Wednesday, June 1, 2016

What Is It About the End of the School Year?

This is a dangerous time of year for people who've been teaching kids since September or in some cases August. Dangerous how? you may ask -- how is June 1st any more dangerous than say October 22nd or April 11th? 

Fair question. And as I live by analogies let my share with you how my father used to pull over in Erie PA and take himself a little break every time we returned from an Easter trip to Disney World. All we wanted to do by then was get home for whatever scraps of the vacation remained, to get the hell out of the car, to see if anything happened in the neighborhood while we were away. It was almost as if Dad knew it drove us all around the bend and he got a twisted thrill out of doing it. He'd hit the turn signal and find a place for a cup of coffee and a bathroom break an hour and a half from home. We were so infuriated none of us would even accept his offer of a drink or a hamburger or a chance to stretch. We'd sit in the car and stew just to spite him. A lot of accidents happen in the final hours of a long trip he'd say matter of factly. Later in life I heard roughly the same principle explained as a cautionary tale when I dabbled in bicycle racing. We were warned by the coaches and trainers to be extra vigilant in the waning moments of any race because fatigue would cloud your judgment and swamp your reflex time. A lot of bad accidents happen near the finish line we were told. And they did. 

O.k. Mr. Crowley, thanks for those riveting scenes from your misspent youth but where does all of this tie in as far as your standard army issue union classroom grunt is concerned? Glad you asked. A couple years ago some people were planning one of those "appreciation days" for some co-workers. A sign up sheet was set out on a clipboard with the usual requests for donated items. Donuts, quiche, cold cuts, juice and fruit salad. Ad nauseam ad infinitum. One of the honorees leans somewhere to the right of Generalissimo Francisco Franco's wingtips and is a frequent flier on the pro gun argument circle. As an ill advised joke on his friend the rightie gun lover, a left leaning colleague signed up to bring a gun and a box of bullets for said rightie. As you may have guessed it raised an eyebrow or two and I admit I shook my head in disbelief but it seemed as though erasing the dopey remark was going to be sufficient to make it go away. So someone did and we thought the case was closed. But we all know better don't we? 

Another so called colleague copied it and sent it to her supervisor's supervisor claiming it caused extreme anxiety and upset and that she'd probably contracted stage 4 liver cancer and diabetes as well from all of the stress of reading this horrific threat to the children and adults of our humble workplace. Yeah. So the guy who made the dumb joke was placed on administrative leave, abandoned with extreme cowardice by his union and "laid off" at the end of June. They claimed it was just your run of the mill reduction in staff but the others in the same staff reduction position were all rehired by late August and later on someone else was hired in his department with less seniority. 

I have to believe nobody would make such an obvious gaffe earlier in the year. There is something about the end of a school year that loosens our frayed nerves and lowers the inhibitions we've been counting on all year to keep us safe from the HR office. And just as the teacher in question suffered something of a lapse in judgment so did the accuser who went above and beyond the chain of command to make sure this guy (father of two young kids no less) was firmly screwed to the wall. If one lacked judgment the other suffered an abysmal failure of basic human compassion by calling outside of the building we work in where administration had already taken care of it and spoken to the party in question about "making better choices" as we say. This is a dangerous time for us all because it might very well be a "colleague" --so called-- who buries you way before you've run afoul of any administrators. 

The same dynamics played out elsewhere in a case where a teacher vented to "friends" on social media about her students who'd lost their minds one fine day in early June swearing, hitting and spitting on each other. The teacher in this case resorted to some dark humor that all of her friends knew was just going for an over the top laugh while blowing off some steam after one of those days where you question yourself for ever wanting to be a teacher. In similar fashion, one of the "friends" who read the remarks turned out to be anything but. This "friend" in fact was in some hot water over a few professional lapses and brought the screen shots to administration the next day in the hope of cooling his own hot waters. Long story short the social media post led to essentially being terminated and reinstated eventually but not before any number of financial hardships, professional embarrassments and the full court press of shaming that only social media can bring on anyone who turns up acting human on any given day in early June. Oh and again in this case the teacher in question was encouraged by NYSUT legal help to resign and go away in the hope of finding another job somewhere else. Seeing a pattern here friends? 

So if you say or do something you're going to regret, my message is you stand a fair to excellent chance of having a fellow teacher try to bury you for it. And when you're standing there in Darren Brown's office (or is it the other guy now?) flanked by your union people, you better pray you get someone better than these two had. There was not going to be any going to the mattresses in either of these cases but more of a rolling over and putting the old paws in the air for whatever mercy the district might feel compelled to dole out. Pretty dark shit if you ask me. For the record I will say the one time I needed union help from BTF and NYSUT I was very well represented and extremely gratified with the way my situation was handled. But don't press your luck. 

Between now and the last day let me urge all of my friends and colleagues to count to ten, bite your lip, breathe deep, take a walk and get the hell off that computer/tablet/iphone before you say or do the thing you can't return from without union representation. If you call yourself a colleague, a co-teacher, a team mate or a friend and one of your people puts their foot in their mouth or presses their finger prematurely to the send button, don't go for the jugular. Don't be the avenging angel of the copy machine. Take a breath, take a walk, bite your lip and get the hell off your laptop/tablet/iphone and try to imagine a time where you were the one with egg streaming down both cheeks. We're all human. Especially between Memorial Day and Fourth of July. Can we do this together? 


  1. Thank you, this was the most important post I read all year.

  2. Word.... best post I read in a long while. I needed this!