I applied for unemployment benefits in the state of Virginia. I told myself I had little choice. I did not want to admit to myself that I felt ashamed, and that going through some of the documents my former principal filed against me brought back the helplessness, hopelessness and stark fear of mid-March to mid-April 2015. Those were the weeks she attacked me in some fashion every day, in ways large and small that would be comical if the stakes were not so high.
I am blogging this, deeply personal and painful as it is, because otherwise I am providing only a selective picture of my life as a teacher. The consequences of those 15 or so business days during which my ex-principal worked very hard to rid herself of me will likely take a toll on my professional life for a while. I am not ready to think about how long, partly because I don’t know and partly because I think I do know.
Instead of admitting my pain to myself as I filled out page after page of the online unemployment application, a process that took about two hours instead of the 45 minutes the unemployment department estimated, I found every little thing my family did irritating. The twins’ laughter as they played a video game annoyed me. Even the clicking of my husband’s fingers on the keys of his laptop as he played an online game made me want to scream. My fault. Not theirs. Thankfully, they were in bed when I reached the complex questions about why I resigned, with just 200 characters for my answers.
The fact that she turned on me after one and a half years of uniformly positive reviews, classroom observations and other documents matters little. I just finished applying for a part-time teaching job I will only have a shot at getting if my former principal grew a conscience over the summer and now feels bad about what she did to me (and many others over the years) or she is too busy with her job at a new middle school on the other end of the county to bother with old news like me. Her name, phone number and email address are at the top of my work history, which I recorded in chronological order. I don’t know. As a friend said, “It depends on how intent she is on completely annihilating you.”
Today, I wait to hear whether I will qualify for unemployment benefits. The Virginia teachers’ union says the unemployment office will first reject my claim for benefits because I resigned instead of being fired. However, the union says that if I file an appeal, the department likely will reverse its decision and approve my claim because I had a reasonable expectation of being fired, given the bullying, harassment and escalating level of aggression my principal displayed.
On April 6, she gave me an undated letter saying she would recommend that my contract for the upcoming year not be renewed, just weeks after telling me she wanted to move me to the sixth-grade and give me a greater number of students with advanced skills. I felt as if she punched me in the stomach. A few days later, she scheduled yet another meeting, as usual declining to tell me why. This time, she handed me a letter from the superintendent of the school district. The letter said that he had investigated my “performance” issues and agreed that I should leave.
He never contacted me or any teacher at the school as part of his “investigation.” At the end of that meeting, the principal told me that if I resigned within five days, the nonrenewal would be removed from my record. I could have asked for a hearing in front of the school board, but since the superintendent put his stamp of approval on getting rid of me without ever speaking to me or any witnesses to my abuse, I saw no point. At the end of the meeting, the principal looked at me, in my little chair at the end of her big desk, and told me that if I resigned my job for next year within five days, she would toss out the nonrenewal notice. That is standard practice in the teaching profession, I found out later. “You may go now,” she then announced, already turning away to flip through papers on her desk. Sometimes, she simply said “Go.” No greetings coming or going.
For the record, I had no intention of resigning, but after talking to more experienced teachers and my union representative, I did resign. A nonrenewal looked awful on applications for jobs, they said. The only thing that looked worse was being fired. A resignation could be explained away, a nonrenewal could not. In the end, I did not have the heart to think about explaining away what I had been through, and I have not followed their advice, enough though I know they had my best interests at heart. Anyone who hires me now will do it as a believer in second chances.