisted on having a hearing for a job with a district that is so dead set against having me work for them. I'm sorry I put myself through that particular wringer for the sake of completing a process. I am scared, somehow, about retribution and payback, because that's what that hearing felt like. Like they were going to crush me into a pulp.
So, even though I think I answered the best anyone could under those circumstances, I keep going over it in my head again and again, and I keep experiencing waves of terror that maybe they were right, that I am no good, that I am not fit to work for one of the worst school districts in the land.
Then I remember that I am a great teacher, a really great one, and that they are the ones who are losing here. The children love me and I love them. Teachers love me and I love them. I belong in a school.
Then I have another wave of terror and I just don't know. That they did this to me, made me feel like this, is the worst part of all.
I have less than twenty days left at my school, in my library, with LAUSD. This morning, I don't even want to go back for a single one of those days. Of course, at the same time, I want to go back and work in that school forever. Nine years of my life have been spent there. I've taught whole families of kids there. In my days remaining, I hope to enjoy my students and my library and to prepare that spacious, well-stocked room for whatever comes next, be it clerks or kiosks. And then I will bid LAUSD a fond farewell.
LAUSD, your message was received loud and clear. You are through with me, and you have no interest in working with someone who speaks the truth, and those who speak against you will pay the consequences. However, I would like to take a moment here to sincerely thank you. Thank you for teaching me how to be a teacher. Thank you for coaching me, training me, and guiding me through the world of middle school. Thank you for giving me great evaluations, a few awards, and hiring me for three different, wonderful positions in your schools. Thank you for the eleven challenging, difficult, heartbreaking, mind-altering, life-changing, rewarding, and exhilarating years that make up my professional life thus far. Thank you for all the great teachers you employ who I have had the honor of knowing, and all the great kids who walk the halls of your schools and have changed me forever, for the better. And finally, I suppose, though it's difficult to be sure at this moment, thank you for the opportunity to change my life and grow even more as an educator as I leave your district and find my way in others, or in private institutions, or in non-profits, or pre-schools, or who knows where. I am sure it will be a demanding change, and if there is one thing I have learned as an LAUSD teacher, it's the ability to accept change, to roll with it, to grow with it, and to be better for it. I will not wallow in your rejection LAUSD, and I will not even hate you for your cruelty (for I was unkind to you as well). Instead I will be happy for our time together and think of you (certainly your students and schools) fondly in the future.