I’ve been told that I’m good at leaving “cliffhangers.” I agree.
Sneaky Bastards Are Everywhere
When we left Part 10, I had again been fired for something unfair, in my opinion. Yes, I was in a strip bar, not a crime, but teachers are treated differently than other people I guess. Yes, I was in an “establishment that served alcohol,” but nobody would have cared if I were a plumber. No offense. Certainly, most people could say that I could have fought this somehow. Unfortunately, in schools, it’s different. Yes, I could have fought this battle, but I would have lost the war. When you have not yet reached that magical first day of your fourth year, you are worthless. That left me facing another summer of applications and – with luck – interviews. Before I left Maple Shade, the superintendent – Ms. Cheryl Smith – NOT of Cherry Hill, NJ – seemed to have done a great favor for me. She sent me a letter that stated that the reason for my release was because there was going to be a reduction in students. On paper, that showed that my release had nothing to do with my behavior or anything. It said I had been a good teacher but was the victim of a population decrease. I thought, “Wow, that was nice of her.” What I was not aware of were the grimy wheels that turn inside the vile brain of Cheryl Smith – NOT of Cherry Hill, NJ.
Cheryl Smith is a decrepit, bitter old bitch, a vengeful, deceitful hag who gains personal glory from stabbing nice people in the epiglottis. I was not aware that Cheryl Smith – NOT of Cherry Hill, NJ, had a history of releasing employees, writing a glowing letter of recommendation, but totally trashing them when a prospective employer asked about the candidate for whom she had written the recommendation. I had attended several positive interviews. One was Salem High School, which told me that within a week they would call back the top three candidates. Not even ten minutes after I had left the building, they called and invited me for a second interview the very next day. About thirty minutes later, Salem called again and said that they were sorry but my interview was cancelled. I later learned that they were calling my references, which included Cheryl Smith – NOT of Cherry Hill, NJ, who completely trashed me. When I say that “I later learned,” it would be several years later, but I’ll expand on that in Part 12 or 13 because not only did she kick me out of her school, which she has the right to do, but twice later in my teaching career she tracked me and other teachers down and caused big problems in other school districts. Don’t let that smile fool you.
September arrived without a teaching position, and it felt awful. After 18 years, it was the second time I was sitting home on everyone else’s first day of school. I scoured the newspapers and online sources and found an interesting job that would help me later in my career – reading and scoring the essays that kids write on standardized, state tests. Those same tests that I hate, that have ruined education, were sitting in a pile for me and about six other people to evaluate. Sure, I was a certified teacher with 18 years doing exactly what needed to be done, but what about the other people? Who else was entrusted with making critical decisions that could greatly influence the educational direction of thousands of students? There were a couple of college students who constantly checked their cell phones, an elderly gentleman who kept falling asleep, two women who could not stop talking even if you had sewn their mouths shut, and a guy in his 30’s who barely spoke English and likely would have been screened out of line at most airports post 9/11. No offense.
For about three weeks we sat at a table, plucked essays from one pile, scribbled a score, put that essay in a second pile to receive a second score, and then went back for another one. It sounds rather conceited to say that I knew that I was doing a great job with it, but I had been trained to score these essays over the years. I’m not so sure about the rest of the group. It greatly disappointed me to see who was responsible for scores that could significantly help or hurt both individual students and entire school districts. In New Jersey there is a definitive “passing” or “failing” score that determines if student are permitted to take certain higher-level classes or forced to take remedial classes, thus affecting a student’s ability to continue at a higher level that could also affect a student’s college options. There are cumulative scores that dictate which schools must spend millions on supplemental classes and after-school programs. That absorbed funds that schools might need for sports, arts, and other programs.
I was not happy, but a brief reprieve arrived when I was invited to interview to replace a teacher called to military service in a scrappy town called Penns Grove. While sitting in a lobby awaiting my interview, I read a Time magazine article about legislation called “No Child Left Behind,” (NCLB) a program largely copied from a British plan called “Every Child Moves Ahead.” Though assembled by Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, NCLB was mainly credited to President George W. Bush. I had just enough time to read some of the details before it was time to meet the superintendent. During interview, I did two things: I greatly impressed the boss with my knowledge of NCLB while trying not to look at the dead squirrel of a wig that sat on the man’s head. It was a challenge. Luckily, the man was a big supporter of Pres. Bush. Although I was not pro-Bush, I was still able to convince him that I was right for the job. A week later, still reading those essays, my phone buzzed. I had a feeling it was Penns Grove wanting to hire me, and I was right. After finishing one more essay and checking my voicemail, I left the building and drove home without caring to tell anyone.
