Work Implosion

Things are totally imploding at work right now.

It went downhill so fast I still can’t really wrap my head around it. We are piloting a new schedule this month; there has been a big push from the district office to find a way to incorporate FLEX time into our schedule so that students have opportunities to different areas of interest or different ways of learning. Our school is relatively small so scheduling has always been a challenge. Many of us teach multiple grade levels, so changing the schedule around, which usually ends up moving each grade around independently of the others, can be a very real challenge. We also share our campus with a K-8 charter school and both schools are filled past capacity right now so space and resources are very limited and tight. There are many reasons why a simple month long pilot of a new schedule is difficult and stressful.

People generally dislike change, and our staff is no different. The pilot was not presented well and it’s being implemented poorly. Communication is a mess, we don’t have enough time to generate ideas or problem solve, and people are generally pretty upset about how it’s all going down. The pilot schedule starts this coming Monday, and we all have an extra prep, with a set of unknown-to-us students, to deal with us come next week. Even for someone who prides herself on being flexible and go-with-the-flow, it’s stressful.

Tuesday we had an emergency staff meeting to deal with some pressing problems with the pilot launch (most importantly we are seven teachers short for the first FLEX block on Monday morning). Many people couldn’t come and others refused to go, boycotting it out of anger and frustration. The meeting was high stress, but we left with some possible solutions in place.

Wednesday morning I showed up in my colleague’s classroom to borrow some computers (like I do every day) and he dropped a bomb on me. Two teachers from our staff had been told they would not be asked back next year. This is their second year so they are not tenured; the union can’t really do anything to help them (though one of them was not reviewed on the correct timeline or in the manner outlined in our contract so that might be grounds on which to appeal the decision). It’s not that we don’t need those positions filled next year, in fact our district is hiring, and we were the only site where teachers were asked not to come back.

I honestly can’t think of a time when a teacher was not asked back at our school. Maybe once? I have a vague recollection of it happening, but in that instance the teacher was clearly struggling and no one questioned the decision much; even the teacher herself seemed relieved. This year it’s different. The teachers are well regarded by their colleagues and have received satisfactory reviews this year and last. The staff was confused. And upset.

By the time I got back to my classroom there was an email from our union rep, announcing an emergency CTA meeting that afternoon at 3pm.

I missed the meeting because I had another one scheduled at the district office, but I found out afterward (from calling colleagues that attended) that my staff decided to present a vote of no confidence toward our administration. Whether that vote would be toward both the principal (it’s her first year) and vice-principal (she’s been there three years) or just the principal had not yet been decided. Those who wanted to do so were asked to send a list of specific grievances to our grade level leads by the end of the week. There was even talk of making a surprise presentation of our compiled list to the board at their meeting next week.

The colleague I called to get the low down is a friend and generally very leveled headed. She does not participate in water-cooler venting or gossip and always wants what is best for the kids. She NEVER participates in workplace politics. I specifically called her because I expected she’d process what was said at the meeting without getting sucked into the emotional gratification of talking shit just to feel better. To my surprise, she was very enthusiastic about the plan to compile a list of complaints and present them to the superintendent and/or board. Then she informed me that she was thankful she put in a transfer to the other middle school in our district before the winter break (for personal reasons unrelated to this drama). She ended the conversation by adding that our union rep was advising people to “get out now.”

I have heard grumblings about our administration for a long time now, but I don’t eat in the staff room anymore and being the only foreign language teacher (who teachers three grade levels), I don’t have a subject team or a grade level team to touch base with, so I guess I didn’t realize how bad things had gotten. The idea of presenting a vote of no confidence to the district office and/or board or education makes me incredibly anxious. I don’t like the idea of making our grievances public for everyone to see, discuss and judge. I understand that people are frustrated and want to see results, but there has to be a better way.

Then again, maybe there’s not?

And if we do this, what will the rest of the year look like? If things are hostile between the administration and staff now, what will they be like after we throw them under the bus for the whole district to see? There are still four months left until summer break.

