With all jobs there are risks. Most of them are risk from injury but there are other risks and hazards. Back in the 90’s I was working for a school district that hired an independent company to run our alternative program. It was good for a while but then the company made some changes. I witnessed our lead teacher (we did not have a principal) yelling in the face of his secretary. I witnessed the district not backing the employee’s complaints. In fact, by the time the district fired the company and their lead teacher, all my office coworkers had quit. Of course we were still seen as complaining employees and not as employees needing help from an awful situation the district had put us in and then refused to acknowledge.
The new principal couldn’t start until the beginning of the next school year so the district hired someone to come in and clean up the place for the last few months of school. Her job was to get rid of the problem causers. She walked up to me one day and said, “I hope you have a good self-esteem because you are going to need it!” I looked at her and replied, “I do, and I don’t get any of it from my job.” She was a bit startled by my response and walked off. She did everything to try and get me to be miserable, but I continued to do my job.
In the fall, when the new principal came she told me that the district wanted her to get rid of me. She asked me why and then allowed me to prove my worth. Within a month she was telling me she did not understand where the district was coming from and that I was one of the best secretaries’s she ever worked with. I received some of my best job evaluations from her. They were so positive that the next district I moved to told me they had never received such rave reviews about someone.
The risks were high to stay with that job and face the disrespect and constant scrutiny I faced. I had nothing to hide. I was good at my job but I knew there was always room for improvement. I also had a solid knowledge that my self-worth was established by God. Nothing they said or did could affect my self-esteem. I would not allow that. My value and worth were established by God and if I believed anything else I was giving in to the power of Satan. That is what I believed and how I survived.
Most people don’t realize the risks in the job of a teacher but there are many. It just takes one student who doesn’t like you to take you down. Hopefully they don’t realize they have that kind of power. Teachers also have a hard time protecting students who are there to actually learn from those that disrupt. Another problem is that parents will believe their student over a teacher. When I went to school, I would have been in so much trouble if I talked back to a teacher. My parents would have stood with the teacher and I would have been grounded. In states that guns are not allowed on school campus, teachers who are licensed to carry have no way to defend themselves or their students. Times have definitely changed.
Last week, I had one of the worst classes ever. The eighth grade class had 25 boys and 3 girls. The teacher had warned me about how bad they were for her. There where at least five boys who were constantly rude and disruptive. I was trying to read to the class and these boys were walking around the class talking. The numerous times I asked them to sit down and stop they point blank said no. I had never seen such rude defiant behavior. Since there was only 15 minutes left in the school day, I did not send any of them down to detention. Instead I gave them a short lecture on taking charge of their education. In that lecture, I mentioned that they were responsible for their education. It was up to them to learn and move ahead in life. No one wants to get stuck saying ‘do you want fries with that’ for the rest of their lives. Working at McDonald's might be a good jump off job but unless you are in management you don’t want to be stuck there. One of the students yelled out that it was the teachers fault if they didn’t learn. Then several of the boys rambled on about how I was accusing them of being low level McDonald’s workers. I corrected what they thought they heard. Lecture ended and so did the class.
Part of a substitute’s job is to write up a report of all the classes. I gave great reviews for all of them but the last class. I wrote up exactly what happened and even mentioned two of the boys by name. Then I went to the office to check out, I told them exactly what had happened. I wanted to make sure they knew about it. Four days later I receive a ‘Sub Warning’ e-mail from the district. You get two warnings before being evaluated and then let go as a substitute. You don’t get to defend yourself to the school or the teacher. In fact you can receive a second violation if you do. The charge? Lecturing students and telling them they would only be able to get a job working at McDonald's. Apparently parents and students were offended that I said, “they would never have a good job and would have to say do you want fries with that for the rest of their lives.” Obviously that is not what I said.
I handled it well since I still believe I don’t get my self-worth from my job. I sent the district a letter explaining what I did and what actually happened and asked them to put it in my file. I didn’t argue the points or call anyone a liar. Instead I chalked it up to one of the risks of the work place. But I was truly saddened. I am sad that students would go that far. They knew the truth and didn’t care. Sad that parents no longer hold their children accountable or take the time to listen to the teachers side of the story. I am sad that a person’s career and livelihood could end if a student wrongfully accuses a teacher.
These hazards and risks in the teaching profession are part of the reason for the decline of good strong teachers. In a work place where the teacher is guilty until proven innocent, it is hard to keep good people around. Many subs have it worse because they don’t get the chance to establish a relationship with staff since they move around so much. This puts the risk of teaching much higher for the substitute.
The world is a tough place. All jobs have their hazards and risks. If I could plea for one thing in my field, it would be for parents to support the schools and teachers. Hold your children accountable. Listen before jumping to conclusions and honor those that march into the classroom to help today’s youth come out better than the last generation. Support substitutes, they have a tough job moving around from class to class never getting the chance to build a relationship with the students or staff and far too many substitutes attach their self-worth to their success in the classroom.
Fortunately I have spent the last few days at the local alternative school. These kids come because they want to even with all the struggles that they have in their current lives. They want to move on and get out of the place they are in. The staff here? Wonderful, they have included me and even given me a free school t-shirt. What a difference in schools and attitudes.