Monday, October 3, 2011

7 weeks and an Apology - Part I

I have an apology to share with everyone who reads this. I'm not apologizing for the fact that I haven't blogged in 5 weeks. Nope. I'm apologizing for the fact that I'm done. Last Friday was my final day at George Melcher Elementary.

I'm not exactly sure how to go about sharing the pressure all the teachers are under. In my last post, I shared the emotional pressure of trying to manage kids with so many issues. But what broke me was all the other expectations placed upon us by the school district. The collapse of the KCMSD has been all over the news lately. First the Superintendent bails, then the state of Missouri strips KCMSD of its accreditation. All of this just adds to the air of desperation around the district, though "desperation" doesn't begin to describe the atmosphere.

The veteran teachers at Melcher said that teaching was always difficult, but the last few years the district has piled more and more work upon the teachers in the hope that the district could climb out of their hole. These teachers, teachers who work 12-14 hour days, stated it is simply impossible to do everything that is asked of them. Two or three times a week, we would get emails from our principal with long lists of things we were supposed to do; things that we were given very little, if any, training on, things that would take a lot of work to complete and that sometimes contradicted what we had just been doing.

Some examples: 1) The schedule changed about every two weeks. Even Kindergartners would have to figure out their new rooms, teachers and schedule. On my last day it was also the last day I would've been with the group with which I started the school year.
2) We were expected to do a six hour online training module for FEMA. Seriously. In order to pass the training, we had to take a detailed test regarding the organization of the National Incident Management System.
3) Due to student violence, we were expected to have a minute-by-minute behavior plan for about half of our students. Before we could send a student to the office, we had to go through a 5 step, several day long process that concluded with a parent's meeting. I often didn't even have the phone numbers for student's parents.
4) One of the other TFA teachers had 3 fights in his room last Friday. He worked until 12:15 that night, was back at school the next morning at 5:15 and still didn't get all of his work done. He was greeted that morning by a lecture from the principal for not getting enough work done and a chewing out by a parent for having an unsafe classroom. Seriously.

It's rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, but at a life-destroying pace.

It seems like there are people sitting in office chairs in the KCMSD central office making impossible demands of over-worked teachers and getting paid quite well to do it. And how suffers? Of course, it's the kids. The kids who are doomed to a life of poverty simply because they were born into a school district vacated by the rich who could change things but can also afford private school and run by people who find ways to sneak an extra $20 million into a contract to help out a friend (allegedly).

What finally broke me was the requirements for Master's Degree I was expected to finish by the end of these two years. When I saw my first syllabus, I had a nervous breakdown. I've never had anything happen to me like what happened to me the past two weeks. I'm a bit too proud to share all the details but my wife was quite worried for my health. And last Sunday afternoon, while planning for the next week, we came to the conclusion that while it might be physically possible to continue the cost to our family's health would be too great. So last Friday, Sept. 30th was my last day.

Every single teacher at my school who had kids advised me to put my family first. Some of them stated, "if I could afford to do something else, I would, because I only see my kids one hour a day."

Most of my students were pretty upset. As I shared in my last blog post, I was determined not to be "that guy", yet another male walking out on them. I wish they all had dads who would put them first, but it simply isn't the case. When talking with a group of 5 students, here is what I learned about their dads: 1) My dad was shot in the head 2) My dad is in prison 3) My dad just got out of prison after 8 years 4) My dad is in Mexico. Ultimately, I had to shut of my emotions, let go of those kids and do what I believed to be the best thing for my family and my overall health. Which is why I was able to read through a heart-felt letter from a girl who asked why I had to leave like all the other teachers. Of course, Friday was my last day having her in class anyway, since the administration changed up our classes for the 4th time since the start of the school year.

While I'm certainly not responsible for creating this terrible system, I am responsible for breaking my commitment. I'll have to work through that guilt but I know it is possible. This was not the most noble moment in my life but the decision might have been the lesser of two evils.

I wanted to confront the powers but the powers ended up destroying me. I wanted to be a part of the solution but I was only a part of the problem. There will however, be other problems I can address and other solutions I can embody. This was a terrible and frustrating chapter in my life but it's not the end of the story. Neither is it the end of my blog posts on this subject. I've got a lot more to share and now that I'm unemployed, I've got the time to do so.

1 comment:

Jodie Bonham said...

Donnie, I’m so sorry to hear about what you’ve been going through. Obviously the decision you made was incredibly difficult but the best decision for you and your family. It is such a tragedy what is going on within the KCMO school district. I wish there were easy solutions. I wish districts that have more tax revenue would be willing to help out, absorb some of the students and teachers, or offer some resources to the children. What’s happening with this district is an example of how the poor in our world often end up staying poor, because they grow up in an environment that is broken and it’s hard for them to get out. I will be praying for you and Erin.