My first year out of college, I taught at an upscale private school near Los Angeles. Each class had two teachers: lead and secondary. I, of course, was secondary. The newbie, low man on the totem pole, I was excited to mold young minds and perhaps develop my own miniature army in the process. At the very least, I was determined to get those 3rd graders reciting multiplication facts as eagerly as they all rambled about SpongeBob and his blobby little friend.
My co-teacher, however, was a bit of a problem. A young woman in her thirties, Liz had fire-red hair, a tired stoop and beady bright blue eyes that always looked like she’d just been startled. Her spindly fingers belonged on someone well beyond her years, and she often tapped them rhythmically to express her welling impatience.
She instructed me to arrive at school an hour before any of the other teachers and stay hours after everyone else (including herself) left. Perhaps this is her way of helping me immerse myself into the school, I thought. Then she decided that I should supervise the kids during every recess, as opposed to alternating like the other co-teachers did. More time with the kids will be really good for me, I rationalized. Then she declared that I should cut my much-needed lunch break in half since she didn’t like being left alone with the children and really, who needs an entire 30 minutes to eat a sandwich? Yep, this woman was trying to kill me.
I tried to reason with her but she wasn’t having it. When things got heated between us, her voice would raise into a shrill, almost inaudible screeching. The other teachers took me aside and explained that this happened with her last co-teacher (who’d hightailed it out of the district during summer break). I went to the administrators, but no one cared. Liz’s mood swings manifested in class as well. One poor 8-year old even peed his pants when she refused to let him go to the bathroom. The kids complained and the parents grew wary, but administration (in spite of my ongoing complaints) assured them that everything was fine.
It was time for me to take action and send a message. My job sucked and while I didn’t want to abandon the kids, I knew that my sudden departure was the only thing that would institute some change. The parents knew that these were extremely coveted positions, and in a gossipy school like this, they’d quickly hear exactly why I left. I consulted with my lawyer, who advised me that while California is an “at-will” employment state (meaning most people can quit at any time with zero notice), private school teachers are contract professionals. I could technically be sued for breach of contract if I quit. But there was more to it than that. We rehearsed what I should say, and I prepared myself for confrontation.
Go check out Part 2 of Hey Teacher, Leave them Kids Alone…in which I tell the man to take this job and shove it.