This is for the school district administrators who remained silent as I fought last spring for my professional life. I lost, partly because of a principal who added me to the list of teachers she bullied over the years and partly because I insisted on being “nice,” on not making a scene. The end of my job should have set me free. Instead, I remain a prisoner to administrators too busy to heed the cries of a disposable first-year teacher lacking any of the protections enjoyed by teachers with more experience. Here is my radical idea: Take a clue from the thousands of children you educate: Try a little kindness. It is the glue that holds us together.
My computer – my own private computer sitting on a desk at home – is ground zero now. My problems began when my personal email, which also serves as my personal Microsoft log-in, uploaded to servers for the school district in the middle of a wintry night. Bleary-eyed, tired, struggling to do the best job possible for my students, I had decided to download my work email to my home computer so I could respond faster to parents and to administrators at my school.
Then horror walked in, the kind that comes when I watch a scary movie in which the main character walks unwittingly into the arms of death. With its log-in missing or compromised (corrupt is what Microsoft would later call it), my computer became possessed and hell-bent on destroying itself, creating random files, filling them with documents and then emptying them. It created shortcuts by the hundreds. I put the Microsoft support desk on my cell phone’s list of favorites, but it made no difference. The computer sickened.
Meanwhile, the school district began destroying random documents from my computer, according to automated emails it sent me. I also no longer could read my password-protected file of passwords, the list I had been compiling for at least 10 years, because I no longer had permission to do so, as a Microsoft on-screen message informed me. I needed to speak to the owner, the administrator, of the document. Then, Microsoft flashed a screen with my school district email and a place for my password. I tried my password. It did not work. Those files remain locked to this day. My computer began behaving oddly in other ways. I couldn’t open my own summer-vacation photographs. Essentially, they no longer were mine. They belonged to an “administrator” that should have been me, but wasn’t me, not anymore. Entire segments of my computer became inaccessible because I lacked “proper credentials” to access them.
The bomb fell in late August. After the school district declined to return at least half a dozen phone calls and voice messages, I did reach one kind human, who listened carefully to my problem and said he would return my call in 20 minutes. That was months ago.
As the start of school neared this fall, the district shut down my work email, which of course it had a perfect right to do. At the same time, it shut down my personal email because the next day the computer sitting on a desk in my house died. Microsoft tried to resuscitate it, but to no avail. I could log on, but do little else. My computer, my personal property, was ruined and could not be repaired. I was not only out of a job now, but also out of a computer.
What happened to kindness? Posters about kindness, caring, helping, doing the right thing line the walls of every school in the district, but the message is lost on the adults in the big building where the everyday business of running the system grinds forward day after day. A few of them did meet with me, well after it was too late to help me battle my bully and well before my computer problems appeared. Maybe some administrators in that building need to take a field trip to elementary and middle schools to take another look at those posters, maybe even take them to heart in the way we all did when we were young.
I have not worked for the school district for many months, my contract having long ago expired, thanks in part to a school superintendent who agreed with the bullying principal to end my contract. The superintendent knew nothing about me, had no contact with me of any kind, yet he agreed with every point the principal made. Because of the size of the district and the number of teachers, my guess is that the superintendent neither writes nor probably even glances at the letters. I was allowed a hearing in the big building on the most shocking of the documents, but I lost. No shock there. The “jury” was made up of three peers of my principal and vice principal, people they knew, people they had worked with and trusted, sometimes for years.
Then, as now, I was unable to attract the attention of anyone at the school district’s large, multi-story administration building when it mattered. No administrator returned a phone call when my computer, a Christmas gift from my husband, began to self-destruct. Months earlier, no administrator made an effort to contact me, a first-year teacher struggling at a middle school. My SOS signals were the ugly job performance writeups streaming into the big office building, the opposite of the positive feedback I had always received in a past part-time teaching job in the same district. I had a leader who screamed at me in front of students, made paranoid references to taped conversations and threatened constantly to call the big office building to have someone come and throw me out of the building.
What happened to us when we grew up? When did the important, character-building lessons of our early years stop mattering? When I began working as a teacher, I was full of the zealous enthusiasm of the newly converted. I wanted to change the world. I wanted to make a difference in children’s lives. Now, I just want to know what happened to my computer, my privacy, my dignity.