Chapter III: My First Shadow
Monday – 7 days until school starts
It was the day of the full-district orientation and the first day I was going to Talahi. Every single teacher showed up in the Apollo gymnasium and it was agonizingly loud. I knew people, but the people I knew were all extroverted or at least outgoing introverts, so they all decided to sit by the people they knew. Okay, so I only knew Gloria. I wasn’t that good at getting to know people then—and still not now.
Here’s a hint if you are going to do something like this. Don’t get a group of over 400 teachers in the same space because that is a complete accessibility nightmare for people who have sensitive hearing.
Once everything started, it got to be an okay volume. First, the superintendent stood up and spoke about how excited he was to be standing in front of all of us in a voice that showed the complete opposite. He looked utterly bored. He then announced his retirement and the whole gymnasium let out a sigh of sadness. I didn’t know this guy, so I didn’t participate in the sigh.
Then, a motivational speaker stood up and started talking about a kid who was really troubled named Leeroy. All his teachers had abandoned him and he felt like he was just a bad kid destined to lead a bad life. But then, one teacher came along and gave him hope. The teacher treated him with respect and didn’t give up on Leeroy even when he tested her. The speaker took out his license and had a teacher in the front row read off his middle name: Leeroy.
I was definitely inspired because that was my whole goal. To be that one teacher. Too many people in that gymnasium, I figured, were only there for a paycheck (albeit a very small one) and weren’t passionate about being that one person who didn’t give up on the student. Who was that one glimmer of hope in the world full of shitty murkiness.
Then, it was time for the hour and a half journey to Talahi. That morning, I had thought that I would be able to stop somewhere to eat–probably Subway because I love Subway. I actually ate the same thing at Subway for two meals every day for an entire year: ham and shredded cheese toasted on an Italian herbs and cheese bun with chipotle southwest and sweet onion sauce with lots of Parmesan cheese. Every single day! And it was as delicious on the first day and on the last day. I still get that when I go to Subway.
But, back to the story. I was going to go to Subway. But after the motivational speaker, someone else came up–I can’t remember who–but they ruined that plan because they went over by about half an hour. They apologized and said, “Oh, well, what can you do?”
I had to go on the hour and a half journey to Talahi with no food in my stomach and then go through their entire training and evil ice breaking. I would literally prefer breaking literal ice to getting to know people in such inhumane and unnatural circumstances.
I got on the bus at 12:00pm and I had to be at Talahi by 1:00PM. I started shaking my head because I knew I was going to be late–and with no food in my belly.
Well, an hour and a half later, I finally got to Talahi. I walked in and they had already not only started, but were finishing up ice breaker. YES! I celebrated, I don’t have to do this bullshit!
I realized I knew the person who was leading the ice breaker. It was the reading corps teacher I had met last year while student teaching in the elementary school setting. Her name was Isabelle and she was really nice. If she’s the principal, I should be pretty good! I felt eyes glaring into the back of my head because I hadn’t joined the group because I saw that they were doing something. It looked like musical chairs where you had to share a fact about yourself if you lost.
I turned around to see a severe-looking woman staring at me as if I was the antichrist and it was her job to destroy me. “In my office, now.” I realized I recognized her. She was one of the three people who had interviewed me back in July. I followed her to wherever her office was and that was how I found out that she was the principal. She sat down, looking at me, unimpressed. “You do realize you are 30 minutes late?”
“Yeah, the orientation at Apollo went a little long and…”
“I’m not interested in excuses.”
“I don’t have a vehicle, so I had to take the bus here.”
“Like I said, I’m not interested,” she paused to try and drive home the point, “in excuses. When you are expected to be somewhere, you be there. No matter what. Understand?” I nodded. “Now, I want to introduce you to someone.” She stood up and walked over to her door and called, “Briana, come in here please.”
A kind-looking woman came in and introduced herself to me with a handshake, “Hi, I”m Briana Koothrow.”
“I’m Sam Harvey.”
After she took a seat, the principal started, “And I’m Allison Rath, I’m the principal here at Talahi Elementary School. Now, I didn’t want to hire you for this position because you don’t have enough experience. But we didn’t have any other choice, so here you are now. Therefore, I talked with the special education director and we decided that you would have a mentor to,” she sighed, disgustedly, “guide you so you can be successful in this position.” It was silent in the room for a minute before she finally spoke up, “Now, this school has gone through 8 different EBD teachers in the last four years. And probably soon a 9th,” she muttered quietly. “So, get to know each other and work with each other on how you are going to do things. Briana has a full-time position at the Day Treatment program, so she won’t be here often.”
