TBT – A Snapshot of Working for a Passive-Agressive Supervisor

Through the window on the other side of the library, I could see into the fifth grade Social Studies classroom, where the lacrosse coach, Dennis, who’d been hired the same week I had, was readying his classroom. His degree was in Phys-Ed, but the school was on a mission to create teacher-coaches that year, a two-birds-with-one-salary kind of deal. I had been promised an eventual shot at being promoted from the library to the classroom, and mistakenly thought that this fifth grade Social Studies position that opened up mid-year would be it. But, I figured, rubbing my belly as the baby kicked, that it wasn’t my time. But still, I longed for a ticket to my teaching career train, and even more importantly, out of the library.

Helen came out of her office then, sidling up to me quietly in her navy blue Talbots suit and matching Naturalizer flats at the circulation desk. She looked at Dennis, pinning up a map of pre-World-War-I geography on the bulletin board of his new classroom and figured that the two of us were of one mind on the lacrosse coach. She also had territorial feelings about the classroom, though hers were based on the fact that it had once been a small-group-study room in the library.

“Can you believe they gave him that job?” she asked, her voice heavy with disgust.

“No,” I said sheepishly, feeling a little guilty about my desire to run from her as fast as I could.

Helen, who did nothing but surf the Internet from the confines of her office all day. Helen, who worried that the school didn’t appreciate her because it had cut the library from seven MLS-degreed librarians when she started ten years ago to just her today…left with me, an ambitious future-teacher, a so-called assistant, in her mind, not really even a librarian. And what if they decided to let me go? Or worse, what if they did actually move me to teaching? Where would she be then? They might decide to cut back further and leave her with no assistant. Not only would she have to do all the work herself, but she also might then be support staff to me as a teacher. Helen, who made sure to make it seem like she couldn’t do it all alone, by making certain that I did all the work. Helen, who made my life hell.

“I mean, you could do that job.” She said it in a way that wasn’t like she thought I was perfect for the job, in fact her condescending  inflection of the word “you” made it sound as if the job was so remedial that even a pleb like me could perform the tasks required.

I scoffed, “Ya,” since after all, I had a degree in history and was just a student-teaching semester away from getting a teaching certificate in the field. A student-teaching semester I had foregone by reluctantly taking this job after the principal himself had promised me not only a student teaching semester here, but the possibility of a future teaching career at the school.

“But you don’t want that job,” she said dismissively, looking down and the roundness of my belly. “You want a nothing job like you have now.”

“Excuse me?” My back was UP. Did she want to go to the mattresses? First of all, how the hell would she know what I wanted? That she would even presume to know was offensive, but that she thought my job was nothing? My job, which was the job of checking in and out the books, re-shelving them, cataloging new books that came in, dealing with the students’ needs and helping them find the materials they needed for their research projects, or the right work of fiction they might enjoy reading? That was a nothing job compared to sitting in a little glass cubicle watching me do all those things over the top of her computer monitor? Who did she think she was?

She must have sensed, despite her complete lack of usual perception, that I was a bit miffed by her statement, because she tried to explain it to me. “You know, with the baby coming,” she said and then repeated, “you’ll want a nothing job like this in the Fall.”

And then she turned and went back into her office. And I sat there like a cartoon character, a little wisp of smoke over my head.

Finally, a field trip I wouldn’t mind chaperoning…

The Princess started first grade last week, We had this conversation this morning.

The Princess: Mommy, can you chaperone my field trip?

Me: When is it?

The Princess: Like, three weeks?

Me: What is it?

The Princess: It’s when you come along with my class.

Me: No, I mean, what is it?

The Princess: It’s when you get a group of kids from my class and you take them around and make sure —

Me: I mean, where are you going?

The Princess: Oh. France.

Silly Bandz make some kidz do silly things

Clooney began collecting Silly Bandz this summer. I cannot say when these things first put their rubbery feet through our door, but it built and built until he amassed a gallon-sized Ziploc bag full of them. I don’t buy them; he gets them at parties or at camp, and he’s been known to spend his allowance on them, at least until the Series 2 LEGO mini-figures were released a few weeks ago. But his eyes still get all glassy when he sees them in a store. The combinations of shapes, colors and other features (i.e. glow in the dark, tie-dyed, or sparkly) continue to mesmerize him whenever we pass a rack of them. And they are EVERYWHERE.

I have allowed it without encouraging it, because he’s into it, and because ultimately they are no more harmful than collecting baseball cards (though not as intellectually appealing), but I was a little disturbed yesterday when he came home and showed me two new ones on his wrist.

“Guess where I got these,” he began proudly. “Lucy and Gina dropped their Silly Bandz on the floor at lunch, and a bunch of people picked them up and I got these two!”

“What do you mean??” I asked, highly concerned.

It happened, just as I had thought. Six kids swooped in and stole the girls’ Silly Bandz off the floor. You always imagine that your child will be Superman, or the hero, the one who steps in and tells the others that what they are doing, if what they are doing, is not the right thing. So, I was more than a little shocked when not only didn’t my son do that, but he was also an eager participant in the crime.  He and I had a long talk about what it meant, and how I saw the situation, and I hoped that he understood that what he had done was wrong and why. I tried to make him feel empathy for Lucy and Gina, and he promised to return the bracelets, but I wonder what he really learned. Did he learn that it’s wrong to do what he did, or did he just learn that it’s wrong to share stuff like that with Mom?

It’s a fine line. How do you teach kindness and morality, right and wrong, without choking the open line of communication between parent and child? Obviously, he’s never seen Manfrengensen or me take something that doesn’t belong to us, so it’s not a learn-by-example situation. I can only imagine that it will get tougher as he gets older and the pressure to really fit in plays a factor.

