Saturday, March 06, 2004

Days Until Science Expo: 17

The truth, a lot of it (this might be a long, boring rant, don't say I didn't warn you):

My principal really, really pissed me off this week. Although she talked a good game at our staff meeting on Monday about supporting me while we get ready for the Science Expo, I felt at times on Thursday and Friday like she fell through when I needed her. Here's what happened.

On Monday, when I was discussing the field trip with her, she said, "Okay, so you'll go and take a parent and a school aide with you as chaperones." Over the next couple of days I found two parents to come on the trip, which I told her on Thursday morning, pointing out that I wouldn't need to bring a school aide anymore. An hour later, bus outside waiting for us, kids all lined up in the hall, jackets on, champing at the bit, only one parent had arrived. I was pretty sure the other mom might be waiting downstairs, but that's five flights down and once I got all the kids down there, what was I going to do if she wasn't there? So I panicked a little and told my principal that I might need to take a school aide after all. She said - in that TONE - "Oh, well that is a problem." Hello? Only an hour ago you (should have) assumed that I was taking a school aide, and now you are not going to let me anymore? Luckily, the parent was, in fact, waiting for us downstairs, so that one blew over.

Friday, I was having a really rough morning. I'm losing my voice. I have been getting about 4 hours of sleep a night for the last week, which means I'm completely wired all the time, which is a good thing, because my boyfriend and I broke up last weekend and it is really important for me to think only about each present moment. This little stay-up-all-night-until-your-eyes-pop-out-of-your-head coping mechanism worked well for me until yesterday. Then, everything at school started to go wrong...

Eleven kids (out of 30) in my 2nd period class turned in final drafts of their lab reports. That class is not making good progress on their Science Expo projects. The usual Science Expo chaos. I felt on the verge of crying about 15 minutes into the period. I stuck my head out into the hall to see if any other teachers were around so I could get a little help and avoid a meltdown, but no one was out there. I yelled at the kids about every little thing - using a tone of voice and words that I regretted, immediately. So I was falling apart inside, dealing with about 9 Science Expo questions at a time, and on top of that I hated myself for not being mature enough to be understanding and supportive instead of belittling and furious.

Second period, I sat down at my desk when the kids came in and took a lot of deep breaths and started the period really calmly. That lasted about three minutes. My principal sent a school aide in: "Is that your heater in the Staff/Parent Room? It blew out the refrigerator." Okay. This woman is very nice, god bless her, but completely inflexible in her thinking. She is not someone with whom you can brainstorm solutions to tricky problems. So, I sighed and said she could unplug it and I would deal with it later. Five minutes later, she's back. "Ms. Principal says, is your refrigerator full?" I knew instantly what had happened. Yesterday, I discovered that my tiny little science fridge was not cold inside, I think because the outlet came loose from the wall (don't ask, I can't explain). I discovered this only because a group of girls needed a cold place to put a jar of sugar & gelatin that they are using to grow crystals at different temperatures. Thinking on my feet, I sent them to the staff fridge with the jar and a label saying what the jar contained. I figured it wouldn't be a big deal; I guess I forgot that my principal is really anal about cleanliness and related issues (or maybe it was her promise on Monday to be supportive...). So I knew that I was in trouble for putting that jar there, and I could vividly imagine her ranting and raving about the messes we all make in the Staff/Parent Room. The school aide continued, "She says you can't keep experiments in the same place as food." I could hear, inside my head, that TONE again. No kidding, you can't keep experiments in the same place as food. But for heaven's sake, it's SUGAR WATER! And what really irritates me is that I am a responsible teacher, and by now she ought to know that when I do something like that, there's probably a good reason. If she had come and asked me about it herself, we could have thought of a solution that we could both live with... but instead she sent the school aide, which made it clear that the whole thing was Undiscussable. So by now, I was on the verge of crying again. I sent the girls to get their experiment and bring it back into my classroom, for me to deal with later. Except, when would later be? My one prep on Fridays is first period, so I was teaching the rest of the day. At lunch, I had to go downstairs to help a couple of boys do an experiment about whether different kinds of music affect your concentration while shooting free throws; this experiment had been blocked by my principal the day before, when the boys brought their radio to lunch and she sent them back upstairs with a strict warning. Sure, they had not checked with anyone (including me) before deciding to do the experiment during lunch, but what annoys me is that she didn't hear them out before deciding they were breaking the rules. I also had to help a group do their soda & burping experiment at lunchtime, because after the fridge comments, I no longer felt comfortable sending them out into the hallway or next door to an empty classroom to do it.

Fifteen minutes before we are supposed to be downstairs at lunch, I tell the kids to start packing up, writing in their journals, saving their work, returning laptops to the cart. I knew that I would not have time to straighten out the cords in the laptop cart at all that day, so I was trying to patiently help each child learn to put his or her laptop away neatly. This took a while. After ten minutes, most of the class was ready to leave, but no one else was around to finish up the last few laptops while I took the kids downstairs, so I just kept on plugging away. And did I mention that I had lost my keys, and had no way to lock up the laptops while I walked the kids downstairs? Finally, two other teachers came in and offered to help, and I took the kids downstairs. So we were 5-10 minutes late, which IS a problem since our kids get an astonishingly short lunch period before the children from the other school come in and the cafeteria goes bonkers. As I brought the class in, my principal approaches me with this SMILE and says in that TONE, "You REALLY have to start getting them ready earlier, you just have to. We have to leave the cafeteria in TWO MINUTES." I couldn't even look at her - I actually turned my back on her and just nodded. I couldn't even speak. But I still did not cry. There were FOUR other adults in the cafeteria at this time. FOUR. And we have exactly FOUR classes. Which means that at least one of those adults had gone downstairs without any children - so why in hell didn't they stop by my classroom to see if I needed a hand? The kids were ready, they would have been on time, all I needed was a second person. (Actually, I think at least TWO of the four adults had not brought kids down, since one of the teachers who DID help me had already brought her own class downstairs and come back up to eat).

The afternoon was better; a couple of my awesome, supportive colleagues helped me out. And then the three of us went out drinking. We are planning a mutiny. We could run a pretty kick-ass school, if we could just find a real leader. (We have other problems with her, which I have mostly kept off this blog).

No, really, I am going to call her and discuss what happened yesterday, like a mature person would.... It's possible I was so wired and stressed out that I took it all much harder than it was intended. I'll let you know how it goes.

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