I have tried so many times to write about my experience teaching in the St. Cloud School District. But I’m gonna try again on here. I’m going to change names to protect the identities of others. For those of you who I knew me during that time, some of this is familiar. But you don’t know the whole story. So, I’m going to try and tell it.
It’s going to take me a long time to probably write it because it is so emotionally raw for me and I have PTSD from it. I flashback to the time when I felt so helpless and set up to fail. I’ve tried to feel anger, but that’s never the emotion I had. I always had the emotion of shame–shame that I deserved everything that happened to me. I know deep down that that isn’t the case, but it’s hard to kick when it’s brainwashed into you to believe that you deserve punishment for simply treating students with respect and allowing them to make their own decisions.
So, without further ado. Here we go, walking into my living nightmare. Note that this is rough writing-wise, so grammar errors probably will occur and it will probably get boring at times. This is a lot to do with trying to start processing what I went through.
Chapter I: I’m Hired!
My dad had driven me up to St. Cloud for a meeting with the assistant director of student services, a fancy title meaning the assistant director for special education. I don’t remember his name, so, I’ll give him the name Roger.
I had interviewed for the St. Cloud School District 5 weeks ago and had not heard anything back, so I had called on Wednesday and left a message. The next day–yesterday–they called me back and asked if I could come in to speak to the assistant director of student services tomorrow.
So, there I was, sitting in the waiting room, waiting to find out if I had gotten the job. I had applied to 75 jobs and had 30 interviews, but none of them had come through.
There was one interview where I had to wait 45 minutes past my interview appointment time because they were still talking with the candidate in there. My interview with that group was only about 7 and a half minutes. I walked out to the car where my dad was waiting and he said, “That looked promising. You were in there for a long time.”
“I was in there a long time because they were interviewing the other candidate until 7 and a half minutes ago.”
But, that was then, this is now. I was waiting in the Saint Cloud School District’s main office in Apollo High School. And I heard my name called. I stood up and walked to the voice, which was an elderly man who’s name I don’t remember, so I’ll call him Roger. He never shows up again, so you don’t have to remember his name and I probably didn’t even have to give him a name, but I did and here we are wasting time on what I should and shouldn’t have done. A lot like this story.
Anyways, so I took a seat in his office. And the first thing he said was, “We’d like to offer you the job.” The way he had said it emphasized the like and he said it in an unsure way. So, I thought I didn’t have the job. Yet another school–number 31. It was already the end of August and school was going to be starting in two weeks. He continued, “So, would you?”
I had to think for a second because I thought he had just said that I didn’t get the job. But I said, “Absolutely!”
“Great, you are officially hired as a special education teacher.”
“Awesome!” I couldn’t believe my luck, I had finally gotten a teaching position. I had applied and interviewed so often with no results that I didn’t know what I was going to do if I didn’t get a job for the following school year. I realized that they had told me where I was going to be teaching yet, so I asked, “Where will I be teaching?”
He looked down, awkwardly, and hesitantly said, “We don’t know yet.”
Okay, that’s weird, I thought to myself. But it didn’t matter because I had gotten the job. “Do you have any inkling of what ages I will be teaching?” I knew that I wanted to teach at Apollo High School, where I had done my student teaching experience under a teacher named Gloria Underling.
“We don’t know. Right now, everything’s up in the air.” That’s concerning, what if my position is also up in the air, I thought to myself.
“So, you don’t know where I will be teaching or what age group. And I’m guessing new teacher training is coming up pretty soon?”
“Yes, it’s on Monday.”
“Oh,” I said, a bit loudly in a state of shock, “Monday. Um, do you have a recommendation based on where you are thinking I might be for where I should be getting an apartment?”
He thought for a little bit and said, “I would recommend an apartment somewhere in the Northwest of Saint Cloud.” I was ecstatic because Apollo High School was in the Northwest of Saint Cloud. Wahoo! I was probably going to work there. Awesome!
I kept myself calm and collected, so I wouldn’t appear unhinged in front of the assistant director.
I got out to the car and told my dad that I had gotten the job. We celebrated by going to the first White Castle that had just opened (and is since closed). I got the chicken rings and a shake.
I called my mom, who had just had her second knee replacement surgery done three weeks prior to let her know. She was excited for me as was my dad.