“That’s right, I’ll only be able to be here on Wednesdays. My job is to help you figure out strategies for teaching and all of the parts of being an EBD teacher. I want to help you be the best teacher you can be.”
Allison rolled her eyes after Briana was done speaking and said, “So, go to your classroom and get to know each other.”
“Where is my classroom?”
Allison sighed again, “That’s right, you weren’t here for the room or key assignments. Go ask Isabelle once she’s done with the icebreaker.” She checked her watch, “This is about the time where we wanted everyone to go to their classrooms and start setting up.”
I walked out of the office knowing full-well that Allison didn’t like me and didn’t want me there, just like Gloria had told me on the phone last week. But I wasn”t going to let that affect me too much because I had to be there for my students. Plus, I might be able to win her over with how well I worked at Talahi. I wouldn’t be the 9th EBD teacher to leave Talahi (Spoiler alert: It turned out I was right, I turned out to be the 10th).
I went back to where Isabelle had been doing the ice breakers and, sure enough, they were done. I had survived a day of ice breakers by missing them–and pissing off the principal in the meantime. “Hey, I don’t know if you…”
Was all I was able to get out before Isabelle screamed, “Oh, my gosh, Sam. How are you?” And enfolded me in a bear hug. “I was so excited to see that you were going to be here at Talahi with me. I was kind of bummed I didn’t see you in the beginning. You missed out on some awesome ice breakers.”
“Right, um, sorry about that. I don’t have a car and the bus took me an hour and a half to get here.”
“Wow, really! An hour and a half. That’s almost the time it takes to get down to the Twin Cities from here. All to get to the other side of Saint Cloud. But don’t worry about it. I know the orientation went a little long. Other teachers were late too, in fact, here comes another new kindergarten here.” I looked behind me to see a short woman walking up. I looked around and saw Allison see her and continue on with no problems.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said, “I completely lost track of time while I was eating.”
Isabelle replied, “Don’t worry about it. This is Sam, Sam, this is Esther. She’s a new kindergarten teacher this year.” We greeted each other awkwardly because that seems to be the only way I can greet people. “Oh, you two missed the room and key assignments. Can’t forget that!” She was the kind of person who seemed to be genuinely pleasant. It seemed that the positivity she exuded was an attempt to actually help the people around her.
“So, what is your position here?” I asked.
“I’m the Assistant Principal at Talahi.”
“Thanks,” she said, blushing. She took out two envelopes and handed Esther’s out first. After Esther had left, Isabelle said, “Okay, so your arrangement isn’t standard. You don’t have your own classroom.”
“Oh, okay. So, I will be working in the mainstream classrooms?”
She bit her lip, nervously, “No, you’ll be sharing your classroom with the other EBD teacher.”
“Okay, that sounds good.”
“She’s 8 months pregnant, so she will be leaving in about four weeks. Then, you’ll have the room to yourself.”
“The room to myself? Won’t there be a sub to take on her students and caseload?”
“We’re working on that. Who’s this?” She asked, finally seeing Briana for the first time.
Briana spoke up, “I’m Briana Koothrow. I am Sam’s mentor, assigned to help him be the best teacher he can be.”
Isabelle laughed, saying, “I’m not sure he is going to need it. I worked with him last year at Lincoln Elementary School, and his cooperating teacher said that she would feel completely comfortable leaving for a week and leaving Sam in charge. He was an amazing teacher last year, nobody could have changed that much in 6 months.” Briana smiled at that. “I’ll walk you to to your classroom.”
When we got into the classroom, I saw that it was a narrow deep classroom with two different small-rooms broken off from it. Someone was sitting at the desk on the far side of the room. “Hi, I’m Margaret. The other EBD teacher.” She stood up and I certainly saw that she was pregnant.
I looked around a bit and saw that that was the only desk. “That’s the only desk?” I asked Isabelle, pointing to the one Margaret had just sat at again.
Isabelle surprisingly looked around and said, “Um, it would appear so.”
“How is that going to work? I need the internet and a computer to work on my students’ paperwork?”
Margaret spoke up, “Sharing doesn’t actually work very well. I think that’s why I’ve seen 8 different EBD teachers cross this this room and leave in the last four years.”
Isabelle thought for a minutes, “Okay, here’s what I’m going to do, I’m going to get you a desk because sharing desks isn’t a good idea. I don’t know how, but I’m going to do it.”
By the time the day had ended and we could go home, I still didn’t have a desk. But Isabelle had said she was going to get one and I believed her. She had seemed genuinely happy to see me, unlike Allison.
I discussed how I was planning on working with my students when I realized I still didn’t know who I was going to work with. “What students am I working with?” I asked Briana.
