May 17, 2016 was the most heartbreaking and disappointing day of my entire professional working life.
For two years, I’d been working in a program at a private school for students with learning disabilities as the main classroom teacher. The director of the program worked part-time. I had no background in special education, but when I took the job I was working as a counselor at this same school and hated it, so I was desperate to get out, and the director assured me that she would give me all the training and resources I’d need to work with the students. Since she had a master’s degree in special education and had run a similar program in another state, I trusted her, and accepted the position.
I started working in the program in the fall of 2014. I was the only classroom teacher, and the director was only in the building three days a week. When the school year started, I’d had no training and been given no instruction, materials, or guidelines as to how to help our students. The director’s instructions to me, when I asked her how I should proceed with the class (which I asked repeatedly) was, hey, it’s your classroom, you can run it any way you want. The most she did was buy a lot of expensive technology for the kids to use – but neither she nor I knew how to use this stuff. I asked her at the beginning of the year to either find me some training or figure out how to use some of this technology herself and teach me, so the kids could use it in the classroom. She never did (three years later, and I know for a fact none of that software or hardware has been used. I bet it’s all still in the original boxes. It was when I left last year).
As the year wore on, I grew tired of waiting for the director to, well, direct, and I started making crap up to help the kids in the program. I came up with a pretty good system, but it wasn’t backed up by any research, and I was still woefully under-qualified. Then at the end of that first school year, I learned that she had gone way over the stated enrollment cap for the following school year – even though she talked a good game about having strict requirements for who she let into the program, in reality she pretty much accepted every kid that applied. The program was supposed to start with 10-15 students. It started with 40. By the time we were moving into our second year, we had 60.
Not only that, but the range of disabilities she was accepting into the school ran a spectrum from kids who clearly didn’t even need our services in the least to kids who had needs we were incapable of meeting. The director would proudly advertise the 3 or 4 kids she actually DID reject as proof that she was being a good gatekeeper, but the truth was the program was a mess, and was also a big-ass lie. The kids were coming into the program, and taking a ‘class’ with me where I basically ran a study hall and tried to run around and work one on one with as many kids as possible, while also monitoring our extended-time testing program. At least in our second year, the director kept her promise to hire me help in the form of two more teachers (if there was one thing she did well, it was hire more staff to ensure she didn’t have to work more than her three days a week). But still, and in spite of my continued complaints and requests for it, there had been NO training, no guidelines or materials, and no guidance. I was still on my own, but now I was also in charge of two other teachers who were also on their own.
And then the talk started about charging the parents of the students in our program extra fees on top of the tuition they paid to attend the school (for the first two years, the program was free). This freaked me out, and rightfully so. While scrambling around and doing my damnedest to help these kids by hook or by crook was one thing when our services were free, this piecemeal approach, unsupported by any research or best practices, was not going to cut it when we were charging parents three thousand extra dollars a year to utilize our services. In that second year, I was already struggling to help some of the kids who’d been accepted even though they clearly could not handle the college prep curriculum; and in spite of repeated promises on the part of the director to do so, still none of the classroom teachers had been trained on how to work with our kids.
So. Last year, in January of 2016, I finally quit trying to involve the director in the program’s planning at all. We never got any useful assistance from her anyway, and for the most part, when she tried to help us she just made things worse. Right before the second semester started, I put on my best thinking cap and re-structured everything; it still wasn’t backed by any research or special education training, but it was backed by my 16-or-so months of observation as to what worked and didn’t work for the kids, and what concerns were constantly coming up with the parents. I created forms and checklists for us and for the kids’ teachers. I imposed structure into the classes. I started tracking kids and grades. And I set up a weekly reporting system to keep the parents informed of what was going on in our classes.
This at least gave us some semblance of order, and prevented any of our kids from slipping through the cracks. But as we lumbered towards the third year of the program in the spring of 2016, I started to see more writing on the wall for the coming year, and it was not good. The director was still being sloppy with accepting students who shouldn’t have been let in. Our numbers were climbing higher than they were ever supposed to climb (our total enrollment was not EVER supposed to be more than 10% of the student population; and yet in our first year we had 40 kids when the total population was 380. The second year, we had 60 when the total population was 420. And were looking at more than 60 for the coming year, including kids with disabilities we weren’t equipped to handle – and the school’s enrollment had yet to crack 500). And in the back of my mind all this time was the nagging realization that all these parents were going to be paying extra for our services, while we were still going to be overburdened and untrained.