After eating, my dad and I drove around for a while trying to find an apartment in the Northwest side of Saint Cloud. I can’t believe how lucky we got because one of the first places we looked was an apartment complex called “North Village Apartments.” It was right between Apollo High School and North Middle School, the only schools in Northeast St. Cloud.
The manager at North Village told us that there weren’t any available apartments. My dad and I had been expecting this because classes at St. Cloud State University had already started. As we were leaving, the manager yelled, “Wait! I just remembered that someone is wanting to sublease their 2-bedroom apartment. I can’t believe I forgot about that. Would you be interested in seeing it?”
“Absolutely,” I said, excitedly.
“I can’t show you that one, but there is another two-bedroom apartment that is empty right now because the tenant is moving in in the next few days. So, I can show you that one if you’d like.” We went to see the apartment and, sure enough, it was perfect. So, the day that I got my job, I was all set with somewhere to live.
That day, we started calling around to moving companies to move the things we had stored in a storage locker at Uhaul (or is it uHaul, I’m not sure) all summer in St. Cloud into my new apartment.
[Author’s note: I know that last paragraph has an evil sentence, but I’m trying to just vomit out the writing and then, once everything is done and if I want to publish it, polish it up. So, hopefully that’s okay because that’s kinda how it needs to be for me to get this out.]
We got everything set up for me to move into the apartment by Sunday. So, in one day, I had gotten a job, an apartment, and planned for everything to be moved to the new apartment. Not bad if I may say so myself. Though, to be honest, my dad did everything. I am mortally petrified by phone calls. I freeze up and don’t know what to say when I’m on the phone.
Chapter II: Waiting, Waiting, Waiting
I got moved in on Sunday and started unpacking the boxes (spoiler alert that totally isn’t a spoiler alert because it has no impact on what happens in this story: I never did end up unpacking everything because I suck at unpacking). The night before new teacher orientation training, I just sat at my computer, trying to play Sims 3 and failing because it was too much for my computer to handle (DAMNIT!).
The next day, I woke up at 6am…am…in the morning! I don’t know if you know this, but I am not a morning person. I hate morning with every fiber of my being. As I said at the time, “I hate mornings with the passion of in excelsis deo squared to infinity and beyond.” And that is not an over exaggeration.
But, I woke up and went to the new teacher orientation. The people who were putting it on were from the HR department, who I was supposed to get in contact with to find out what school I was going to be at for this year.
The first day was all about ice breakers and paperwork. I hate paperwork, but if I’m being honest, ice breakers are the epitome of hell for me. I would rather stick my hand in a meat grinder than do an ice breaker…okay, maybe I wouldn’t do that, but I certainly do not want to do ice breakers.
So, one of the ice breakers was a bingo worksheet with different facts where we were supposed to find other people to fill it out. They were things like “Went to another country over the summer” and “Favorite movie is Titanic.” As soon as the training facilitators told everyone to fill out their sheets, I just staid sitting while everyone else jumped out of their seats like honey bees about to sting someone with the ice-breaker heavy Minnesotan hello of “How ya doooin’?”
I looked at the sheet and realized that none of the facts fit me. My favorite movie is not Titanic. So, I just sat there as everyone around me was making a cacophony that would cause a buffalo stampede if they were by a herd of buffalo. But luckily, they weren’t. I just sat there thinking about where I was going to be teaching.
Somebody brought me out of my wonderings when they blocked the light. They were standing over me, “How ya doin’?”
“Tired,” I responded.
They laughed much too hard, “Oh, yaah, me too, ya know.” This person had one of the thickest Minnesotan accents I’ve heard in my life. They probably introduced themselves to me, but I am so terrible with names that there was no hope in remembering it. “So, which of these facts are you?” She asked, way too cheerily for 7am in the morning.
“None of them, actually.” They looked at me with a combination of confusion and surprise. “I’m a really boring person.”
“So, your favorite movie isn’t Titanic? That’s the last one I have left.”
“No, it isn’t. Sorry. None of them apply to me.” I looked closer and saw that one did, “Actually, the free space! That one definitely applies to me. I don’t even have a school yet.”
“What do you mean?”
“They don’t know where I am going to be teaching yet.”
“Really,” She asked, mouth agape.
“That must be really stressful!”
“Yeah.” I wanted this conversation to be over because this person was too cheery for me this early in the morning.
“Well, I am going to be at North Middle School. I’m an art teacher.”
