After the meeting about Suzie and Will, I knew I had to be alert and on my toes. I had to be watching every move I made, I had to think outside myself, and find every possible way to thwart conflict before it happened, and even then I knew I was fighting a losing battle.
I muddled through, counting the days until Christmas break. It seemed I had a new conflict almost daily. Things were heating up with Ms. Idiocy, and I was already pulling my own weight and hers. Every time Mr. English came to my door, I knew he had some kind of report from "the other side."
"Hey," he said, his face red.
"What's up?" I asked.
"Did The Beast e-mail you about English III?"
"Hmm I don't know, I'll check," I told him. I opened my e-mail to find a new message from The Beast. It said: "I am aware that English III students are watching High Noon. How does that tie into the GLEs [grade-level expectations] and what exactly are they learning?" I read it aloud. I was confused. Our lesson plans were checked weekly (or they were supposed to be) so why was this an issue now that the unit was basically over?
"Yeah, I got it too," he said, "and I've got plenty to show It."
I don't want to get into the specifics, because it's too much history/English, but we had just read The Crucible, and were learning about the witch trials and the parallelism with the Black Listing and MacCarthyism (at which time The Crucible was written). High Noon is another important piece in relationship to the black listing and other things going on at the time, and the students were comparing the characters from the play and the movie. The details don't matter, I just wanted to point out that we were doing this as a learning tool. I mean, High Noon isn't exactly what the kids are raving for as far as movies go, anyway.
Mr. English sent all the GLE information and literature, with an in-depth explanation of how this ties into what the students were learning. I'm 99.9999999% sure it was WAY over The Beast's head (It's not much in the English department), and it surrendered.
It then told Mr. English that was directed more toward me, because I'm "not the best teacher," and It wanted to make sure there was a reason behind it. I rolled my eyes and kept at it, unsure what exactly I could be doing differently since I hadn't even made those lesson plans.
Just before Thanksgiving Mr. Assistant came to visit with me. He wanted to know how I was doing, and he voiced some concerns he had. Then he dropped his bomb: "I'm just worried about you. The Beast says you're really struggling as a teacher," he confessed.
"I don't know what It expects from me," I confided. "My test scores are good, my kids are grasping the concepts, I've had few behavioral problems, and I'm keeping them busy. What more should I be doing?" I asked. If The Beast were that tough on everyone, I would have understood, but there was a clear double-standard. I heard all kinds of stories about other teachers, about free-days (something those kids NEVER enjoyed in my class that year), and movies so far from instruction it was ridiculous.
"I don't know, are you doing everything It asks, and taking suggestions?" He asked. I assured him that I was, and that I had even asked The Beast just a few days before how my performance was (since I'd heard such awful things about myself).
"It said I was doing fine, and that if It had any concerns It would let me know, but that nothing was out of place," I paraphrased. It had been in my room numerous times, but I'd not had any written feedback.
"Hmm," he said, seeming perplexed. "That's odd. It sure doesn't give that impression to me. Maybe I could talk to It, and you and I could work together. Since we get along so well and communicate, maybe I could be the one to evaluate you and give feedback." I felt a wave of relief.
About a week later he approached me again.
"It's a no-go on what we talked about," he said, defeated. And he offered little explanation except that The Beast was HIGHLY against it. I wanted to scream and fall to the floor crying. Every time there was one single shard of hope, it was ripped from me, and I didn't know what more to do.
I just kept going. I didn't think. I planned more than I could teach. I pushed those kids to do more, move faster, try harder. I worked them from bell to bell. And I didn't hug them. Not a one. Everything I loved about teaching was lost, but I was determined to "do better."
A few days before Christmas, The Beast held a meeting. "Finals will be over on Tuesday," It told us, "and the kids are going to be a mess, but I think it is VERY important that we maintain structure those last two days." It then went on to explain what It had in store for the teachers on the last day.
We were going to do a "gift grab." Instead of buying all the staff an equally important NICE gift (as had been done in years past), The Beast decided to buy ONE! AMAZING! GIFT! (I think it was a laptop, though I don't really remember now), a few decent gifts (twenty dollar gift cards), and a crap-ton of crappy gifts. The Beast would give everyone a gift that morning, and throughout the day you were to go to other teachers' rooms and force them to trade with you. There were also clues given throughout the day via intercom as to where the ONE! AMAZING! GIFT! was located.
I was feeling anything but festive, so I wasn't too worried about it. I already had a movie day planned for my classes. They hadn't had the luxury of a movie all year (save the English III and High Noon), so I thought they deserved it.
I had one class in particular that all got a C or better on the final, which was AMAZING! and they had come a long way behavior-wise. I thought it might be a nice reward for them to be allowed drinks and food during that last class period.
