In my tiny little school we have five teachers, affectionately known as ”The Team” and that is about as accurate a description as can be. Together, we not only teach and supervise the students, but we also run, administrate, organize, promote and develop the school. We are the secretary, the cook, the nurse, the guidance counselor and the janitor.
We five have developed a rhythm. An unwritten system has simply evolved in which responsibilities are divided up according to skills and the needs of the moment, with everyone pitching in and no one complaining. Time and again, when difficult situations have arisen (many of them having to do with parents who have different ideas about how the school should be, based on their own child’s specific needs), we have been there for one another. None of us are good friends in our private lives, but during school hours we are more like siblings than colleagues. And that includes the occasional spat - a difference of opinion, a flare up. They can be intense, emotional, aggravating but they are short-lived and they always get resolved because . . . in the end, we are a team and we stick together.
There are a few satellite team members: the art teacher who comes in one morning a week, a Special Ed teacher who is there to accompany our special needs student, and the two kindergarten teachers who work in a different part of the same building but in a separate institution with a different organizational structure. Once a month, we all meet to talk about issues of common interest. One of those meetings happened today.
The head kindergarten teacher had requested a half hour of our conference time in advance to talk about some issues she was dealing with. (This was not a new situation; we have often given over a good chunk of our planning time to listen to kindergarten teacher’s problems and to help her in any limited way we could.) Once we were all assembled, she took out her prepared notes and made a short introductory speech - she asked us not to interrupt her, but to wait till she was done before we said anything. Her hands were shaking. She told us very matter-of-factly about two discussions she had had with the parents of one of her kids and their various criticisms – none of which seemed particularly serious. They were things like: ”Why do you all sit in a circle at the start of the morning?” or “Why do we have to go to a Lantern Fest?” or “Why aren’t the kids outside more often?” (Here it should be noted that there is a fenced-in garden and the kids are free to go outside anytime they want.) In other words, the criticisms were somewhat scoffable – not things like “My child is afraid to go to school in the morning” or ”Why does my child come home with bruises?”
At the end of this summary, my colleague stated with tears in her eyes that she cant take it anymore and she has quit.
What the . . . ? . . . are you saying . . . ? . . . I don’t understand . . . ? . . . is this a final decision . . . ? . . . when did things get so bad . . . ? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . I don’t know what to say.
It is a thin-skinned world I work in now. Half of me – the hardened half that worked in the real world for 35 years - is thinking Please! Grow a spine!. The other half - the one that feels so at home in my new workplace - is thinking How could I have been so blind to the pain of one of my fellow teachers?