“That’s cool.” Please go away. I want to be left alone to my thoughts, please.
“I’m just glad I didn’t end up at Talahi.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, because it is a school where all of the students don’t behave well. I overheard that it is one of the toughest schools in the district.” She changed subjects, suddenly. “So, where are you from, originally?” God, if you are there, can you please kill me? I don’t like talking to people I don’t know, especially this early in the morning. Or maybe just knock me out so I will come to when it is a more decent hour.
“I’m from Coon Rapids, Minnesota.”
“Oh, I know that place. Do you know Scott Hanson?” I imagined myself picking up a samurai sword and stabbing myself like a samurai. But I didn’t have one here. Damn!
“Nope. I don’t really know anyone from Coon Rapids. I’m not a very social people-person.” Please take the hint! Please take the hint! I kept thinking it at her so that she could be silent.
“Well, I’m from…” And with that, I was saved by the bell, literally.
The head trainer tapped on a bell a few times. “Everyone, please go back to your original seats, or continue to sit by the person next to you if you want.” People chuckled at this, why they chuckled, I have no idea. Did it have something to do with flirtation? I didn’t know and it was too early to really care.
We then started going through all of the paperwork that we would have to fill out: paperwork for insurance, paperwork for a contract, paperwork for being paid, paperwork for getting the keys to our schools, paperwork for getting our keys to our classrooms, paperwork that we will wipe our asses. Okay, maybe not that last one. But so much paperwork. Because it didn’t include any social time, I was fine with it.
During a break in the action, I went to the person running the training to find out where I was going to be teaching. She had no idea what I was talking about. In order to be hired, I had to have a school. She told me she would look into it.
At the next break, she sat down next to me and told me that they didn’t know where I was going to be teaching. But they were going to find out.
I got home from the first day, completely exhausted. I saw that I had a missed call from Gloria, the teacher I had worked under the previous year. Grudgingly, I called her back and she told me what she heard was going on.
“They are trying to get one of us to go to the tough school.”
“What’s the tough school?”
“Well, I can’t tell you that because I’m technically not even supposed to know.”
“Right, so they are trying to get one of you. Who’s you?”
“Me, Rachel, or Isaiah.” Gloria, Rachel, and Isaiah were the three level 1/2 emotional behavioral disorder (EBD) teachers at Apollo. There was a fourth EBD teacher who was strictly for level 3 students. Level 1/2 means that the students are spending most of their time in the mainstream classroom, and level 3 means that not much time, if any, is spent in the mainstream classroom.
“So, why are they trying to get you to go there?”
“Well, the principal doesn’t want you there. She says your too inexperienced for a school that tough. Rachel and I have decided that we are not going to go there under any circumstances. I have health problems and going there will aggravate them. And Rachel doesn’t have a lease, so she has threatened to leave if they try to force her there. And Isaiah, who knows with him. I swear, all he does is let his students play games while he doesn’t teach and just sits behind his desk.” She added, quietly, “I’ve told the supervisors that and am trying to get him out so you can replace him.”
I was excited by the prospect of potentially working with Gloria as a colleague–a peer– and work with the students who I had gotten to know the previous year. I hung up with a renewed sense of hope that I might be at Apollo or somewhere. It didn’t really matter where I was because I had a job and I was going to do the best I could to respect my students. I wanted to leave my students better after working with me. I went to sleep that night, excited to know where I was going to be teaching. The school year was going to start in 12 days.
Tuesday – 13 days until school starts
The next day, again at 7am in the morning, the HR department talked about classroom management. I don’t know if you know what getting a bachelor’s in special education–EBD is, but it’s classes completely dedicated to that. I noticed that they had actually gotten some of the management techniques wrong, but I didn’t correct them because I didn’t want to appear to be rude. They ended the day by saying, “Now, next Monday is the whole district orientation in the morning followed by school orientations in the afternoon. So, make sure that you go to your schools after the orientation.”
At the end of the first day, I went to the HR department and asked the head trainer, “Do you know where I will be teaching, yet?”
After she checked around asking the student services department and people in the HR department, she told me, “No, we don’t know yet. I don’t know what’s going on, I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay, it’s not your fault.”
I went home, feeling nervous because I didn’t know where I was going to be teaching or who I was going to be teaching.
