A Lesson Learned

Posted: September 23, 2016 in Classroom, Life
Tags: ,

Note: I’m going to leave names and locations out of this story, although a lot of you will know who and where I’m talking about. There are no hard feelings regarding any of this, as I was young, hard-headed and stupid in many ways, sort of like I am now minus the young part. In addition, some people may remember what happened differently, and that’s cool. This is simply how I recall what happened.

It was during my third year of teaching when I learned a valuable lesson, a lesson that I’ll explain at the end of this recollection. As I said, I was young at the time, wasn’t particularly involved in teacher unions or anything like that, just excited about teaching and the future I had to look forward to. Anyway, here’s what happened . . .

I was teaching middle school Reading at the time and we had a pretty good thing going at our school. Our principal was a great guy, loved the kids, got along well with his staff, blah-blah-blah. Our high school? Not so much. The principal there was having some problems. I don’t even recall what those problems were, but suffice it to say trouble was afoot.

As administrations sometimes do, they made a decision that made zero sense. They simply decided to switch principals. Yep, their answer was to move the middle school principal to the high school and the high school principal to the middle school. While this decision was great for the high school, we at the middle school were pretty pissed about it.

So, a meeting was called. I’m not even sure who called it, all I remember is walking into a classroom where the entire staff had gathered to discuss this act of egregiousness.  As the teachers in the room were going back-and-forth regarding possible ways to deal with the problem,  I distinctly recall sitting in the back, talking with my buddy Joe about something, probably basketball or politics. At some point during the teacher’s discussion a decision was made to send a representative to talk to our superintendent, let him know how we felt as a staff.

To this day I don’t know how I was chosen to represent our staff, but maybe it was because I was young and idealistic, possibly because I didn’t give a damn, likely because I was naïve enough to think there would be no repercussions.

I should have recognized the foreshadowing of events to come when 4 or 5 of the more vocal teachers pulled me aside after the meeting or early the next morning and whispered something along the lines of, “Hey, you’re not going to mention any names over there, are you?”

Uh, no? But as I mentioned, I was young, idealistic, and evidently a little dumb.

The meeting had been after school, so the next morning I called over to our Superintendent’s Office to schedule an appointment, which was made for noon that day. After eating in my room I headed that way.

As I walked over I passed my aforementioned good friend and fellow coach Joe’s room, where he was sitting at his desk finishing his lunch. I stuck my head in and said, “Hey, I’m heading over for my meeting. Want to walk over with me?” He sort of shrugged, replied, “Sure,” and hopped up to join me. Just providing a little backup, nothing more.

Or so we thought.

We walked into the Supe’s office, sat down, and I expressed the feeling of the staff, being extra careful to not mention anyone by name. I basically just said the middle school staff was happy with the way things were and didn’t agree with the switching of principals. My friend Joe sat there and didn’t say a lot, although he did pitch in with a thought or two along the way.

When I finished I was basically expecting a “Thanks for your input Mr. Shoemaker. I’ll consider the staff’s opinion. Have a nice day.”

What I got instead was, “Well, if you two don’t think you can work with your new principal we can make other arrangements.”

Hold on a sec there, boss. What?

Number one, I was just the spokesperson. Number two, aren’t we all professionals here? Just because I don’t agree with the decision doesn’t mean I won’t continue to do my job the way I always have. What the hell?

At that point things got a little tense, but not out of hand. I sort of vocalized the points I made in the previous paragraph, and my buddy Joe added his 2-cents as well.

So, the meeting ended with some awkward handshakes and terse goodbyes, but I otherwise thought we’d made our point, been unceremoniously rebuked, and sent on our way. I was sort of shocked but otherwise unscathed. End of story.

Wrong.

The next morning I stopped at my mailbox, and in it was a letter informing me I was being transferred to one of our outlying middle schools in the district for the next school year. Stunned, I walk down to my room. Shortly thereafter Joe, the guy who had walked over with me because his room was on my way to the meeting, walks in holding a letter of his own. He was being transferred as well, to our other outlying school.

Nice.

And you know what? Although some parents complained, not one teacher spoke up in our defense.

In the end it turned out fine for me because I spent two wonderful years at the school I’d been transferred to, and I met some outstanding students and families who are friends to this day. Then I moved to Paint Valley where I taught until I retired. Joe only spent one year away before moving back to his original school when a job opened up.

All in all it was quite a learning experience, but my biggest lesson was this:

When things go bad a lot of people will talk big, but when it’s time to go to battle and you’re the one leading the charge, don’t look behind you.

There may not be anybody there.

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