Have you had any experience with this kind of thing? Please share below if you have. Thanks.

These kids today…

The skinny blonde girl with the often-ripped navy blue tights called out to me as we passed in a hallway crowded with girls on their ways to classes. “Hey!” she whined, “you gave me the wrong grade for Vocab Unit 7.”

I was laden with bags, full of books and my antiquated 15-lb. laptop. Unit 7 had been finished weeks ago with the grades posted online soon after. Why was she telling me now, nearly a week after final grades for the first term were due to the administration? And as I was her teacher, what kind of salutation was “Hey!”?

“You gave me a 40, when I should have gotten a 96,” she called, continuing to back away from me.

We kept moving away from each other (we each had classes to get to), and by the time I responded, she was in the doorway to the stairwell. “See me during class, and I will see what I can do” I said, figuring she would approach me that afternoon.

Truth be told, there wasn’t much I could do. Once the term closed out in the computer system, it took almost a papal dispensation to alter a grade, but if there had been a mistake, I would surely do my best to correct it.

Her class period came and went, and she did not approach me. I got into my lesson, and to be honest, her situation slipped my mind.

The next thing I knew, an angry email arrived from her mother. “Abigail says you made a mistake grading her homework, and you are refusing to change it in the system.”

Now, they really had my attention, so I went and looked in my grade book. She had gotten 40’s on both the quiz and the homework for the unit. How had that happened? The quiz was 40 out of 50 questions, but the homework was out of 100 possible points. So I thought about it. Here’s what I had done: She hadn’t turned in her homework, despite my reminders, so out of kindness, and not to totally sabotage her grade, I gave her the same number of points she had gotten on her quiz rather than just giving her the zero she deserved.

Looking back, it was stupid, I know, but in those last days before the term closed out, I was feeling generous. It was my first term at the school, and sailing had been rough. I didn’t want anyone to fail, so I tried to help in any way I could. It wasn’t like she didn’t know the material. She had gotten a B on the quiz (true that was just barely) so I figured she had studied a bit for it. She struggled as a student, the kind of kid who could get high B’s and even low A’s if she worked her “a” off. I have a soft spot for that kind of kid.

A soft, stupid spot, as it turned out.

The next morning, before I emailed the mother back, I approached Abigail at her locker and asked for her vocabulary book. As I had suspected, the unit was incomplete. She had only filled in two of the five sections, and even those two were not finished.

I emailed her mother, explaining how I had arrived at the grade that was posted online and what I had found in Abigail’s workbook.

The mother responded that she was “not happy with the solution” I had come up with, and she was planning to speak to her daughter about the situation later that day. So I figured, good, you know, talk some sense into the kid and get her back on the right track to academic success.

The next day, I was shocked when the mother sent another terse email: “Abigail says she turned in the assignment.”

So I wrote back, by this time, a little irritated that it had gone on this far. In my day, if a teacher had told my father that I hadn’t turned in work, he would be on me to crack the books immediately. I told the mother, “If Abigail had turned in the assignment, I would have graded it.” There would have been evidence of my red pen all over her work.

She immediately shot back, “Well, I believe my daughter and I will drop the matter because I don’t want you to take this disagreement out on her.”

What? Take it out on her? I’m a professional. How would I take it out on her?

What’s with kids today? And what’s with their parents?

Livin’ on a prayer

The nun was angry, that much was obvious. Apparently the free-style prayer service wasn’t sitting right with her for some reason. I happened to be in the back of the auditorium, and even though chairs were available, I just felt like standing by the door. Grades were due. I had a pile of writing portfolios on one side of my desk and a stack of reading journals on the other; all of them begging my perusal and red ink. As soon as it was over, I just wanted to beat the crowd back to the classrooms. She wasn’t happy either, though not because she had anything pending.

The nun was pacing and rigid. She would disappear into the portico and re-materialize in the back of the sanctuary. She kept muttering under her breath how the service was an abomination, disrespectful to God. Later, when she tore the religious director a spiritual new one, the director would defend the service, saying she was hoping to engage the students by making prayer exciting and fun. “Prayer is NOT supposed to be fun,” Sister admonished.

But all that happened later. During the service, I could tell she was agitated. Everyone could tell. She wanted everyone to know. She wanted her feelings to roll through the crowd, a rogue tsunami, until they knocked over the religious director like a stick figure in rough surf.

In my life though, I try to be a peacemaker. I thought, let me try to calm her down, to bring her back to humanity. So I said, “Sister, I was subbing in your classroom the other day, and I noticed a really nice prayer on your desk.”

She stopped swinging her keys and looked at me as if to say, what of it? There had been a nice prayer on her desk, and from the way it read, it seemed to have come from the home office of the religious order the school was founded on. We are supposed to begin each class with prayer, and while I may not always remember to do that, when I do, I always wish I had something a little more flowery.

So I continued, trying to remain steady in the sound of my voice, “Do you get those every day? From…from…the administration or something?”

Like a bear, she grunted affirmatively. So I continued, “….because you know I am always looking for a nice daily prayer to begin my classes and –“

“Buy a book,” she said gruffly, cutting me off.

“Oh,” I swallowed and then floundered. I didn’t know what to say in response to her. And I guess she kind of sensed that, because she backpedaled … though only the slightest bit.

“I can make you a copy,” she said. “I’ll put it in your mailbox every day.”

I thanked her then, and hoping to make a genuine connection, I reached out and squeezed her burly nun shoulder. But she was wearing her beige suit jacket, and all I got was shoulder pad, devoid of life; nothing but thin styrofoam and synthetic fabric.

Anyway, that was ten days ago, and I have yet to see a prayer in my box.