I don’t get angry often. I have a fairly long fuse and I will laugh often to keep from blowing up even if it is a sardonic laugh. But I want to yell at someone tonight. I just don’t know who.
I started out in preschool — teaching that is. In 1979 I went to work for the State of Arizona as a resource teacher for children age 0-5 years of age who had identified delays in their development. I spent my mornings working with 3-5 year olds, helping them integrate into normal preschool settings. My first placement was at a school that I was not familiar with but over the next year that I worked there I became good friends with the director/owner of the school.
I had already worked in a couple of preschools part-time while I was getting my first degree in archaeology thanks to the intercession of my wife who with her master’s degree in early childhood had become a director at another preschool. She saw that I had a talent with kids and nepotism didn’t bother me.
This school was very different from the one my wife ran, but I was flexible.
As I said the director of my new school and I became friends because she immediately saw I was not just some government lackey, I actually knew about kids, knew how to work in a preschool and I went out of my way to integrate myself into whatever program I was placed in. I went on to work in many different schools over the seven years I was with the state, each with its own character, but continued to be close friends with that owner long after I left her school.
Eventually I went on to teach in public school. I stayed mostly in early education, spending eleven years in kindergarten and seven years in second grade. My friend’s program grew for a time and she expanded to another site on the other side of town but after going through a divorce and as her kids got older she decided a career change was in order. She sold her schools and after a few false starts, using her original teaching degree she returned to the education field. She continued to grow in skills and eventually found that teaching English special education in middle school beckoned to her. She enjoyed the work, was innovative in her approach and seemed to in a good place professionally.
Except with colleagues.
Interpersonal skills with peers had never been her strong suit.
Everywhere she went she seemed to have a problem with being somewhat blunt with what she said to others. She also suffered enormous mood swings. Then there was supervision, often a problem for teachers who are left to their own devices so much, additionally, having been the boss herself for many years she struggled to deal with her various principals especially when she saw them as simply hassling her for her lack of tact and her tendency to speak up about whatever was on her mind. Few, if any, criticized her teaching, in fact most gave her good evaluations because, as I said, she was good at it.
She went to the doctor about her issues with interpersonal relationships and was diagnosed as bi-polar. Her doctor put her on medication. For a while it seemed to help.
After several contentious years with one district here in Tucson she decided to make another change and move to her home state of Texas to teach. Her son lived there and she initially moved in with him while she began subbing. There was some friction, he being a grown man who had left the nest several years before so she eventually moved into her own place.
She stayed busy and while she didn’t want for work, she finally decided that Texas wasn’t for her and she came back to Tucson, eventually landing a new teaching position, this time in a high school as a special education inclusion teacher. My wife and I were both called individually as references and asked our opinions of her as a teacher before she was hired. Ironically when we compared notes later we had said almost exactly the same thing.
We both said we had known her for over twenty-five years, that some of our children had gone to school together, that we thought she was an excellent teacher but that she could be brutally honest at times and would invariably speak her mind. Additionally we both said we would hire her, given the option — but then we knew her well.
She was pleased when she was hired and really looked forward to the job. She shared her ideas and goals with us and spent a lot of time learning what an inclusion teacher was supposed to do.
It was rough year. The high school had never done inclusion before. I could relate because inclusion was what I had started out doing all those years before when I worked for the state: trying to make sure that exceptional education students fit in to a regular classroom. She often felt that her opinions were dismissed as not being the way that they did things and she tried to persuade them that she recognized that was not how they had been doing them but this was something new.
Near the end of the year she wrote a grant and received an award for materials she could use the next year. This pleased her greatly and it seemed a vindication of her skills professionally. That was the high point — there were many low points.
She grew frustrated and often depressed. It just wasn’t working out. My wife and I had many discussions with her about various issues because we had a standing dinner date on Friday nights. We gave her what advice we could and once again her teaching skills were never in question as she continued to get excellent evaluations on her lessons.
Near the end of the school year her medication was adjusted by her doctor to try and ameliorate some of the radical mood swings.
On one hand she was worried that she would not be asked to return to the school and yet she was equally worried that she would be asked back.
We assured her that whatever happened she would have a job next year because the district was always short of special education teachers and her evaluations were good. We tried to persuade her she was golden.
The day she got got her RIF — Reduction In Force — notice, news that her job would not be filled the next year, she called and came over to talk with us. Again we assured her that this was simply procedure on the part of the district and she would be picked up soon. Funding was the main culprit, coupled with lowered enrollment so they were just “covering their ass” so to speak. She laughed about it at the time but my wife knew it really bothered her. One thing she was afraid of was that she wouldn’t have health insurance until rehired and that could take all summer.
She went to the meetings held by he district for those people who had been RIF-fed; employing a verb that has become common usage for describing the process. She was getting ready to go to a job fair; much like the one where she had been hired the year before. Some friends from work were going with her to ensure that she got all the interviews she wanted.
Yesterday she came by to wish my wife a Happy Mother’s Day as we were loading into the car to go to brunch. Her kids all live out of town so we invited her to join us, but she demurred saying she was going to church, something she had been doing lately. When she left she seemed in good spirits and we said we’d talk later.
Sometime last night she dressed for bed, put towels along the base of her garage door, climbed into the backseat of her car with the engine running and went to sleep.
She was found around four o’clock this afternoon by two colleagues who wondered why she hadn’t come to work.
I’m mad, I want to yell, I want to scream, I just don’t know who to scream at.