LORD forbid I do ANYTHING without written approval, though.
So I e-mailed The Beast:
My 5th hour class all got a C or better on the final, and have come leaps and bounds as far as behavior is concerned. I was hoping I could allow them to have soda and snacks during their movie day on Thursday. Would that be ok?
I got the following reply, which was addressed to ALL staff:
I know it becomes difficult to find things for students to do after they have had their final in your class. However, I want all of you to realize this is an important week and we need to have as much structure as possible. After all, we have missed far too many minutes of instructional time this year. This would be a great time to give enrichment activities and perhaps even just take some time to get to know your students. Please keep your students in class all week. I dont' mind if you show movies that are PG or PG-13 rated. I would like you to shy away from food and drink in the classroom. Thank you for your cooperation!
I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was, when I found out Ms. Fatbelly was having food parties all day in her classes, and so was Ms. Idiocy among others. I, however, followed the rules and did as I had been told, so not to get any more marks of misbehavior, and ended up looking like the lying bitch when my kids wanted to know why the other classes got to have a party and they couldn't. I told the truth, that we'd been instructed not to, and lost the respect of some of my students because it looked like a cop-out to them.
As they sat quietly watching their movie, the chaos grew more and more with each passing hour. The Beast, with its Beastly voice was shouting out clues about every thirty minutes. If we'd tried to have class that day it would have been to no avail. Suddenly students were being sent out to scope out the packages on behalf of teachers who couldn't leave their rooms, but wanted the loot. Special "private" clues were being given to the Cronies.
My little package sat quietly outside my door free for the taking with a note attached: Please do not disturb.
I wanted no part of the craziness.
When my seventh hour class came in they were wound up.
"Come on, Mrs. Lastname! Quit being such a SCROOGE!" they taunted. It was all I could do not to burst into tears and tell them it was no use. That I wanted them to have a party, and I wanted a nice gift from my employer, but that I knew I was worthless to the district, that I was a rotten teacher without hope of improvement, and that I would never fit in no matter what hoops I jumped through.
Instead I quietly shook my head, forcing a smile, and told them I just didn't get into such antics.
At the adult gathering after school, I opened my gift, which was a storage container. It wasn't the worst gift by far, and I know Christmas isn't the season of "receiving," but it was difficult to see one of the Cronies get a brand-new laptop as I sat there staring into the clear nothingness of my container, knowing the money for the faculty gifts was spent solely on one person.
However, my mood lifted as I left the building and I realized I was on break. CHRISTMAS BREAK! A full two weeks without persecution or retaliation of any kind. I was FREE!
For the week of Christmas I did really well. I immersed myself in all things Christmas, and did my best to be there for Chloe. She was sick, though, and I was having other family troubles as well, so it was a very difficult year.
When she was finally feeling better a few days before school was to start again, I took her to her baby-sitter so I could get out of the house.
"Have you lost weight?" she asked me when I came in her door.
"Oh Lord, no. If anything I've gained over break," I said with a laugh, thinking about how I'd eaten nothing but carbs and pumpkin pie for two weeks.
"Well you look really good," she told me. I was convinced it was the lack of stress. The only time Ms. Babysitter saw me was before and after work. For her to see me in my jeans and without worry or defeat probably made me look a lot better.
I had a nice day out, I'm sure, though I recall nothing of it now. I enjoyed my last weekend of freedom, and then Sunday came.
I became overwhelmed and felt suffocated. I couldn't bear the thought of having to go back. I lay awake, letting hot tears drip quietly from my eyes until there were none left.
When Monday morning came, I found more tears, and I wept until the moment I had to wake Chloe. I dressed her, put on my make-up, and dropped her with Ms. Babysitter. I headed back to job I'd come to hate, hoping to do nothing more than muddle through.
Toward the end of the day when I had English II one of the boys raised his hand (did I mention this class of 27 had 22 boys, while Ms. Idiocy had a class of 12?).
"Yes," I called.
"Uh. Have you lost weight?" he asked sincerely.
I chuckled. "No, but you're my new favorite student," I cooed at him.
"Yes you have," Arizona blurted, but in an almost whisper.
"What?" I asked her.
"Yes. You have. Lost weight," she argued.
I looked down at my shoes and noticed the cuffs of my dress pants gatherd around them, the legs hanging off me like a clown. The shirt, a button-up that I had put away when I was nursing because it..er...bulged, was loose around my chest, my arms, and my stomach. I looked like a hobo, and I hadn't even seen it.
I remembered Ms. Babysitter's words, and realized I HAD lost weight. A lot of weight. And the worst was still yet to come.