Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fear

I once read somewhere that bloggers become bloggers because they have a story to tell. And in my case, that is true. While I've been frittering away my blog with posts on crafting and cooking, my story has been fizzing in the background of my brain, reminding me of its presence. Reminding me of its right to be told.

So today I'm telling my story at Lefty Pop, the story I hinted at in my last TToT post. It's the story of one of the most formative experiences of my life. Even 50 years from now, I am sure the memories of the 2011-2012 school year will make me wince.

It is inevitably a political story. It's a series of events grown out of a political situation. But it's worth reading even if you're politically averse, and even if you don't live in the US. It's worth knowing that this happens. Today. To good people.

If you take the time to read my story (thank you), come back here afterwards and read the rest of this post. There just wasn't room to include the emotional side over at Lefty Pop.

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When I think of the 2011-2012 school year, three images come to mind:

The sight of these makes me tense and anxious. 

1. The view from our dining room table. My laptop lived on the table as well as the notebook, then notebooks, of memos, rebuttals, and evidence that we collected from August 2011 to April 2012. I worked part-time at a paying job, and full time as Head Anxiety Manager and Ultimate Control Freak of our household. I put my daughter down for a nap after lunch and sat at my computer writing throughout her naptime. I defended my husband against every charge laid at his feet. I exposed lies and exaggerations and absurdities. On rare occasions, I helped him find the words to admit he had made a mistake. I worked through my daughter's dinner time while my husband stayed late at work, keeping up with the ever-increasing demands on his time. After I put my daughter to bed, I continued to write. My husband would come home from work, and we would collaborate. I could see him at his computer from my seat at the dining room table. We would shout to each other when we'd updated or added a document to Dropbox. The other would review it and shout back. At times, we had to laugh. The situation was too unbelievable. Or maybe his principal had made another amusing error, exposing that she, too, was in over her head.
I fed my anxiety through written defense in that seat at the dining room table nearly every single day for eight months. I worked as my uterus expanded and cut off the circulation to my legs. I worked as  my back pain intensified. As the year wore on, I began to understand the futility of it. The truth would never make a difference, but if I didn't work, if I didn't keep writing, I would have collapsed. Writing was the only sense of control I had.


2. Lying in a hospital bed with my infant son in my arms and my husband asleep in the chair next to me. I gave birth to both my children at home by choice. My daughter was born with no complications, but after my son was born, the midwives were unable to stop my bleeding. A neighbor and his infant son came over to sleep on our couch so my daughter would not be alone in the house while my husband, the midwives, and I relocated to the hospital sometime around 2:30 am on March 6, 2012. But my husband had a meeting with his assistant principal that morning. We knew he would receive another of the dreaded Personnel memoranda if he did not attend that meeting. I know that is hard to believe, but no grace was ever given. The hospital would not allow me to be the caretaker of my infant since I was a patient in the hospital, and my mother would not arrive in town until late morning. I didn't sleep that night. At 6:30 am I began calling friends on repeat, leaving a message, Please call me back. I have an emergency, and I need your help.

Later in the morning, I found a few brief moments to rejoice in the birth of my baby boy while I sat with one friend and then another who put aside their lives to help with mine. The first friend to arrive was late to work for my sake. Fortunately, her (our, we were coworkers) boss was everything my husband's was not: generous, understanding, and compassionate. I cried as I told my friends the reason my husband was unable to stay with me and the story of our year, a story we'd kept mostly to ourselves out of fear of repercussion.

When I was discharged late that afternoon, I went straight to my computer at the dining room table and took up my work again.

3. Sitting on our couch nursing our one-month-old infant and seeing a car park at the end of our driveway, effectively blocking it, and a man I didn't recognize walking towards our door with a letter. He worked at Central Office in my husband's school district, and he was delivering the letter of suspension. It was Spring Break. We were hoping it would be a break, but the school district would never allow it. I cursed him through tears. He had a dirty job to do, and I'm not sure he was particularly enthusiastic. He was calm in response to my emotion and invited me (possibly sincerely?) to speak to him about the situation in his office when "it's all over." I never took him up on it. I couldn't believe in anyone's sincerity from that side of the battle, and soon I was banned from all district property.

I believe one of the primary purposes of the actions of the school district against my husband that year was humiliation. They wanted to bring him low, and they wanted it to be public. The strongest example of this was his suspension in April. It was a blow to his students and their families. We heard of misbehavior pacts among students (in hopes of getting their teacher back), and another student who cried herself to sleep every night. As one parent put it, if he had done something so vile as to be a danger to students, then parents should have been informed. If he had not, then there was no reason to remove him from the classroom before the year ended. As it was, parents were only told the teacher would not be returning. Parents wrote letters, and students left mementoes. We treasure all to this day.

He was a confident man, and he was proud of his accomplishments as an advocate. But by June, he had to choose between providing for his family and exposing the school district employees for the crooks they were (are). He chose his family, and as a result, he chose silence. He agreed to keep the school district's dirty secrets in order to take care of us, his wife and children. And so I promise to spread them.

You may think this post sounds angry, morally indignant, or bitter. That's how I feel. I was pleased and satisfied to hear one year later that the superintendent involved in this story left his position before fulfilling his contract (clearly a trend in the district). But I write this story with the hope of exorcising these feelings and moving past this trauma of two years ago. And I write it to educate. 

