Pearls on a String

     “There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands.”  ~Richard Bach
When things are difficult, we are really learning. Think about it. If everything was easy, would you learn anything? Psychologist Jean Piaget referred to the unsettling feeling of learning something new as “disequilibrium.”  When we already know something, we are in a state of equilibrium.  When we learn something new, we are in a state of disequilibrium.  Without disequilibrium, we don’t learn anything new.
Problem:  It was my second year teaching at a new school after returning from a six-year hiatus to stay home with my son.   I lasted through the first year and through the transition to a new grade level and principal the second year.  It was the Friday before spring break on my eighth year of teaching, and I had literally just taken a pie to the face in honor of Pi Day coming up on 3/14.  We gave up the scheduled day of curriculum to celebrate Pi and have fun watching brainpop videos about Pi and Einstein and competing in a Pi memorization contest.   I went to the office to file some papers during lunch to meet a deadline, and my principal asked if he could see me. He handed me a copy of a letter and said they weren’t going to renew my contract. He said that because I used the school’s online discipline system for issues like missing work and dress code and other behavioral infractions, that I was being ineffective and was not motivating my kids to do work.   He also said it was because my teammates didn’t think I was ‘happy’ and that I was not a ‘good fit’ for the student population.

Have you ever been told to do something and then gotten in trouble for doing it? Psychologists call it a double-bind. It’s a no-win situation where you are damned if you do, and you are damned if you don’t. Although shocked and blindsided, I realized in those moments that I was fighting a monster far bigger than I was. My crime was following directions, yet for some reason I was getting in trouble for it. I hung my head and cried for a few minutes, and decided that if he was putting me in that position, then I quit. I disagreed with the letter as well as the whole process of the team and assistant principals talking about me behind my back and planning to destroy my career without a benefit of a doubt or any willingness to help me in my perceived weak areas. It was clearly personal and political, and it was a bigger, more sinister monster than I wanted to fight.

Gift:  I walked away with my dignity and integrity knowing I followed directions and worked as hard as I could to be the best math teacher I could be.  I am now able to re-focus my energies on my family and my health and not feel the negative side effects that come from working in a toxic environment.  I know that I forged meaningful relationships with the students and motivated them to work.  If you know me, you know I love math. You know I love science. You know I love kids and teaching.  This negative experience helped me to sharpen my focus and to re-examine my professional philosophies.  It gave me the opportunity to spend time reflecting on the past and how to use past experiences to achieve future dreams.  I will not lower my standards or compromise my integrity for a flawed public school system.  Instead, I will work for myself and focus on teaching math, one-on-one without the interference of a highly politicized work environment.  I do believe that education is the key to success, and that learning never ends.  I still aim to teach kids to love math and to love learning throughout their lives, wherever their strengths may lie.  I am focusing on expanding my private math tutoring business and opening up a website in the future to help kids learn and love math.

Why tell this story?  I want to set the record straight that I quit only because they told me I couldn’t stay.  If any former students or parents are reading this entry, I want to tell them I did not quit on the kids.  I feel that they lost the most in this experience.  All of a sudden I was gone, and they didn’t know why.  I heard from one of my students a few weeks after I left, and she said the administration told my students I quit because I got another job.  I want all the kids and parents to know I did not get another job.  I only left because I couldn’t stay, and I didn’t know how finish the year when I didn’t know what to do day-to-day.   I want them to know it wasn’t because of them; it was because of the staff and administration.  I still believe in the kids, and I still believe in education. I will keep being me and keep doing what I do regardless of whether this particular school wants me or not.  I know who I am – and I know what I’m about, and I won’t let this negative experience destroy me.  I will use it as fuel to for purusing my dreams.  These are all pearls (of wisdom) on a string.
Ryan Adams “Pearls on a String”

Thanks for reading this entry. Peace out!


5 comments on “Pearls on a String

  1. Pingback: Pearls on a String: One year later. | Susanne's World

  2. This sounds so much like what happened to my husband. Fired for doing his job. Not given any real reasons or support to fix what was “wrong” with his performance. And clearly they’d been talking behind his back. And then zinger — one day, rug pulled out. Anyway, sounds like you’re in a better place.

    • Yes, definitely in a better place. The universe worked things out for me to be able to stay home again. So sorry to hear something similar happened to your husband. Workplace politics suck! I do not miss it at all!

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