Out of the Closet

The math class was off to its usual slow start. Mr. Peterson, a quiet and unassertive teacher, began taking roll. It was difficult to discern what he was saying as his monotone voice drifted in the air. Simultaneously, an immature 15 year old girl was taking charge of the class with her antics. The classroom was her stage and entertaining the troops, at the expense of dear old Mr. Peterson, was her obsession. There was a reason this child, and many children like her, saved her inappropriate behavior for school.

She was adopted as a baby to parents who never grasped unconditional love. They would remind her how lucky she was to be living under their roof. Her childhood was filled with harsh reprimands, unreasonable punishments and physical beatings. She lived in constant emotional turmoil, never being good enough for her parents’ approval. At the age of 15, her only joy in life was to elicit laughter from her peers. This adolescent’s hijinks would throw into disarray any classroom whose teacher was not up to the task of handling her outbursts. She used this as an escape from the reality of a childhood filled with sadness. Unfortunately her over active sense of humor gained approval from her peers which only fed her insatiable appetite to amuse. This day, as with so many before, would present Mr. Peterson with its usual challenge of maintaining his classroom decorum.

He asked her nicely, several times, to “settle down.” Her co-conspirators, while not openly participating in her foolishness, laughed at her boisterous behavior. This young punk of a girl manipulated the classroom to her fancy, thriving on disrupting any academic work.

Mr. Peterson became more frustrated. He was not capable of raising his voice, as he was a kind, gentle man who just wanted to instruct a math concept. But his red face belied his false sense of composure. The 15 year old continued to destroy his plans for completing the assignment in a timely manner. Engaged in her frivolity, she was startled when Mr. Peterson sauntered behind her. He gently placed his hands on her arm and quietly said, “Come with me.” The girl immediately enjoyed the new attention she garnered from her snickering peers. With Mr. Peterson’s hands gently guiding her, she arose from her seat as he led the way to his coat closet. This was hilarity! The students were enjoying the scene and the young girl was in the height of her element. Mr. Peterson calmly opened the closet door, escorted the girl into the 4’ x 4’ closet and closed the door behind him. He calmly said, “You can come out when you are ready to learn.”

The darkness obscured everything in front of her, with the exception of a thin line of light between the door and the wall. The class quieted down, not a giggle was heard as Mr. Peterson began his instruction. How desperate was he to ask her to stay in his closet so he could teach? Why would it take this kind of episode for the young girl to finally stop and question her actions?

I do not remember the remainder of the class, as I stood humbly in the pitch-black closet. I wish from that day forward, I altered my foolish ways, became an outstanding student, and had success because of it. I did not. But I started to make a gradual change, which would not see fruition until my adulthood. My grades were above average in high school and only a little better in college. I used the excuse my parents’ hurtful home life determined my inability to succeed in school. It was a long transition, but I eventually made a metamorphic change from a lazy, entitled 15 year old to a productive and successful master teacher. Teaching came naturally when working with children, who found it difficult to settle into the discipline of learning. I related well to those rambunctious kids, as they mirrored my childhood behavior. The probability of their inappropriate behavior was symptomatic of something more serious, perhaps relating to their home life. What I needed at the age of 15 were teachers’ intolerance of my actions and ineptness in preparing my school work. What I received, for the most part, were teachers who allowed my unhinged conduct, while glancing at the clock, thanking God, they only had to put up with me 40 more minutes. I believe the same may be said about today’s classrooms.

Placing today’s rude child in a coat closet would prove disastrous for job security, and rightfully so. Whereas many of today’s inexperienced teachers would never contemplate the coat closet as a form of discipline, these teachers do create their own virtual closet when they allow poor behavior to take place in the learning environment. Ignoring a disruptive child and allowing him to manipulate the classroom is cloistering him from achieving, as well as prohibiting the educational discourse of the other students.

What is your philosophy in classroom management? How are your rules articulated to your students? Any and all ideas would be awesome!

Prerogative Parents and the Spiraling Downfall of Education

In the capacity of an educational consultant, I am working with one of the largest school districts in our state. This school dismissed five teachers in the last nine months due to parental pressure exerted through the airing of grievances in the media. And the hits keep on coming.

School began eight days ago and already nine parents called or e-mailed to complain about the teaching staff. As described by the principal, vitriol e-mails are no longer three paragraphs. Instead, these electronic “notes” are configured in four to five pages of rambling rhetoric ultimately demanding their child be given what is rightfully his: entitlement to success at any cost. Even Back to School Night was not without issues. One parent verbally accosted an administrator about his role in disciplining students, with her final words drifting off as she abruptly turned to leave, “I already don’t like you.” What is really alarming about this? When I taught, parents hid behind their computer screens when composing mean-spirited letters. Now our culture accepts public verbal volleys without any recourse except for the teacher or administrator to stand in the line of fire, remain respectful while at the same time being pummeled with demands and complaints. And we wonder why there is a teacher shortage?!

