…I had heard about the Learning Inspires Empowerment Schools during my days at Janis Joplin Public Charter School. The schools were featured in that movie about education everyone was talking about that year. LIE school halls are perfect lines of smiling students wearing colorful shirts that say LIE Uplift or LIE Greatness. It’s always a name like that. Founding principals love to name schools using words ripped straight from the cheesiest motivational posters. One day, when I found my own LIE school I’m going to name it LIE HAM in honor of Jay-Z and Kanye West. The other principals would scoff at me because my tie dye can’t keep up with tailored pants suits. Back then, they looked like they were about to stomp their stilettoes on to Wall street, but instead the marched into schools waving banners that read “All kids CAN learn,” “No excuses,” and “Knowledge is Excellence.” However, a big piece of what a LIE principal does is pour over graphs and data like I imagine some business tycoon might. Student progress becomes slices in a pie chart, dots on a line graph, or a rectangle in a bar graph.
I was settling in. I understood that there were no excuses. Therefore it was ok that I didn’t leave school until 7PM on most days. I justified it with the $20,000 extra fattening my check way beyond my JJPCS days. I ate out every night and took my inebriated walk home from happy hours to my pricy city row house apartment. I full on participated in EP-IC LIE staff and faculty parties where twenty-something, overworked, burnt out teachers made human pyramids, or wore inappropriate slore outfits to ensure hooking up with a colleague. (One time the chief academic officer, otherwise known as second in command, wore a spandex cat suit with leather thigh-high spiked heels, to the Christmas Party. She looked like Grace Jones…I digress.) At the most EP-IC of LIE parties I saw Bill Gates make it rain on an obese school nurse. Did I mention how EPIC LIE parties are?
I settled in because the LIE mafia swooped in as soon as students threw chairs. Sometimes they called the police on student aggressors. Other times, they called meetings that involved all types of administrators with five part titles. They patted unsuspected mothers on the hand, supposedly commiserating, as each one described some learning disability that needed attention. The mother would nod her head in agreement. At the conclusion of the meeting the mafia would perform some complicated calculation which in laymen’s terms was: this kid needs too many services = he can’t attend this school. Watching the mother’s expression shift from relief to sadness realizing that she and her son were being turned away, was one of the saddest things I have every witnessed, but still I was on board. At least I wasn’t getting chairs thrown at me anymore, I wasn’t encouraged to organize punishments around snacks, and I didn’t manually hold students down in order to get them to learn. I mean…no excuses right? We can’t let chair throwers skew our test scores.
I was such an idiot. I walked into that meeting looking forward to strategizing just as clueless as that unsuspecting mother. A hard light from the ceiling was squeaking as it swung. The only other lights illuminated data charts, summaries about the data, and data about the data. All of those charts were affixed to walls. I chuckled a little to myself as I fleetingly thought about how the office looked like an interrogation room from Law & Order. As soon as I sat under the squeaking light it began. They were both wearing grey pants suits. The vice principal had on red glasses to match her hair and flat ballet shoes, while the principal preferred six inch heels so that her sleek, cuffed pants flowed jarringly into dangerous spikes. The principal did most of the talking while the vice principal used a red laser pointer to visually highlight all the data points in question. When they were done I looked from one face to the other in shock. In laymen’s terms they were saying: your poor student data and test results = you are out of a job. I looked down at the formal evaluation they wanted me to sign. It stated, “Rita is not making the progress expected after two years of service at LIE. She is not growing as a teacher.”
“Let me get this straight,” I asked, “99.9% of my students are meeting expectations, but the .1% that hasn’t makes you doubt my abilities as an educator.”
They both nodded. I resigned on the spot.
Without the pressure and weekly observations from the principal (it was such a relief not to hear her red bottomed shoes clicking around my classroom) I just taught, with no strings attached. By the end of the school year more of my students started to pass the tests. They asked me to stay and teach a different grade next school year. I refused. The girl they told me to support as they ushered her into my spot quit after one year, and many chairs tossed at her head by students.
When I sat in that interrogation room and confirmed that I would not be renewing my teaching contract I thought that teaching might not be for me, but maybe it would be better at an independent school…