Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Soapbox

I was really looking forward to my second year of teaching. I stayed at the same school, my grade level team is the same, and we really got our stuff together at the end of last school year, so I knew we would work even better together this year. My incoming churn had already spent a year at the school, so I figured discipline wouldn't be the problem that it was last year.

One thing was changing, and it was major: our amazing principal, Dr. Roar, was leaving. He was being forcibly promoted - at least that's what he told us (he swore he didn't want to leave our school).

A few tidbits about Dr. Roar. When I had my phone interview, we played phone tag, and on his voicemail message, he roared. Literally - full throated, loud, powerful. Our mascot is a bobcat. I didn't meet him in person until I had already moved to Charleston. I've always been lucky enough to have great supervisors and strong relationships with them. Dr. Roar is truly the most charismatic person I've ever met in my life. He opens his mouth, the birds, bees, and churn fall silent, and are captivated by whatever he says (or roars). He looks like the guy from The Green Mile, so he's physically intimidating. But in a teddy-bear kind of way. He retired as an army colonel, so he's got discipline down pat.

Our kids would see him striding toward our trailers and cower. They were terrified of him. But despite his larger than life presence, he truly has the biggest heart. He regularly paid thousands of dollars to feed his staff on work days. He took money from his own pocket to create field day for the kids (think DJ and bouncy games). He sponsored pizza parties. He threw an elaborate Christmas party, and had us over to his home several times for gatherings.

Clearly, Dr. Roar's shoes would be impossible to fill. But I'd heard good things about the incoming principal. Shrubby, the new guy, had worked as an AP and a teacher at my school before moving on to be a principal elsewhere. So he knew the demographic, the strong community ties the students have, the mixed bag of staff he'd be getting.

But nothing is like I expected. Shrubby gave all of his power to our middle school AP (I'll call her the Nazi), who is the number one persona non grata at the school (every teacher had fingers crossed that she'd be gone before this school year started). She's a micro manager, she doesn't care about the kids, and she constantly undermines her teachers.

Shrubby is nothing more than a slick salesman type figurehead who wants to be in the "boys" club (male chauvinism is alive and well in South Carolina). He literally will not great his female employees, but makes a point to shake the hands of his male coaches on a daily basis.

I didn't have a functioning county-issued computer in my classroom for the first 3 weeks of school. If I didn't have a laptop, I would literally not have been able to teach (SMARTboard didn't work either). My phone, to this day (we're only 2 weeks away from the end of the first quarter), does not work. Shrubby merely shrugged off my problems, telling me there's nothing he can do.

The Nazi is just as bad, if not worse. She undermines us and constantly tells Shrubby how terrible her middle school team is (primarily because for all of us except for 3 teachers, last year was our first year teaching).

It's really frustrating because the middle school program really has the potential to turn this school around. We're a rural, poor school. Our demographic is primarily African-American, with a smattering of Hispanic students and a few White kids. They all get free or reduced lunch. They have crappy test scores, they can barely write, and they are far behind their grade levels.

The middle school teachers really believe in our kids (mostly). I can't begin to express how proud I am of my girls from last year. My favorite part of my day is seeing them in the high school. Are they all getting straight A's? No. But if they remember some literary terms, and plot elements, and occasionally where to put the period, I'm happy. There's no rebuilding Rome in a year.

We had students at our school who barely passed the 7th grade that were promoted to the 9th grade based on their age. Kids who failed the 8th grade were promoted to the 9th grade. Not only is this a COMPLETE disservice to the kids, it has to be completely demoralizing to sit in an algebra class with zero knowledge of pre-algebra. I commiserate - I took pre-algebra and barely made it through algebra. Most high school drop-outs in this demographic drop out in the 9th grade. I wonder why.

Okay, I really didn't mean for this post to be this long. It's really frustrating to be in this type of environment every day where the administration is only emphasizing data and test scores but won't help you address the kids' basic needs so that they can start to work on their upper level thinking skills.