I’m not sure if I just quit or got fired.
That was my Facebook status six years ago, January 28, 2011. The day had started out like any other. I arrived early at the preschool, set up the center activities for the day, and checked my plan book for upcoming events. I wrote correspondence to parents, and checked my mailbox. There was a note from my boss, I had an evaluation meeting at the end of the morning. I took a deep breath and readied myself for the students to arrive.
There had been some tension back at the beginning of the month, we didn’t always see eye to eye. Specifically, my boss had told me “You need to find someone else to watch your kids when they are sick.” Unfortunately, I’d had to call in sick the day before Christmas break because my daughter had a fever. If you’re a preschool teacher, taking a “sick day” means you don’t get paid if you’re not there. I’d come in the night before to set everything up, making sure the classroom was prepared.
The “discussion” that followed this statement included raised voices (mostly by me, I’ll admit), and my long list of reasons for defending why I would not actually ask someone else to watch my sick kids. Yet my boss insisted this was how it was going to be. I had been more than a little taken aback, particularly because this was my fifth year working here. Two years prior to this, I’d had to stay home for many days while both of my daughters fought the swine flu. It didn’t seem to be an issue then at all. There was an irreparable rift in our working relationship after this.
The following week, there was a memo in my mailbox stating that due to state health regulations, teachers were no longer allowed to bring in any personal items from home for teaching aids (no games, no Legos, no counting cubes, no resource books, no calendars, no posters, no stickers…) I’m not even sure if this was a real thing, but I spent an hour loading up my car at the end of that day.
The next day, I was asked to turn in my key to the building, because “the assistant needs it.”
Still, I was not prepared for what was about to happen.
That meeting we had didn’t go so well. My written evaluation stated that I had “disobeyed a directive from (my) superior.” It sounds harsh on paper. I remember the day specifically, my boss had looked at the clock, it was 11:30 am, the time we headed out to recess. When I was asked why we weren’t outside, I explained that a preschooler was just going to do her show-and-tell quickly first, because she’d forgotten it the day before. I was told, “No,” that there wasn’t enough time for that. That was the directive I disobeyed. I went ahead with the show-and-tell.
It didn’t get any better from there. This was the only critical evaluation I’d had in five years of teaching here. I was not prepared to hear that I “behaved like a teenager” who “needed their ego stroked.” I was not prepared to be told that I had “anger management issues.” I tried to defend myself without swearing, yelling, crying, or having my head explode. But I think I may have rolled my eyes, which prompted the teenager remark. It was obvious that a decision had been made, when my boss ended the meeting by saying, “Well, I guess this is the end of the line.” I wasn’t prepared to leave the classroom and my students without saying so much as a goodbye. I wasn’t planning on walking out that day without even the slightest explanation to my assistant, who’d stood wide-eyed as I walked in, clearly upset, to collect my things. The last thing my boss said to me was, “Remember, this is YOUR choice.”
There are two sides to every story of course. But this is my side, because it’s my blog. I hope those who know me well enough will possibly dismiss the “anger management” comment. And those who don’t know me? Well, let’s hope this makes for an entertaining story.
I’d been a teacher for fifteen years, eleven of them in preschool. Through all those years, through all the snow days, the first and last days, the runny nose days, through three long pregnancies, I have loved it all. Every single day.
Teachers don’t go into this profession for the money or even the vacations. (And if someone has told you otherwise, they are either lying or they are miserable.) Teachers love the excitement and the promise of each new year. We love the new smiling faces, and getting hugs from former students. We love writing with new Sharpies on new name tags. We love the smell of paper and new books. And let’s face it, there’s just something about opening a new box of crayons. Seriously though, we may complain about Mondays and filling out report cards, but at the end of the day, we love our jobs. Every day teaching kids is special and unique. Every day has the potential for greatness.
There are very few reasons that would make a teacher leave in the middle of the school year. Was this a defining moment in my life? Hard to know for sure. I think everyone has moments when their character is questioned, or maybe even attacked. If you’re lucky enough to be able to keep your emotions in check, you have a few seconds to say to yourself, “Is this worth it? Is this how I’m going to allow myself to be treated?” What does this say about me, especially if I’ve watched it happen to others and I’ve only played the bystander role? Respecting those in charge and respecting yourself do not have to be mutually opposing ideals.
The only thing I love more than teaching is my family.
I had a good reason for walking out that day and never looking back. I summoned the courage to stand up for myself. I chose my kids over my job.
In the end, that’s what matters to me.