I said it during our school’s graduation, but it’s worth saying again here: This past school year has been interesting, in more ways than one. It has featured so many things I’ve never experienced before in my decade of teaching, things I never thought I’d see in any school.
Perhaps, honestly, they were all things that were sure to happen in the downfall of structures that were built pre-pandemic as they attempted to survive people recognising them as being incredibly and obviously pointlessness.
Throughout this year, I saw a continued failure of anyone I worked with to acknowledge an ongoing pandemic that had been going on its second year by the time school started. This resulted in a lot of condescending messages being sent home to parents from the principal about how they “need to take their child’s attendance more seriously” while a bunch of kids were at home sick and trying their best to get through a supposedly “normal” school year with absolutely minimal support (if any, since so many teachers expected them to complete work as per usual).
I experienced constant criticism from a principal who thought that trying to build healthy and deeper relationships with my students was “not part of the job.” I had him tell me that those relationships appeared to be “more important” to me than the work we did in class (which they were), even as he claimed to acknowledge that developing them was integral to creating an environment more geared toward mutual learning and respect. He continually was frustrated by me trying to work with them to give them the best chance they could have at succeeding in this heinous system, and he was simultaneously upset by my lack of desire to work with openly bigoted students and the number of requests I made of him to deal with it when my abilities and energy were beyond exhausted.
Obviously, he never did. Instead, he decided to both-sides and no-sides precisely everything anytime there was a complaint of bigotry against anyone. He claimed it was “necessary” to give everyone an open platform to say their own opinions, even those he claimed were ‘unpopular opinions’. He thought it was fine for our students to question the humanity and existence of other people. Something which I disagree with wholeheartedly because bigotry, for the record, is not an unpopular opinion; it’s will never be an opinion. It’s a grotesque and dehumanising action that results in harming people.
There were a number of times where I had been publicly (and vaguely) “corrected” by the principal and many more times where my private issues were shared among other staff without me being present, without him asking for my consent to discuss them with others, and often entirely without my knowledge until I told someone how annoyed I was about something he’d said. Even when (never if) I had a number of people telling me that the kind of garbage he would say behind my back toward the end of the year was absolutely nonsensical, I knew that none of the other staff members would step up to speak in support of me.
Which was so incredibly frustrating because I very often told him to stop talking to me about someone else’s perceived issues without their permission.
Honestly, it would’ve been nice had they actually stepped up to show that solidarity instead of telling me about everything after the fact. But the same people also talked of him as “the best” principal they’d ever worked under, making me feel sorry for all of us if that were truly the case. Charismatic though he may have been for many adults, it wasn’t uncommon for students to accuse him of sexism or various forms of harassment. And it wasn’t hard to spot these problematic behaviours when you knew what to pay attention to, when you actually paid attention to the moments where he’d make sexist jokes with the boys or say things during games of Bingo with the whole school (like “O69… ‘o’ for… Oh, you all know, I’m sure!” and follow it up with a wink and a nod).
This would often feel really creepy considering the consistency with which he talked about how “sexy” the girls’ clothes were (while complaining about how “revealing” it was) or how he would invade the relationships of our students (deciding that some girls could “do better” than they were). And paired with his victim-blaming of a student who had been assaulted at prom, his proclivity for making these kinds of jokes really made me uncomfortable.
Beyond all that, I experienced yet another bomb threat while working at a school. This one was handled in perhaps the most insensitive and ableist of ways, making it entirely unclear what was happening and leaving people confused for far longer than they ever should’ve been. The way it was handled increased anxiety in a number of people, particularly neurodivergent people who had no clue what was happening or what they were supposed to do because new directions were being given almost every minute for a good hour. On top of that, as if it wasn’t already a horrible thing to be dealing with, that day also featured my principal making racist jokes about how a student’s brother was a terrorist, “joking” that the boy had sent all the threatening emails because he stayed home that day. (It should go without saying that, no, their brother did not do anything of the sort.)
This student rightfully got upset and asked the principal what the fuck was wrong with him. For saying that, they were promptly suspended for “disrespecting authority.” Because the so-called “authority” doesn’t have to respect anyone, especially if they’re “just joking.”
And disgustingly, many of the other staff members supported his decision to suspend the student because they should have “acted more civil” in the face of a grown ass man being racist about children to their fucking faces. I made it clear, when students asked me what I thought of the suspension or when colleagues brought it up, that I found it extremely inappropriate for the principal to abuse his authority for his own absolutely horrific and bigoted behaviour.
On top of all that shit, I watched as the school I was working at was sold in the middle of the year to a school I had already worked for, forcing us to relocate with only a few months left in the school year to a place that I had already spent a long year being mentally and emotionally abused by their head of school. While this was happening, many of the people I’d been working with kept telling me that it “couldn’t be that bad” and that “maybe things would be better this time.”
I already knew this wouldn’t be true. I was sick to my stomach with anxiety every single day, and I couldn’t contain my rage at my principal for being so cagey with families because of some fucked up idea around “professionalism.” I kept hinting at what little information I had about what was happening, sometimes telling certain kids straight up so that they could start pushing their families to look into it.
When the move finally happened, I really had to work hard to convince myself to stay, and I had to use the common tactics that are used to coerce teachers into staying and making up for the short-comings of schools: Do it for the kids. And everyone else kept using that same tactic on me, too. Of course, it was usually attached to sentiments like “Be more positive about it!” or quickly attaching it to the sentiment of how difficult it’d be to find another warm body to teach classes with such short notice.
