Collin Lawrence is a former New York City teacher who is recounting his four years working at a Brooklyn high school. Read Collin’s previous posts.
The grade-level team leader meeting held on the day before Thanksgiving break, 2007, started mildly enough. There were four people present at this meeting: the principal, myself, Mr. G and the 11th-grade team leader, who held the American history position originally promised to me. The principal gave each of us a packet of demographic data about our students and proceeded to go over it. As it was right before the start of a long-anticipated four-day weekend, I felt both exhausted and elated.
So I mainly just sat in silence as the principal talked about what neighborhoods our students lived in and how this data could help us better understand them. After talking for a few minutes, he looked up and asked why no one was saying anything. I didn’t reply but Mr. G dismissively remarked, “We get it. We know who our kids are.”
The principal responded with an anger that did not seem warranted by the situation. He stood up, chest heaving, and flung his set of keys against the wall of his office. He exclaimed that we needed to support each other, and pronounced the meeting over. Mr. G got up and left but I stayed seated, my heart racing from the shock. “We support you,” I said, meekly, to my principal. He told me that if I wanted to be helpful I could fill out a paper giving my input about the school for the upcoming school quality review. I took the paper and left his office.
Mr. G found me in the hallway shortly thereafter and asked me if I was all right. I said I was fine but I was actually quite upset. I still had bad feelings from the year before and hated that teacher-administration relations had once again turned ugly. Furthermore, emotional tumult was the last thing I wanted going into my Thanksgiving holiday. That evening, I flew to Seattle for the long weekend. The next day I received an email from the principal explaining that his “frustration” was not directed at me and complimenting me on my valuable insights and contributions.
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Changes were quickly made to the ninth-grade team. Mr. G was removed as team leader and put in charge of a self-contained special education classroom serving about 12 students. Perhaps in retaliation, he became withdrawn. He devoted himself to his own students, but no longer acted as a force for school-wide change. Meanwhile, an art teacher was hired and made the new ninth-grade team leader. She was an experienced teacher, but with nowhere near the presence or knowledge of the students of Mr. G.
The ninth-graders began to exploit the new leadership and they pushed the boundaries of acceptable behavior. After two months of trying to change the tone of the school from the ninth grade up, I felt things were deteriorating. Inconsistency had undermined our efforts once again.