I began at Penns Grove High School in December and had a relatively quiet rest of the year teaching freshmen and sophomores. I took over the school yearbook the next year not just for extra money, not just to impress the administration to keep a job, but also because their current yearbook was about as exciting as a dictionary. I received great accolades for redesigning everything and adding some style, color, and some sharp uses of graphics. The compliments were something I had not been accustomed to hearing because my career thus far had been rather bland.
There were three scary incidents that year. First was when I heard a scream and turned to see students patting out a fire on a girl’s head. A boy later explained that she had so much hairspray and other products in her hair that he wondered if it would light up, so he clicked a cigarette lighter behind her head and found out that yes, it would light up. Second was a problem with an angry student who did not like me for reasons I forget. We got into several disagreements over the course of several months that culminated when he said, “I have a gun at home, and I know how to use it.” I gave the class an assignment so I could type an e-mail to the principal in which I detailed what the boy had said. About thirty minutes later, the principal arrived and asked for the student by name. The boy left with the principal and I never saw him again. I was impressed, thinking that it was a school with integrity and I would enjoy being there.
The third problem that was more significant than a kid talking about a gun. There were two female students whose names I don’t remember, so I’ll call them Laura and Donna. Donna was an excellent student, a quiet girl who did her job, never bothered anyone, and always had good grades. She didn’t have many friends and talked to few people. She was neither sociable nor unsociable, just focused on her grades instead of the total school atmosphere. Laura was the opposite, always involved in discussions, and seemed to know and get along with everyone. Donna wrote poetry, asked if I would read her work, and brought me a notebook full of writing after school. I made some revising suggestions, told her that in a few months we would be covering poetry in class, and that I would be glad to more closely review her writing at that time.
A few days later, maybe a week, I received an e-mail to meet with the vice principal. She was a very friendly woman and interesting to talk to because it was fun to hear her occasional Canadian accent. It was not fun, however, when her accent asked if I were having a personal relationship with Donna. Shocked, I asked what could have provoked the question. She said another student, whose name she could not divulge, confided to her about the possibility. When I asked what caused the anonymous student to suggest it, the vice principal could not divulge that either. At that point, there was nothing I could do or say other than, “No, I’m not having a relationship with Donna. She was in my sophomore class and recently approached me after school to read her poetry. That’s it.” The vice principal thanked me for coming to her office. When I asked if there would be any further questions or investigations, she said, “No. You told me you weren’t having a relationship, and I believe you. That is all there is to it.” I wanted to scream and throw something, but I realized that she was not the right person to suffer that, so I left the office and found my building union representative who was also the union president to discuss the matter with him.
I will call him Chuck, the union president. I didn’t know Chuck well but well enough that he had asked me for rides to and from school when his car was being fixed. When I told him about the meeting and the accusation of a relationship with Donna, he said he was already aware of it. What shocked me was when he said that a student had approached him with the suspicion of a relationship, and it was he who had sent the student to the vice principal. The student was Laura, the socially outgoing girl from the same class as Donna. The number one job of a union president is to protect the rights of the union members. I asked Chuck why he did not come to me first with the accusation instead of sending the issue to the vice principal, but I don’t remember his answer. I again wanted to scream and throw something, but I knew it wouldn’t do any good.
The next day I asked Laura to stay for a moment after class and asked her why she told the vice principal that she thought I was having a relationship with Donna. Laura said she saw us talking after school and assumed that’s what was happening. I could not believe how casual she was about it, as if saying, “Yeah, no big deal. I thought you two had something going on because you were talking, ya know? So I told someone.” Without anything else – just seeing two people talking – this little snot made a great assumption that something inappropriate was happening. Then, when she asked Chuck – not just another teacher but also the union president – what to do, he sent her to administration instead of coming to me first.
I was somewhere between furious and nauseous, not sure if I were going to puke or pummel something. The rest of the year was uneventful, but I could not shake the grossness and anger covering me. To deal with it, I spoiled myself that coming summer. I bought a golf membership, played about five days a week, and improved greatly. I was still friends with the teachers from the previous school, and we did a lot of BBQ-ing, bar hopping, and beer drinking.
When September arrived, I was determined not to let the previous year’s events affect me. I would be less outgoing, keep to myself, and do nothing to draw attention. Sadly, it did not work, and – just like a few years earlier – something happened that would not just get me fired during the school year but has followed and affected me to this day.