And Sometimes You Stand Alone
I taught school for 30 years, all different levels at 4 different buildings—all positions I took on, willingly, meaning I was never involuntarily transferred. I taught in both junior and senior high schools. Lord, I even taught elementary art for a while, sitting at those little tables with kindergartners, cutting out colorful bird shapes.
In my first years, I taught a split of 2 English and 3 Social Studies classes at Park View Jr. High. I’d majored in history and minored in French in college but I began teaching English “on emergency” basis. I liked English so much, I got credentialed and switched to teaching English full time. At the end of my 4thyear, I left on maternity leave, with each class hosting parties for me, gifting me with bouquets of roses and lovely gifts for my baby.
A year later, my entire life was upended. I’d left an abusive husband, moved into an apartment with my year-old baby, hired a woman to care for my child. And I began a teaching position at High B. Bain Jr. High where I’d go on to teach 19 years in that school, enjoying rapport with administrators, co-workers, students and parents.
In my 8th year (my 4th at Bain), my principal asked me to sub for my department chair who’d gone out on long term sick leave. That experience taught me I did not want to work in managerial capacity. I preferred remaining a classroom teacher.
But in my 23rd. year, I thought “Why not go to the high school?” I’d done my student teaching at that level and I needed a break from the usual.
In the first 2 years at the high school, I had no permanent room; I was an itinerant who traveled all over the school and even went to 2 different buildings. (Cranston East is a campus of 2 buildings with City Hall in between.) I was assigned 3 academic levels of students in my very first year—10th, 11thand 12thgrades. Between the need to go to travel and the academic preparation, I found it grueling.
In my 27th year, I volunteered to teach the incoming 9th grade in 1993. I was the ONLY English department person to do so but I had no qualms about doing so. Remember—I was a veteran junior high teacher and the perk offered was 4 classes, instead of 5, with the other period reserved for team-teaching preparation. This new position meant I’d leave the main building of Cranston East and go to the Briggs building. A rash of young teachers, involuntarily transferred to our building from other schools, filled the remaining teacher positions at Briggs.
That’s when I ended up in the career fight of my life. I fought my assignment to the illegal room without any help from the Union, or the city building supervisor tho they both agreed I was in the right. After 3 weeks of enduring, I walked off the job, sending a certified letter to all parties (administrators, union rep, plant supervisor), ahead of time, apprising them of why I was doing this. Then the miracle. A room “opened up,” according to the principal. I asked him how a large corner room with windows had so quickly become “available,” and he told me it was being held in abeyance for a 2nd quarter health class to be taught by none other than a friend of my department chair. That was the reason 30 students and I were squashed into the illegal room—to hold that other room open for the health teacher.
After that, my relationship with my department chair deteriorated further. She sided with anyone else in situations where I needed support.
I remained in the Briggs Building for the last 4 years of my career, teaching 9thgrade. The campus of Cranston East (the main building and Briggs Building, with City Hall in between) housed 1500 students, with 420 of them in the Briggs building at any given time. Room phones often didn’t work; fights broke out; teachers and students were threatened and harmed by bullying students. Despite our repeated requests, we could not get an administrator assigned to our building (there were 4 in the big building). I demanded a meeting with administrators to address these problems where I presented my findings (I passed out a booklet I’d compiled, listing specifics of dangerous incidents, dates, parties involved, etc..)
And finally, because no changes took place, I went public. I wrote a Letter to the Editor that appeared in the Cranston Herald…a letter to my students’ parents. A letter with the caption: “Briggs Building: A Time Bomb Ticking.”
These were the last years of my teaching career, a sad testimony that showed me the true fall-out of administrative incompetence whether it be one’s immediate supervisor or higher up’s. I was totally disgusted.
But what happened to me and my students in my last years reinforced my belief that sometimes, you just have to stand alone.
PS Cranston East had its state evaluation following this, and the #1 concern raised by the team of state evaluators was: Briggs Building must have an administrative presence.
***I include my Letter to the Editor above.