Then I got the kicker, the final straw: one morning, the director slipped into my office to inform me that she had taken a job as a flight attendant with Southwest Airlines, and would be working part-time as a stewardess in the coming school year while staying on as the director of our program. She would be in the building twice a week, and the rest of the week she’d be working for the airline. I was getting a new title – “coordinator” – and while she was out I would be in charge of the management of the program. She told me this had all already been decided and finalized, and not to worry about any of it, because it would all be just fine. And before she scooted out the door she tossed out that by the way, she also had to attend a five-week training for her new airline job, and that training would be starting the next day, so while she was gone I was in charge – but I was not to make any decisions about anything without contacting her. Then she sashayed away.
What ensued from that point forward was five weeks of crying, shouting, fighting, and threatening to quit – and that was just on my end. On her end, once she realized I was not going to support her or agree to these ridiculous terms, she set out to undermine me every chance she got. Since she was unreachable most of the time while she was at flight attendant school, everyone from parents to the school president starting coming to me when they had issues they wanted resolved. And by the way, this all started in April, when a private school starts having a LOT of issues about enrollment for the coming year. There are enrollment deadlines, for starters, and in the case of our program that meant reviewing paperwork for every student who applied, and determining whether or not they would be accepted, then notifying the admissions department of these decisions. There were interviews that had to be held and decisions to be made about final numbers, and class sizes, and program changes – and I was being pulled out of the classroom, which I was also supposed to be running, to do all of this. Which I did, every day – and then, when the director spared fifteen minutes from her stewardess training to check her emails, she would systematically undo every decision I’d made, as well as getting on the phone to other school employees to complain about what I was doing.
This culminated in me giving the school an ultimatum: everyone, and I mean everyone, knew who really ran that program. Hell, the director was hardly ever in the building! I was the contact person, I was the one who ran meetings, and responded to emails, and met with parents. So I marched into the president’s office and told him, you can make me the director next year, and I’ll do all of this stuff the current director isn’t doing, and your program will actually be worth the money these parents are going to pay for it. Or you can keep her as the director, and I quit. And by the way, the director doesn’t even have any idea what happens in this program, or how it runs, because she hasn’t spent more than two hours max in that classroom the entire two years. So what’s it going to be?
And what it was, was that the president told me I would be the director. Then he told me to put together an entire proposal, in writing, for every single change I wanted to make to the program. I went to work, researching where we could go to get really good special education training, and how we could add a summer program to help the kids acclimate to the school climate, and so on. I typed it all up. Documents and flow charts and outlines, you name it. And I turned it all in. I met with department chairs and the admissions department, and together we all made changes. I typed up new documents including those changes, and emailed it to all the department leaders I’d met with.
Then, several things happened all at once: first of all, in the weeks I’d been convinced I was the new director of the program and had been making all these changes, I basically forgot that the program currently had a different director, and she was about to return from her five-week hiatus. I mean, I literally forgot she existed, because I’d been so busy burning the candle at both ends getting ready for the coming school year. And then, on the very weekend the director was due to return, my 93-year-old grandmother died. And on the very Monday the director was due to be back in the building, I was absent, attending my grandmother’s funeral. And the whole thing went to shit.
In that one day I was absent, the director showed back up, took one look at what all I’d done, found out I’d been given her job, and hit the roof. And by the way – I forgot to mention that she was married to the school’s principal. Yep. So, she and the principal have a meeting with the president, and by the end of that meeting, I was no longer the new director, and she had her job back. And then, she threw out all my changes, and sent me an email requesting a meeting with me the following day (when I returned from my funeral leave) so I could “learn what my new role in the program was going to be.”
I got that email on May 17, 2016. I knew the director was coming back that morning, and I knew there were going to be fireworks, so as soon as we got in the car from the graveside service I checked my email. Then, I called the president – the guy who’d been assuring me for five weeks that I had the director job – and had to ask him what was going on, because he wasn’t going to tell me himself, the chickenshit. All he said was, “Well, you’re not going to be the director next year, she is. And she’ll be in the building two days a week, just like we said before. And you’ll have to get with her about everything else.”