Wednesday – 12 days until school starts
The next day, the orientation taught us about special education. Because apparently, I hadn’t learned enough about special education in the four years I went to school for it. Again, the trainer got several things wrong. For example, they said that teachers don’t have to go to Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings. I spoke up and said that at least one teacher does have to be at a meeting. They looked at their notes and realized they had misspoken and thanked me.
During the break, the trainer came up to me and said, “We still don’t know where you are going to be. Though HR thinks we’ll find out by the end of the day. I wanted to thank you for correcting me. I don’t want to give the wrong information. Could you do me a favor and correct me if I make any more mistakes?”
“Of course. Sorry for doing it so publicly.”
“Think nothing of it. It’s a good chance for them to see that people in administrative roles over them can make mistakes too. It will hopefully give them the message, ‘don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself.'”
At the end of the day, I went to HR. It was like I was Norm from Cheers because everyone in HR knew about me and my predicament, “Hi, Sam.”
One of the employees came up and said, “We still don’t know. Sorry.”
The trainer, who had come in with me, looked confused. She asked me to wait for a few minutes while she did something. She would get to the bottom of what was going on.
She came back a few minutes later and said, “Yeah, we still don’t know what’s going on and we don’t know where you are going to be teaching.”
Thursday – 11 days until school starts
I woke up without much hope that I would find out where I was going to be teaching…and I was right. HR still didn’t know where I was going to be teaching.
Friday – 10 days until school starts
Today had to be the day! Nope.
Saturday – 9 days until school starts
I got a phone message on Saturday afternoon from the special education director. “Hi, I’m sorry about the long wait and all of the hassle. But I wanted to let you know what your teaching assignment was going to be for this year. You are going to be teaching special education at Talahi Elementary School. Thanks, bye.”
I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I wanted to teach at Apollo High School and it looked like I was going to because…well, because why? Because they had hesitated to decide where to put me? Maybe there hadn’t been any hope that I was going to teach at Apollo.
So, I was going to be teaching at Talahi Elementary School. I stewed that around in my brain to see how it stuck. I was going to be teaching at the toughest school in the district. The school whose principle didn’t want me there because I didn’t have enough experience.
I called my parents, who were just as surprised as I was that I wasn’t going to be teaching at Apollo. But then my mom said, “But they must trust you enough, based on what you showed them, to put you at the most difficult school.” That made me feel a little better.
My mom was right, I was going to be able to do this because I had the experience. I had taken care of all of the paperwork and instruction when I was working with Gloria. She had actually told me how surprisingly pleased she was at how dedicated I was to doing everything.
Sunday – 8 days until school starts
Then, I had to figure out how to get there. I looked at where it was on the map and I couldn’t breathe. It was on the southeast side of Saint Cloud, the complete opposite side of Saint Cloud where I was living. I didn’t have a car, so I would have to bus there and I looked at the schedules…it was going to take an hour and a half to get there. I had to take the Waite Park bus to the bus station and get on the Southeast bus for 20 minutes to get to Talahi Elementary School.
So, I was going to have a three hour commute to just get to a different part of the same city. I was starting to feel helpless, but then I reminded myself what I was going to do and why I was going to do it. I had chosen to go into special education teaching students with emotional and behavioral disorders because they had been given up on.
Every time I would tell people that I was going into special education, they would be so happy and appreciative, but when I would tell them who I would be working with, they would wrinkle their noses in disgust and say, “those kids.”
I wanted to work with the students who teachers give up on first. I knew why the teachers gave up on them, they are students who may never show gratitude, who have problem behaviors, who disrespect them. But I was determined to work with these students and treat them with respect and dignity that no one else has probably given them.
While I was in my bachelor’s, I heard a story of a parent who said, “I don’t know, I gave up on him a long time ago. You should just do the same.” The parent said this while the student was still in the room. That was the student I wanted to work with: those who have been abandoned by their teachers, their fellow students, even their parents. I was going to be that one person, or one of the few people, who never gave up on them and treated them with the respect and dignity they and all humans deserve.
Chapter III will be published soon. It will tell the story of when and how everything started falling apart. I’ll write it when I have recovered from writing this. I have found that writing this in the way I write blog posts helped me to write it. I hadn’t gotten this far in previous things, so, thanks for reading if you did. But if you didn’t, no worries (not that you probably are reading this…but if you are, um…yeah, no worries).