“I don’t know, they didn’t tell me that. They just told me that I was supposed to watch you.”
“Yeah, I just assumed that meant watch over you to help you be the best teacher.”
I looked over and saw that Margaret was on the computer using Facebook. “Hey, could I use the computer to see who my students are? It will let me check on their paperwork and stuff.”
“Nope, I’m using it,” she said, not looking at me. “You’re working with the students grades 4 through 6, and I’m working with the younger grades.” Alright, I can handle that! That is an awesome age group, I thought to myself.
“Do you know any of them?”
After a few minutes of watching her do nothing on her computer, I decided to try going to the computer lab in the library. The library was in the middle of the school. So, I tried logging into one of the computers, but it wouldn’t let me. I tried several more times and it told me that it didn’t recognize that account.
I asked Briana if she could try signing in and it let her sign in. “You should probably call tech services at the district office to let them know that your account isn’t active. You won’t be able to log into any computer right now until they activate your account. Didn’t they activate your account last week at the new teacher training?”
I remembered that they had wanted to, but because they didn’t know where I was going to be teaching, they decided to skip it. “I’ll send them an e-mail.”
“You can’t send them an e-mail because your account needs to be activated to log into e-mail. And they don’t look at e-mails sent from outside the district e-mail system. You need to call them.”
I went back to the room and saw that the only phone in the room was on Margaret’s desk and she was still sitting there, but now she was on Twitter. “I need to call the tech services to have them activate my account. Could I sit there and do that?”
“No, I’m sitting here. This is my phone anyway. Use your own.”
“I don’t even have a desk, how could I have my own phone?” I asked, cautiously.
She shrugged and replied, “There’s a phone in the main office. Go use that.”
Briana pulled me aside and said, “I have to go check in at the Day Treatment program. So, I will see you again next Wednesday. If you need any help or advice between now and then, don’t hesitate to let me know.”
“Sounds good,” I walked with her to the main office and saw the phone on a small, short table in the middle of the room. I walked over to it and sat in the chair that was too small for my big butt. I could feel my hips starting to shatter. So, I picked up the phone and realized I didn’t know the number for tech services at the district office. I noticed that the secretaries weren’t here, so I started looking around to see if there was anyone who could find out for me.
Every door was shut in the main office. At that time, I didn’t have a smart phone, so I couldn’t look it up even if I had wanted to. I thought about going back to the computer lab and laughed because I needed my account activated in order to find the number to get my account activated.
I started walking back to my classroom and decided I was going to ask the first teacher who’s door was open if they could find the number for the tech services at the district office.
It happened to be the art teacher, and his room was right next to mine. I walked in and asked, “Hey, could I bother you for a minute?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“I don’t know the answer to such a deep philosophical question.” He looked at me confused, “What’s up. It’s a very deep philosophical question. I mean, it is largely how you define or view the word up. And then how far up do you answer. Do you go all the way up to the macro level of the entire macro universe or is it just what’s above you on Earth? But again with that, how do you define it. Is it what is directly above you or what’s above you by 10 feet or 100 feet or 10,000 feet. Depending on how you view it, it could be air molecules; and if you want to be more specific, which I don’t, the exact percentage of each chemical in the air that makes up air. It could be the ceiling, or it could be someone’s butt sitting on a toilet on an airplane. So, it’s a very deep philosophical question.”
About halfway in, tears of laughter had started swelling in his eyes. He was nearly falling on the floor laughing. That was my intention. That is my idea of an ice breaker, something that is not forced down a person’s throat, but takes them so off guard that they lower their guard.
“Holy shit, that was hilarious! How can you remember all of that?”
“It’s not a thing of remembering, it’s just looking at it from a philosophical viewpoint.”
“You have got to do that in front of my students sometime. I would love to see their reaction. Whew.” He was wiping the tears from his eyes. “So, what can I do to help?”
“Last week, the HR department didn’t activate my account because they didn’t know what school I was going to be at. Now, I have to call the tech department to get them to activate it. So, do you have a district directory I can use to find the number?”
“Sure.” He handed me a directory the size of a phone book. I flipped to the T section and found the tech department. I wrote it down and went back to the office. It was around 3:10 and someone had locked the office, so I couldn’t get into it. My stomach was exuding pain at this point, so I decided that I was just going to go home.
I got on the bus to pick me up and went to Subway almost 4 hours after I had originally planned on it. When I finally got home and realized I could call them with my cell or home phone. But when I called, they were closed. So, no go!
That was not a good first day at Talahi. And it was going to get worse with my replacement “mentor” who showed up the next day.