In an absolutely perfect world, I would go to Bell Street Middle School and spend the day getting ready for my 8th year spreading library love amongst my students and teachers. In a slightly less perfect — but wildly-superior-to-the-present — world I’d be headed back to Woodmont High School for my 17th year teaching lit or history– preferably to sophomores or juniors. In any iteration of a good and righteous world, I’d be going somewhere to educate some kids.
Instead, I will spend the third consecutive first day of school sitting home or helping Budge prepare her room. Barring an unforeseen parting the Red Sea or feeding of the 5,000, I will never set foot in a classroom as a teacher or librarian again.
When a plummeting economy, archaic policy, my complete lack of tact, and Wayne Brazell’s disingenuous ineptitude cost me my librarian’s position at Bell Street following the 2007-2008 school year, I should have seen the handwriting on the wall. I had been offered a position in the District’s IT department at a third of my salary for twice the hours worked. Faced with this unpalatable scenario, I spent March through early May taking home my office, hounding friends in other districts, and chasing leads to find a new place to land. When I didn’t get a call back from any of my three interviews, I chalked it up to competition and cuts.
I was wrong.
One night in May, an HR staffer I knew risked his job to tell me the assistant principal I thought I had at least a civil working relationship with had BUTCHERED me in a reference. My buddy called it the worst reference he’d ever seen. Well, anyone who knows me can guess how I responded to that revelation. I went into a fine rage and, while extremely angry, had a FaceBook chat with a “friend” about this odious person, said “friend” felt the need to print said conversation and give it to Bosslady. That got me into a gorgeous shouting match with D.O. people and I ended the year suspended with no contract.
I managed to get her damning reference deleted, but the milk was thoroughly spilled. I have always burned my bridges behind me fairly well on my own, but this woman started a conflagration AHEAD of me. I never knew or even suspected such animosity. When no position came up, I sat out the school year and hoped unemployment insurance would stay funded. I couldn’t even sub because districts within reasonable driving distance had hiring freezes on subs.
I took a fresh shot at the resume circuit last summer. I was called for one interview, then called back a day later and told the job was being filled and not to bother coming in. What was costing me was what any accurate reference about me would show, even from people who think highly of me. I have a tremendous work ethic, drive to get things done, and a boundless love of young people accompanied by a complete disregard for idiotic policy red tape and no patience with stupid people who think a title, a suit, and a big desk give them some special power.
Another year started and ended without me teaching. The black dog started making a tremendous din and the clouds rolled in. Around Christmas, I started looking into other avenues to income if I couldn’t get back into a school. I tried public libraries, private schools . . . anything. In the end, with little hope this summer — or realistically any summer — being any better, I bowed to the inevitable and on the advice of my therapist, I consulted a lawyer and filed for Social Security Disability.
With the OCD, BPD, GAD, and SRDD, the United States Government feels I have enough issues to prevent me from working. I now have a small but steady income to supplement Budge’s salary, but — at the age of forty — the game is over for me. I have ceased to be a contributing, constructive member of society. For any of my readers who are devotees of the Tea Party or Rude Limburger and Company, I am now one of the “entitlement” parasites on our country’s economy you hear lambasted with unmitigated passion on talk radio and Fox News. I am — barring the aforementioned miracle — permanently “on the dole.”
Please let me assure you that no political pundit will ever despise me more than I despise myself. I never had a great plan, but being a washed up nervous wreck at 40 wasn’t part of ANY plan. No one has ever loved being a teacher any more than I did, and still do. Then I got a chance very few people ever get — I got to work my all-time dream job. I got to be a school librarian. Unfortunately, some demons who have plagued me since late childhood just kept rearing up and causing me to wreck my career track. I had help going off the rails, but the blame for my plight must lie finally at my own feet. It is a fearful thing when your greatest asset (in my case, my mind) turns on you and becomes your worst enemy.
My attitude and behavior cost me two jobs and the root of those problems has now cost me a career. I’d try again, but I just don’t have the emotional strength and I can’t bear to put Budge or Mama through any more seasons of drama and despair than I already have. Budge told me she feels like a weight has been lifted off her back now that she no longer has to worry about getting “the call” from me telling her what fresh hole I’ve dug myself into this time. I’m trying to think of her and not myself.
I never claimed I was a particularly good teacher, and I wouldn’t claim to be more than a mediocre librarian. I couldn’t care less about copyright issues. I think Wikipedia isn’t even a minor devil, much less the offspring of Satan. I think every scrap of paper with a bubble on it should be taken to Iceland and dropped into the gaping maw of Eyjafjallajökull along with the people and politicians who believe testing is the be all and end all of education. I didn’t learn any of those traits in library school; I just feel that strongly.
I will also be the first to admit that, despite my dreams, I was never in any danger of being Teacher of the Year or holding an office in SCASL. I don’t play with others well enough. I WILL say without hesitation what I lack in tact and judgement, I tried to compensate for with passion for my craft and undying love for my students. I can’t count all the run-ins and heated exchanges I had with administrators, professors, and other “higher ups” in 12 years in schools, but I can tell you the number of serious altercations I had with a student in those 12 years — ONE.
But none of that matters anymore.
The book of my education career is closed. I try to keep a spotless house for Budge. Mama says I make the best cheesecakes. I have this blog and other writing I dabble in, but honestly, I don’t know where to go from here. I never figured on things turning out like this. I can’t say how I expected them to turn out, but I know it wasn’t like this. How this will go from here, I don’t know. I know it makes me sad. I miss my library. I miss my kids. I miss being strong and steady enough to enjoy both of them.
So all my teaching colleagues and librarian buddies, this is where I leave you. Please pass this along the grapevines to my acquaintances and friends who do not patronize “Granny Beads and Grocery Store Feet” so they will know I have not died or joined a monastery. Should either of those events occur, Budge has instructions on who to call, what to post, and how to make news of my demise or decline known to anyone who cares.
In any event, I still love y’all and hope you’ll stick around — clean feet or grubby.
In the words of the late Kurt Vonnegut, “so it goes.”
This is the biggest condemnation of our educational system I have read in awhile. As a principal I have folks quarrel with me all the time. Some time they have the right of it some times it is me but at the end we part professionals. When I read your descriptions I always think, hmmmm he is a lot like me. I just managed to avoid the top dogs notice ||( helps to work in a big system||). Please don’t let small people’s opinions of you have any lasting effect. One of my favorite quotes is, |||” I don’t give a damn about your professionalism but I do care about the passion you bring to work every day.” Sounds to me like you brought a lot, good on ya! You have one of the great blessings of life, a good woman. Hang in there my friend and keep writing. I love your stories.