I hung up the phone, and I lost it. The thing was – I really, really wanted that job. I really wanted to make that program exceptional. I was going to work all summer, and every single day of the school year, as hard as I possibly could, to make that program worth people’s money. She was going to be there two days a week, continue to be sloppy, and take people’s money for what was essentially a lie. She would do nothing to improve that program or even make it an ethical endeavor. She’d already proven she wasn’t capable of anything more than that. And I’d spent two years proving how much I cared, and how much I could do. But in the end, they didn’t care. And they didn’t choose me. They chose her, the woman who wouldn’t even commit to being there more than two days a week.
But hey, I get it. She was married to the principal, and that’s how she won. And I knew it was a possibility I’d end up losing. What I really did not expect was for everyone else at the school, including the other teachers in my program, to throw me right under the bus when the shit went down. There wasn’t one person in those five weeks I was running things who didn’t come up to me to tell me how happy they were I was in charge, and what a mess the director had been and how difficult she was to work with. But would you believe, that as soon as she came back and started throwing her weight around, they all went so far as to flat-out DENY they’d ever even had meetings with me, or agreed with my changes, even though I had documented email after email proving the opposite? They turned on me faster than hot-dog wieners on a movie theater grill, and left me to rot (like hot dog wieners on a movie theater grill, also).
So, May 17, 2016. Doug and I went straight from the funeral to the school, in the middle of the day, grabbed a bunch of boxes from the storeroom, and packed up my shit. Then I put my school keys and my ID tag on my desk, and walked out the back door. And I never went back. I was heartbroken, though, because the thing was – I really loved that job. And I saw the potential that program had to be great, I mean, really really great. And I didn’t get to say goodbye to the students, some of whom I’d worked with for four years straight. But the humiliation of losing was too great, and the utter lack of respect for me as well as the completely shitty way the school had treated me was too much to bear. I was done.
I literally had less than one week left in my contract by this time, but the school demanded I write a written apology for MY behavior (can you believe that shit?) or else they would fire me for abandoning my contract and fine me as well as deduct from my salary all the days I didn’t work. Yes, after lying to me about giving me a promotion, using me to get all my ideas down on paper, and humiliating me by demoting me the same day I was ATTENDING MY GRANDMOTHER’S FUNERAL, I owed them an apology. I told them to piss off, lost three months of my salary, and in the end had to pay them one hundred and fifty dollars for all the pain and suffering I’d caused them by refusing to be their bitch any longer.
So, here I am, one year and one day later. This deadline has been on my mind literally since the day it all happened. Back then, oh my god, did I cry. I cried daily for about three weeks. After that, I just cried weekly. I think the last time I really had a good cry over the whole thing was around September of 2016, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say the whole thing didn’t still pain me all these months later. I never worked a teaching job I loved as much as that one. I probably never will. Letting it go was beyond hard – it was devastating. When I worked there, myself and the other two teachers (who were my close friends at the time) would all say how perfect the job was, and how the only problem with it was our director. It just made all the sense in the world for me to get that job, while her having it made no sense at all. But here I am, and she still has that job, and I still don’t, and that’s the end of that.
After I quit, I had no idea what I would do or how I would move forward. I’d worked there for four years, with a two-year gap in my employment before that while I attended grad school, and because I’d been fired and left on awful terms (there were a few phone calls between myself and the school after I walked out that may have included some swear words, as well as some less than pleasant written communications) my resume had a big old six-year hole in it – unless I was willing to risk putting the school down as a reference, which I wasn’t. My husband was the one who suggested I just start working for myself as a tutor, which was appealing due to the lack of interviewing and resume fudging I’d have to do, but I had no idea how to go about putting a business together, or getting clients, or, for that matter, how to tutor. I didn’t know if I wanted to do it, but the one thing I wanted to do – direct that program – had been taken from me.
I started this whole tutoring business halfheartedly, with a sense of desperation, and the feeling I had no other options. And it took a long, long time for me to feel otherwise. But here I am, one year later, and I really do like what I’m doing. My business is still small, but when I look back at how paralyzed with fear I was about having to go out and get clients, I’m pleased that I’ve managed to find and keep six of them – all of whom want to keep working with me over the summer, and two of whom have siblings I’m also being asked to tutor. It’s not exactly booming, but it’s clicking along, and it’s working out nicely for me now.