Meanwhile, a highly regarded (and insanely expensive) private high school that I could WALK TO will be posting a Spanish position for next year soon (a friend’s husband works there so he has the inside scoop). The pay would probably be comparable, but private school teachers don’t pay into the STRS retirement system, which would really mess up my retirement prospects. I also feel strongly about public schools–I plant to send my kids to public schools and I always intended to teach at them.

I know I was already thinking of leaving, and this is all just one more (GIANT) reason to seriously look for another job, but I didn’t want to feel desperate to find something, and with all that’s going on, I’m starting to.

It’s all just really upsetting. I’ve been at this school my entire professional life and watching it implode on itself is incredibly sad. It used to be such an amazing place to work, but a whole host of issues have worked to unravel it over the past decade. I hardly recognize what it has become, and I hate that I’ve been around to witness its demise.

I keep reminding myself that no matter how bad it gets, I can stay if I need to. I’ve been there long enough that I can keep my head down and teach my classes in relative isolation. I’m skilled enough at letting the disgruntled resentment of other teachers roll off my back. I don’t have to leave this year, even if I want to.

I guess I really need to polish up my resume and start practicing my interviewing skills (of which I have none). This whole finding a new job thing has taken on a new urgency.

12 Comments

  1. I love being able to walk to work. It takes 40 minutes but it is wonderful to have the freedom from transit. Even if your interview skills are rusty, totally apply for the nearby job to practice. It sounds like you may have your sign that it’s time to see what else is out there, which is too bad but the way life seems to go. Would your time and transit cost savings make up for lost retirement or let you save more for it to make up the difference?

    1. I will definitely apply to jobs this year to practice, and to see what is out there and what these jobs actually look like. And to remind myself that just because one applies for a job does not mean one gets it. 😉

      Walking to work would be my dream. I’ve been driving 25 miles to work for so long… it’s getting really, really old.

  2. I was thinking the same thing—would the time saved (and increased sanity) make up for some of the loss of retirement? or is it a LOT of $ you are giving up, in which case, the stress of having to build that back up would make things way worse overall.
    I’m sorry for all the negative changes, sounds like a total cluster and out of the blue, too! I agree that the idea of the vote of no confidence sounds anxiety-provoking and like a point of no return—there will always be hostility between admin and staff after that, you can’t really go “back to normal”

  3. Oh gosh, this all sounds like a ClusterF….sorry, but it does. I like your level headed friend who gave you sound advice.
    I know this is early in the works but I’m excited for you for new possibilities (walking to work, new school, new challenges) Perhaps the private school would have a retirement program? I wouldn’t let that deter you from applying. There are many different routes to continue saving.
    However, I like your outlook…don’t take something just because, take a job because it’s the right fit. And plus, don’t let the others drag you down. Just keep on swimming.

    1. It really is a cluster fuck. And so, so stressful. Morale was already low, but now it’s a bottoming out. I will definitely apply at the private school–if nothing else I need to be reminded that I probably won’t get any of these jobs, and I should be thankful for the one I have. That is an important lesson in and of itself.

    1. I am trying to find out more about this, but from what I understand, I will only get around $600 a month in retirement (when I’m 65) if I stop contributing to STRS now and never contribute again. If I were to contribute for 25-30 years total (so 13-18 more years) I would get around $4K a month. I have also not been contributing to social security all this time, so if I start now, I will be behind in being able to collect that. I could always teaching privately for a couple of years and then return to a public school and continue contributing to STRS, it just means I have to teach for longer before I can retire. I’m not sure if I want to do that, because right now I take comfort in knowing I can stop teaching before I’m 60 and do something I’m more passionate about after, without ruining my retirement prospects. But maybe pushing that back a few years is the right answer now.

      1. 600 per month seems really low for already having 12 years in the system. What is your percentage, e.g. 2% at 55?

  4. At the school I used to teach at, I lived through “The Civil War” (it’s still called that). It was 4 years of horrible politics and backstabbing and secrets…the worst time in the school’s very long history. It was awful…so I can relate to what you may be going through. I hope everything works out and you’re able to find a balance between what is best professionally and personally.

  5. Oh, wow. I’m sorry that this is all happening. Huge changes in any workplace, regardless of their nature, are hard to deal with, but when the changes aren’t implemented well, it just makes it so much easier for worry to seep in.

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