When I say I turned out to be an above-average teacher, you’ll have to take my word for it, unless you picked up a hint of my reach by reading the 12 reflections from former students.
Of course my daughter Maggie, who has a wicked sense of humor, read those posts and said, “Mom, I can see you helped lots of kids, but I wonder what happened to the ones who are still in therapy because you were their teacher?” Her eyes twinkled.
She makes a good point.
I made mistakes left and right.
Many were the result of impulsive decisions I made without having all the information. Or believing the words of colleagues who did not have my best interests at heart. Or not paying proper deference to my superiors. I was young, with all the arrogance that surrounded being the one who pointed out the emperor had no clothes, thinking my words would be appreciated. For every systemic flaw I found, I offered a solution. To no avail.
I had a world to learn about teaching. The school, for better or worse, made that possible.
For a faculty professional day, we listened to a brain researcher from Yale, I believe. He lectured on thinking styles: Concrete, Sequential, Random, Abstract. We took a lengthy test to determine our personal pattern and charted the numbers on graph paper. He asked if anyone ended up with a perfect square. As I recall, two of us raised our hands. “These are the best minds for teaching. They can present material from all four angles,” he said.
I was sure the other man never faced the assaults I did.
After 35 years, capsulizing those assaults is difficult, but I’ve carried their critical stones long enough. When my 12 guest bloggers examined their pasts at the school, I believe they emptied their pockets of sharp rocks that had nicked their hearts for decades.
Those students and I had something in common that no one realized at the time. We were Baby Boomers, with me at the early end while they accounted for the last wave. We listened to the same music. We’d grown up on the same TV shows. We were like-minded in ways that distinguished us from our elders residing in the building.
We were a voice for change in that buttoned-down atmosphere.
I taught among people who were about 20 years older. They were focused on spouses, children, and mortgages. Many already dreamed of retirement. The few colleagues my age were men who coached and/or held administrative slots. Mostly they were math/science/language teachers.
I pointed out once that all administrative upper school decisions were made by men with the same background. The same brain. “That’s one side of the coin reinforcing itself repeatedly,” I explained and went on to illustrate the girls saw no leadership role models. Nor was an arts’ opinion ever part of the official equation. Those assembled in the room stared at me. Blankly.
You see my predicament.
In a male-dominated system, I was a marked target. They came after me constantly. I once went for three months without being called on the carpet and breathed a sigh of relief, thinking my worth had been realized.
No such luck. The onslaughts picked up speed.
My drama program was criticized because I didn’t use the talent developed in the middle school program. My play selections were too ambitious, chosen to entertain me and far beyond the grasp of high school students. In fact, it was alleged that the demanding role I’d given one boy would surely drive him to suicide. I contended the role offered him a constructive way to counter his virulent case of senioritis.
Because we had no theater, we built sets on the patio and moved them into the Commons for our performances. The building designers had given us no closets, so during tech week our costumes and props were stored on faculty lounge pegs and shelving. The official assessment: “It’s a constant mess.”
I was hounded for my demanding English classes and for overly emphasizing writing with standards only reachable by graduate students. A well-respected boy returned from a college search at an Ivy League school and gleefully reported visiting an English class “like ours because they got on a roll discussing a poem and lost track of the time.”
A colleague and I reshaped the sophomore research program that we’d inherited by reduced the time spent on library scavenger hunts for reference material. The fill-in-the-blank worksheets ceased being the centerpiece. This was deemed unacceptable because it watered down the curriculum. We saw little merit to papers that were a patchwork of secondary sources. We believed in strong writing.
The toughest indictments came in a letter specifying my personal unsuitability. I was not sufficiently sunny. My body language was unacceptable, particularly the way I held my head. Worst of all, I was not a team player. There were more charges, but these were the prominent accusations.
During this time in America, women began successfully challenging discriminatory workplace treatment through the courts. An attorney read my letter and insisted we had a winning case but added, “Honestly, if this is the mentality you’re working for, it isn’t a job worth having.”