I remember the day the call came in, June 21, 2013, two days after my fourth anniversary and just over three years from my last full-time work day. My husband had left the day before and was in New Mexico driving an eighteen-wheeler so we could make ends meet. I was sitting in my living room wearing my pajamas, chatting with him on the phone and having coffee. An email came in telling me that a principal had a fifth-grade position open. Finally, something that wasn’t kindergarten or first grade. I bade my husband goodbye and emailed back indicating I was interested.
Five minutes later, my phone rang. Thirty minutes after that, I was offered a job over three-hundred miles from the home I loved, the first home I have ever owned. Three years of insane hell was finally coming to an end. I spent the day making phone calls, sending emails, and assorted Facebook and Twitter posts. What followed was weeks of gathering paperwork, planning trips to find an apartment, get my teaching license, taking care of paperwork and packing a house.
Every state had different rules for teachers. In California, you must work for a district for two years to be considered “tenured” or off probation. In Nevada, it’s three. Whenever I’d hear my friends whine about their thirty days, sixty days, six months, etc., I’d just roll my eyes. I was staring at three, long years of probation. Three years that I could be fired for no reason and no union protection.
My first year was rocky. I started off in the fifth-grade class I was hired for, then was facing a transfer away from my school and all my new friends only to get an eleventh-hour reprieve and take a fourth-grade class that was out of control. I had a girl pee herself if she didn’t get her way, two boys got into a fight, a new girl bullied half my class and her mother verbally attacked me in front of my students. Of course, the worst was being told I had to find a new school to work at. No principal would hire me so luckily an involuntary transfer helped me land at a new site. The only positive was the good evaluations I got for getting my students to read and participate in a reading program that my school used.
Year two was even rockier than year one. To begin with, I wasn’t exactly wanted at my new school by all. Then I was given the classroom that was occupied by a less than stellar teacher and the students I had were in that room and had that teacher the year before. Thus, there was a lot of bad mojo. I had rough classes and student who didn’t respect teachers, adults, and especially me.
There were a handful of students who did their best to get rid of me as in their eyes; they had gotten rid of my predecessor. The school year started with a fight between two girls in my room; one was expelled and the other transferred. It was followed by a boy who accused me of racism and being a racist, so I asked he be transferred out for his sake and mine. Two days after the transfer, he begged to return. I said no. One boy was downloading porn in my class by bypassing the firewall on a school-issued iPad. One girl attacked four male students because they called her a stripper for crawling on the floor. But the worst was the misogynistic boy who threatened my life.
This young man (and I use that term loosely) was a jerk and a bully. He threatened students in my class on multiple occasions and would make rude comments toward me. I was told he had a difficult home life and to “go easy” on him. The problem was, he never went easy on me. He’d refuse to pass paper to his classmates because he wasn’t my “slave.” For the record, this jerk wouldn't know slavery if hit him in his Hispanic face.
The final straw was when a student snapped his fingers at me, and I told him I wasn’t a dog. My jerk started barking and kissing at me, and I lost my mind. I told him, “Say that to my face, sucker.” He got up and threatened me with physical harm. When I didn’t back down, he did. I took a deep breath and decided to let the whole matter drop when he said, “That’s what I, thought, bitch.” I kicked him out and wrote him up. The problem was, I told the truth.
The next thing I know is I’m told I need a union rep and I’m being brought up on charges. He threatens my life, and I’m in trouble for owning my part of the conflict. Luckily, it was negotiated down to a written warning and a slap on the wrist. The jerk was transferred out with no real punishment aside from being sent to our in-house suspension room for a few days. A day later, he was suspended for telling his new teacher to “fuck off,” and was kicked out of that class. The third and final teacher took him, and her he liked. Honestly, I think he knew it was behave for her or risk being expelled.
Year two ended with heavy hints I didn’t belong at my site. I decided to prove them all wrong. It was clear, the Dean wasn’t going to have my back no matter what, and the AP was on the fence. She was torn between kicking me to the curb or giving me a second chance. Luckily, I was given a second chance and a slightly different assignment in the same room. So, I attended a conference on student behavior, read several teaching books, bought four gallons of paint, fifteen yards of fabric, and redecorated my classroom. I invested in some new posters and told myself this would be my year.
Year three was rocky, but not like the prior two. Our school’s Dean took a new job and left, and I won’t lie, I did not shed a single tear. What followed was a rotation of new temporary Deans who were either too lenient or too strict before we finally got a good Dean who knew how to back up her teachers. The teacher next door to me quit, blaming the department, and a rival school accused my department of bullying. However, my classes were wonderful, and I had much better control of my students, and they were so much more respectful. My bosses were happy and despite the bullying within my department, I couldn’t have asked for much more.
However, just when I thought I had avoided all the major pitfalls, a student at my site died from influenza complications. A student that was once one of mine died the day before my big observation. My students were hysterical, but they put on a great show for my observation, and I got a glowing evaluation. Then I learned the student was once one of mine and I became the great actor until I got home and was able to lose my mind.
Despite all that, the year ended well, and I was handed my non-probationary contract. Now, I just had to make it until August with no problems. So, I spent my summer at a teacher conference and buying a house. Little did I know what problems August would bring.
This school year is packed with over-crowded classrooms, lousy health insurance, and evaluation drama that makes my head hurt. On a positive note, I got exactly what I wanted, five reading classes and an afternoon prep period. I get to teach the stories and novels I enjoy teaching. I have students who want to learn and are enjoying the stories I’m teaching them. I still am dealing with bullying within my department, but sadly, that is just par for the course in teaching.
My second chance was all I truly needed. A second chance that kept me from giving up.