But what about the school, you ask? Well, as it turns out, there were at least some parents whose kids I worked with there who valued me (even if none of my co-workers did), and I am still working with some of their children as a private tutor. I do my best to be professional and keep my feelings about the school, the director, and the program to myself, but I hear things (and not just from this source; I still know one person who is connected with the school although she, too, has quit). I can report that the principal, the one to whom the director is married, was fired in October. So thanks to the school for throwing me under the bus to placate the wife of a dude you were about to give the boot, but whatever. The bigger news, in my opinion, and the thing that really chaps my ass, is this: the program is still being run exactly as I structured it in my last semester at the school. Now let me be clear here – it is NOT being run as I planned to run it as director of the program. It is being run as I ran it when I was the classroom teacher, and figured out a way to make the program work just well enough to get by. Even though the president made sure to get electronic copies of all my plans – everything I put together in those five weeks I was being told I was going to run the program – that damn director and the people still working in the classroom have all been too fucking lazy to implement one single, solitary change. Not. One. I created a freaking road map for the program’s improvement; I literally could not have made it any easier for them, but they either didn’t care enough to try, or (and this is more what I suspect) the director refused to make any changes out of spite and/or a resistance to admitting that my direction was the proper way to go. Ironically, even in ignoring all my proposals she’s still running a program that I created, but true to form for her she’s chosen the easier one to perpetuate. Even if she didn’t want to utilize any of my plans for the program, she could have put out a little bit of effort and done something to improve things, because as I’ve already mentioned, things were a mess by the end of last year. But nope. She’s done exactly nothing, except maintain status quo.
So, why am I spewing on about all of this now? Because it’s been a year, or rather, a year and one day, and this year anniversary has been on my mind the entire freaking TIME. How would I feel about it, especially with it coming two days after the anniversary of my grandmother’s death? Where would I be on that day a year away, one year from one of the most heartbreaking days of my life? How will I commemorate one of the most soul-wrenching disappointments I’ve ever experienced as a working woman? Even as the date drew nearer, I wasn’t sure. May 11th. May 12th. Getting closer. May 14th, the date of my grandmother’s death. May 16th, tomorrow, it’s coming tomorrow.
And then, the day came – and I totally forgot.
May 17th, 2017 was a Wednesday, which, as it turns out, is a busy tutoring day. And you know what – I’m just now realizing this – I spent one of my tutoring hours consoling the parent of a student from my old school; consoling her because the program isn’t meeting his needs, and she can’t get anyone to help her. Surprise, surprise. But I, on my own as a private tutor, was able to help her a little, by at least advising her how to handle the problems she was having at the school (one of the many things I was good at there was dealing with all the teachers, who often were rude to our students and regularly refused to help them. Somehow I had a way of softening them and getting them to bend. The current director sucks at this, and always did). So, on the anniversary of the day I quit, I was, in a way, still doing that job, and still dealing with that school! But I was so busy, and so focused on doing my new job, that I didn’t even notice the big day had arrived. I helped the mother, then immediately moved on to tutor another student, who attends a different school in the area. Then I drove home from the library, and read whatever the hell the latest news about our national dumpster fire Donald Trump had hit while I was tutoring, then I probably edited a photo or two and went to bed. And at some point today I realized what day it was, and what day I’d missed completely.
That school literally broke my heart. It forced me to quit a job I loved because I was being taken advantage of so badly I couldn’t take it anymore. I’ve never had to do that before, and I had no idea how painful something like that can be. I felt it in Sally Yates’s voice when Andersen Cooper asked her how it felt to be fired from her job as Attorney General (and no, I am not comparing myself to her in any way). I felt it in James Comey’s letter where he said goodbye to the men and women of the FBI. I have felt it in every TV show I’ve watched, or book I’ve read, where someone who loved their job got fired, or had to quit when they didn’t want to because they weren’t being treated right. Hell, I cried for Michael Scott when he quit Dunder-Mifflin in The Office (which I binge-watched for the first time last summer) – and that shit was hilarious. But somewhere along the way, between this May and the last, I quit feeling it every single day, and I quit crying about it, and I found other things to do to occupy my time, and right before this big anniversary arrived – this big moment I’d planned to commemorate in some way – I just forgot.
And maybe that’s the best way I could have commemorated it after all.