Staff, students, and families were not immediately told about the sale. We were all left with minimum information about it, if we heard anything at all. At first, no one was told about the sale at all, and we were merely told that we “would simply be relocating” to somewhere that was more fitting of a school than the office building we resided in. This was, we later found out, a lie.
Some parents started getting a bit suspicious of what was happening and started searching for information about the school’s new owners. A few found out about the sale before anyone was told because they started looking into the national business registry, discovering that the school had already been sold a month before and that there was nothing they could say or do to stop what was happening. At no point had anyone who would be impacted by this sale been consulted or involved, highlighting just how much of a business the school is despite its outward claims to the contrary.
And the new owners made sure to make this clear multiple times, blaming people who had zero control over the situation for any students who left as a result of the change. They made it clear that the only reason they bought the school was because they thought they could simply buy students, believing they could effectively trap many of them through contractual nonsense.
The new owners, people who I already had known for years didn’t care about learning, had wanted to buy a school with a different and “easier” curriculum accreditation so that kids who were, in their view, “too stupid to complete the IB” had some kind of backup plan. Unless it’s been rectified in some way in the past month, they were unable to complete the accreditation because the process hadn’t finalised before the former owners had alerted the accrediting body about having sold the school.
All of this, all of this, made this year so incredibly difficult. It meant that a lot of us started relying on each other more deeply than we would’ve before. It meant that students struggled far more for reasons beyond their own control and received less kindness and grace to do so by many of their teachers. It meant that everyone involved was provided zero information because the owners and the actual head of school hid everything from everyone, making it harder for them to even make decisions that would be beneficial to either themselves or their classes.
Despite being told that “nothing would fundamentally change,” as had been promised repeatedly, it became more and more clear that the culture and structure of the school would be required to change regardless of what anyone wanted. Rules were to become more strict and controlling (particularly for girls, as many of them focused on dress codes), and the way classes were structured would be far different from what everyone expected. Things that students and families had intentionally selected the school for would disappear, and they had no recourse beyond changing schools.
For me, all of this meant that I was at the end of a career because I simply couldn’t deal with shit like this anymore. It was like a brightly glowing neon sign, flashing reminders about how little anyone involved in schools (particularly private schools) cared about anyone. It was so difficult to miss all the people who controlled the school who didn’t care about the kids they worked with, who only saw a few refugees as a good marketing gimmick but refused to give them any compassion, and who only owned a school because it was “cheaper to own a school than pay tuition.”
I couldn’t make myself exist in an environment that was openly abusive toward everyone, that held children and their families with disdain, that viewed every single person as being easily replaced. I couldn’t be complicit in harming kids anymore, especially not for a corrupt private school.
I had to start answering questions about whether or not I’d be working there next year, telling kids that I would never be allowed to stay “even if I wanted to” and “even if people fought for me.” I had to tell them that, even if they did let me stay, there was no guarantee that I’d be working with them because of how unreliable the actual head of school was and how he always lied just to get people to stay or trap them in situations where they had limited options.
Something else, ironically, that gained me a lot more criticism from my colleagues. Until everything I said started ringing true and many of them started coming to me for advice about how to handle it or what to expect.
Not that any of that matters, since so many people are putting their heads down and choosing to ignore things in the name of self-preservation.
The end of June marked the final day of school for me this year and, most likely, my final day ever as a teacher within a traditional school. It was so full of mixed emotions that I’m still processing them, still trying to figure out how to build my life “post-career.” But even as I try to search for where I might possibly belong or how I might possibly survive, I’m so incredibly glad to finally leave behind one of the most corrupt schools I’ve ever worked for, getting away from some of the most abusive administrators and collection of owners, and leaving behind a system that I have no hope for.
I’m beyond happy to, once again, have room to breathe and remember who I am and can be. I’m looking forward to having some time to myself and being able to go back to working on projects that I truly enjoy and love and believe in, things I haven’t been coerced to do all because of someone else’s whims on what a curriculum is. I’m curious about what my future might contain, what things I might be able to do.
But I will miss the kids. I always miss the kids.
And I’m so absurdly sad that I likely won’t get to work with these particular kids again for so many different reasons, afraid that all of the relationships we built will be fleeting and that I won’t know if they’ll get through everything, that I won’t know if everything will be okay for them in the future. Even though that’s a risk that can happen (as it does with every school because of how we structure them to be temporary “communities”), this one hits me particularly hard this year because I’ve had to watch these kids go through so much shit all at one time, being forced into so many situations without even an ounce of respect for anyone involved in the situation: them, their families, or their teachers.
I’ve seen grown adults just completely disrespect them to their face for the most tedious of reasons (enshrined within a “handbook” that is apparently never meant to be ignored or changed), and I’ve supported the kids in their own fights by helping them navigate pathways and fighting in support of them with the very people treating them like garbage.
Overwhelmingly, because I love them so much, I am deeply worried for them. I worry that things will only get worse. And I really hope that my worries will be proven wrong.
But I doubt it because some of the worst people aren’t likely to leave, and the owners see the kids as nothing more than as coins in their own personal piggy bank.
Yet I can’t express how much relief I feel to not be a part of that, even if I have no idea what I’ll do from here on out. It’s a weight off my shoulders to know that I no longer have to comply with systems that I cannot agree with, to be away from specific places that only see children as objects and currency. It’s so freeing to know that I don’t have to work in a field that intentionally harms children and ignores their needs, regardless of whether it’s a public or private institution.
I only hope more people can escape, that they will seek to build the places they need, that they can get out from these harmful spaces of frustration and coercion.
And I hope they know that I will happily be there for them, to do what I can, if only they ask me.