Readers, this happens. This is real. There are members of management who are insecure and morally corrupt. There are workers who are outspoken and silenced. Please remember this next time you hear someone talk about a too powerful union.

26 comments :

  1. Good for you, my friend. BRAVO.

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  2. I'm still not over it either. Makes me mad every time I think of it, and I think you'd be surprised at how very often that is. We miss you guys. A lot. Much love, SK

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    1. Ah, SK, how I miss you. I hope you noticed your shout-out.

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  3. I was one of the devastated volunteers in Brian's classroom. After his departure, with the substitute in place, one sensed the depression the children evidenced. Their 180 degree change in learning, behaving, treating one another with respect was incredible to witness. The next year was even worse. I quit.I have told many people about this travesty, unfortunately, I'm not aware of any changes.

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    1. This is devastating to hear. But thank you, thank you for you public words of support. You knew. You were there.

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  4. I won't mince words - that was a wrenching time for everyone involved - your family, the students, the parents & even the substitute hauled in to try and 'finish it off' with minimal support. I would like to publicly acknowledge, though, that Mr. B was one of the best teachers *both* of my children have had the privilege to study with. It's true, he wasn't allowed to finish out the school year - but let's be honest - that's an arbitrary measurement of time. Mr. B taught/inspired/motivated/connected with his class of 2011-2012 and those gifts last a lifetime - not merely the 10 months a child sits in a classroom.

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    1. Thank you, thank you, far beyond words, for your public support, Anonyous.

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  5. Exceptionally written, here and at Lefty Pop. You conveyed so much emotion so effectively.

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  6. Your husband was a terrific educator and my child adored him but it's time to bury the hatchet. With every negative post, email and comment, you continue to damage the reputation of the school and district where our children still attend school. I am sorry it was so devastating to your family but it is time for you to rise up and either forgive or forget. You are doing a disservice to the families that remain at that school, please stop.

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    1. I disagree with your view of the effects of truth-telling. I believe that when one speaks openly about a situation that was previously hushed up and hidden, the process helps people heal and opens the opportunity for improvement. The primary purpose of this post was to help me deal with the trauma of two years ago. If this post has any other effect, I hope it will have a role in preventing this practice from continuing in the future. Any damage that this school and district have endured is self-inflicted.
      I regret that I was unable to convincingly express to all readers the horror of that school year. Generally, it's not considered effective practice to urge a grieving person to move on. Today and in the future, I will grieve at the pace and in the manner that best suits me.

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  7. WOW. I read your article and this as well. I am SO blown away at this story... and so deeply saddened by all you and your husband have endured. It's a mess of a world- everywhere- the schools, are not excluded. I wish this never had to happen to your husband- clearly, it is a bitter battle that should never have happened. Awful.

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    1. Chris, thank you so much for understanding and for commenting.

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  8. In response to the above:
    Sarah please do not stop. It is in fact parents and teachers turning a blind eye to this kind of injustice that perpetuates the problem. This is not over. This continues to happen. As a parent and a former teacher for ACS I want all parents to know that I would NEVER allow my children to attend there. As wonderful and dedicated as many of the ACS teachers are, they will always be puppets for the administration they serve. Why should we "rise up and either forgive or forget" if this is not over? If it makes it easier for you send your children there each day, then that is fine for you. But a true "disservice to the families" is allowing them to believe that an environment like that is best for their children. Thank you Sarah for not giving up.

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    1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. It's difficult and dangerous (as I well know) to speak up against this organization. This comment means more than I can say.

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  9. Sarah, I have been saving these posts for days until I had time to give them their proper due. This makes me sad and it makes me angry. I am proud of your husband for choosing to do the right thing by his family and I am proud of you for standing up for what is right. Whatever happened to teachers being allowed to teach? Whatever happened to people doing the right thing? I am sorry that this happened to you and your family. You do what you need to do and do it knowing you are supported. Carry on, my brave and beautiful friend!

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    1. Sandy, I so appreciate that you took the time to respond to these posts. I knew I had to tell this story, and I think it is an important one in the US right now. Reading Zoe's, though, puts my story in perspective. I'm so glad you posted her story!

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  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  11. I'm sorry for you and your husband, Sarah, and for all of his students who were denied a great teacher. I hope writing this has helped you in some way.

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  12. OK, odd - we're commenting and replying to one another in two places, but I just now DID read that comment - yikes! Yeah, I definitely read over at Lefty Pop before that one went up. I can understand how hurtful that has to feel. I still think that in the end it's about what you feel is the right thing to do - not everyone is going to agree with you, but that's always the risk we take, right?

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    1. Well, it took me a long time to get to feeling that way. But I think I am there now. At least at the moment.

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  13. Once again, I am so sorry you and your family had to go through this. I have a healthy distrust for people in charge, particularly when they are against the union. Reading this reminds me of why that is.
    Continue to grieve, and I hope you will be able to heal through your writing.

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  14. I want to hear more. I know that schools are corrupt. And at times, horrible. :(

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    1. Sadly, this district was most certainly corrupt.

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