When I asked this administrator why he is not able to tell these parents, in a professional way, to find another school, he informed me the school board and superintendent are seemingly petrified of any parent dissent. This school is at capacity with a waiting list. Yet the principal’s hands are tied when dealing with a few parents determined to control the teaching philosophy of the school. When the majority of his supportive parents tried to silence the naysayers, these well-intentioned parents experienced bullying not unlike the playground thugs who rule by intimidation. So these kind parents relegated themselves to silence.

As I became consumed in research for my book, I discovered a neighboring school district where constantly raging parents are told they are no longer welcomed in the district. Yet within miles of that district lies a school system where parents appear to run the table with no limit to the havoc they are allowed to wreak. Where is the justice? More importantly, where is the logical explanation of this behavior? Have you been in an advisory position, confronted with no win facts and fought for words of hope? Consulting is not for the faint of heart.

If you possess an answer for these situations, please respond in the Comments below. As a consultant, I want to deliver legitimate solutions regarding how school districts, staff and administration could stave off these brazen, thoughtless assaults on today’s educators. In a time of teacher shortage, we cannot afford to have a minority of vocally empowered parents destroy the environment for positive teaching practices.

The Worst Case Scenario

I am a Teacher: That is to say I was a teacher until I was summarily dismissed, fired, forced to retire on April 25, 2017. I am not sure which term fits my demise best.

On April 24, 2017, talented singers held positions in all of my eight choirs. Several ensembles had competed successfully on the international, national, and state levels. Our choirs consistently gained yearly recognition by the state activities organization at their annual gala. February of 2017, we held auditions for the coming year and every choir was filled. In March, I took a group of singers to tour New York City, see three Broadway shows, and participate in two clinics with Broadway actors. On April 24, 2017, it would be fair to say I was comfortable in my position and had worked relentlessly to sustain that feeling of comfort.

On April 26, 2017, while at home, I felt light headed with heart palpitations. A pit formed in my stomach like none other experienced before. I felt hurt, confused and betrayed. My Christian belief system went to work. I prayed, but not the prayers of praise and thanksgiving. No prayer passed my lips thanking God for the privilege of being a teacher. All I could mutter was,“Why me, God? Really?” This feeling of despair emanated from the previous day’s proceedings.

April 25, 2017, I walked with confidence toward the administrative offices for my End of the Year (EOY) evaluation. I had undergone this process a number of times, so I felt no need to be nervous. For almost a decade, this teaching position held the usual challenges. My integrity and style of teaching underwent questioning yearly by my department and the administration. But not only had I survived, I thrived over the years and built a substantial program. While this year contained its usual ups and downs, why would this EOY be any different?

I am unable to bury the words I heard that day. “You will not be the choral director here next year. If you do chose to return, you will be placed where you cannot be a part of any negative student interaction and where you will have nothing to do with collecting money.” My breath stopped. Swallowing hard, I tried to make sense of those words and started to ask questions. The voice raised in decibels, as if scolding a naughty child. “Did you not hear me? You are not going to be teaching choir here next year!”

My gravestone should read, She Never Saw It Coming. In my personal life, many things shocked and blindsided me. As a defense mechanism, I crowned myself with a new title: Queen of the Worst Case Scenarios. I would try to foresee any negative event which might be headed in my direction and then attempt to navigate through it with composure. It seldom worked. April 25, 2017, was no different. I had not seen this coming.

As you take this journey alongside me, your points of view as a student, teacher, parent or administrator will shift as I encourage you to walk in another’s shoes. My story will be laced with anecdotes of success, failure, passion and what it meant to be a teacher. April 25, 2017, was my day which will live in infamy. As dramatic as it may sound, this best describes the deepest hurt I have ever experienced as a 46 year veteran teacher. But through God’s grace, I am recovering.

I Am a Recovering Educator

My name is Paula Baack. I am a recovering educator.
Here are my five steps*:
1. I admit I am powerless over my fate as an educator.
2. By God’s grace, I survived 46 years of teaching, loving it more each year.
3. The decision to turn over days of anxiety, frustration, physical depletion and mental deprivation to my God, helped me stay the course.
4. I gave serious consideration and reflection to the many positions I held in the past. I embraced the embarrassing moments in front of the classroom and the guilt I felt by not spending more time with my family.
5. I admit to some errors in judgement, lack of empathy on occasion, and just being plain stubborn.

*Adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous

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