For twenty-two years, I was an itinerant teacher
who traveled to all three of my schools every single day.
At the very beginning of my very first year, the principal of school three (sequentially in my day) whom I shall henceforth refer to as Mr. L, took me aside and kindly said, “Now you’re doing a tough job for us, and we appreciate it. You’ll have a lot of disadvantages compared to teachers who spend all day in one school.” He even enumerated some of those disadvantages, and though he didn’t have the complete list (as I gradually learned through the years), he came pretty close. He concluded, “So, I’m going to try to offset some of those disadvantages by giving you some advantages that the other teachers don’t have, in an attempt to make things a bit more even. First of all, I’m not going to keep you for faculty meetings; that would be stupid; you only have one or two classes in any one building, and most of what we discuss will be irrelevant to you. Second, when you dismiss your class here at two-thirty, just go on home; why should you sit around ‘til three; it’s not as if anyone in his right mind would ever give you a homeroom in your situation.” I thanked him profusely and declared that I would find ways in which to thank him. And I did. Even though the teaching contract clearly states that each teacher will attend one “Meet-The-Parents” night per year, I instantly resolved to go to said meeting for all three of my schools each year, even though I hadn’t asked for three schools, simply because I was determined that Mr. L’s school would never be the one to do without its Spanish teacher on that important night (otherwise, the three schools would have been obliged to rotate on a three-year cycle).
Almost immediately, I was given multiple reasons to doubt the wisdom of that generosity. First, the only principal who expressed any appreciation for my sacrifice whatsoever, ironically, was the only principal who didn’t owe me any appreciation: Mr. L. The other two principals merely took my kindness for granted. Second, two different teachers in two different schools called me a fool, right to my face, for giving so generously of my evenings. And third, my own mother disparaged my good deed, declaring that she did not want me running around at night any more than I could possibly help, because I was her only child, and that her life would be over if anything happened to me. The term “thankless task” definitely began to come to mind. Nevertheless, I had set the precedent, and I grimly followed through for the first sixteen years of my teaching career. Interestingly, the principal of school number one in my sequence each day, whom I shall refer to simply as Mr. R, constantly chafed through all of those years at Mr. L’s refusal to force my attendance at his school’s faculty meetings; I know because Mr. L kept me informed of their frequent debates on the subject at county principals’ meetings. What possible good it would have done Mr. R to have me sit through Mr. L’s meetings, I was never able to imagine. But Mr. R did tend to have a vindictive, bullying personality, so I suppose that that was “the point,” if one could call such pettiness a “point” at all (“pointless” sounds more apt).
Principals came and went. Oh, not Mr. R, of course; he remained for a full seventeen of my twenty-two years, busily making life a living hell (and not only for me, of course; I’m not that paranoid; I was well aware of the ordeals suffered by numerous colleagues). But in my school number three, four different principals transferred, retired, or died. Mr. Y, near the beginning of his tenure as principal at school three called me into his office to say, “I received a most peculiar phone call from Mr. R this morning. He wanted to know why I’m not keeping you for faculty meetings here. I told him to mind his school, and that I will mind mine. But, Jeannie, what is going on over there???” I proceeded to wow him with myriad stories of various shenanigans at school one. If Mr. R similarly badgered Mr. D (third principal of school three) or Mr. K (fourth principal of same), I was never told, but neither was I kept for their meetings…until Mr. K and I had a ferocious falling-out on an unrelated matter.
In a nutshell: his guidance counselor and I had a row; she went crying to him; instead of asking to hear my side, he roared at me in front of three other teachers and about a dozen students; I filed a grievance accordingly; I won; he lost; and he was out for blood: mine.
I stood outside of his office and heard him call Mr. R and conspire to “screw her schedule in every way possible.” Of course, to the union representative, he denied ever having made such a call. Many people have since told me that I should have walked right into his office while he was on the phone, and stood there staring at him with my arms folded. Those people are correct; I should have. I was too stunned.
Anyway, all of this took place at the end of my sixteenth year.
At the beginning of my seventeenth year, I was informed that from now on, I had a homeroom in school one, faculty meetings in school three, and that I was not dismissed until three o’clock.
I finally found my gumption. I said, “Fine. But don’t anyone dare to get between me and the door at three. And from now on, I will attend ONE ‘Meet-The-Parents’ night per year, as per contract. The three schools can rotate.”
Mr. K was so tired of fighting with me by this time that he said, “Whatever!”
Mr. R, on the other hand, turned red-faced, and blustered, “Miss M, you can play it that way if you want to…!”
I frigidly replied, “Mr. R, I am ‘playing it’ the same way that you are. You’re saying, ‘No more special favors: by-the-book.’ I am saying, ‘Very well, I will cooperate with you one hundred percent. Not fifty percent. One hundred. No special favors ON EITHER SIDE.'”
He retorted, “The purpose of the contract is not to see how many ways you can limit yourself!”
I replied, “Neither is the purpose of the contract to see how well you can attack a teacher against whom you have a vendetta. Nor is it a way to ‘have your cake and eat it, too.’ You’re essentially saying to me, ‘We’re not going to do you any more favors, but we hope that you’ll still do yours.’ You must think that I’m the biggest fool that ever walked into this building, but I’m happy to tell you that I’m not.”
For my remaining six years, two out of three principals suffered embarrassment each year in having to explain to the parents why the Spanish teacher was not present for “Meet-The-Parents” night. How do I know that? They foolishly told me so. I suppose that they imagined that I might still be gullible enough to give in and let them have it both ways. I was not. I had learned. One vice-principal even admitted to me that they had all come to realize that they had been better off the way that things were during my first sixteen years. It really served them nothing to have one more body in attendance at the useless faculty meetings. But they had formerly derived a great boon at having me attend all “Meet-The-Parents” nights.
My relationship with many other faculty members at all schools improved dramatically. It seems that colleagues can’t bear to see one of their number treated differently from the rest of them, even if that one’s situation is SIMPLY UNAVOIDABLY FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT. Like sheep, the more similarly that one is treated, the better that the others like that one, even when the details are nonsensical.
My mother was thrilled. In reference to Mr. R and Mr. K, she said, “Granted that they were a pair of snakes, but who cares? You’re better off THIS way!”
And I was, oddly enough. At least faculty meetings have the decency to occur in broad daylight, when I was already dressed and already in the building. “Meet-The-Parents” nights involved a special trip, in the dark, back to a place that I’d just left hours before, as well as a more dress-up occasion than a typical school day, and thus a special change of attire. I even figured out that the hours that I saved by omitting two out of three “Meet-The-Parents” nights each year, paid for the extra time wasted in faculty meetings of that same year.
Poor Mr. L. He truly meant well, but he was a sweet idealist in a world full of petty sheep. But I still treasure having known him, and remember his kindness fondly in my heart.
Here’s the kicker: Mr. R was the only one, out of eighteen different administrators in my twenty-two teaching-years, who attended my mother’s funeral. Go figure.
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