In June 2014, I moved back to NYC after my mom passed away the previous November. Already dealing, or not dealing with that grief, plus ending a relationship was quite a lot to digest. In retrospect it was a traumatic period of transition in my life. To make matters worse from the very beginning my NYC teaching career seemed to be cursed.
I sent all my paperwork – certified mail – (fellow teachers know why) to Albany in December, planning on teaching in September. August rolled around and still no certification. (I had been teaching for over 10 years so it wasn’t a question of whether or not I would get certified it was just a question of when.) Interviewing for jobs, I was told I would be a great hire, but they couldn’t roll the dice hoping I would be certified by Labor Day. After the opening of schools came and went and still no certification my father went to our local Congressman’s office the day after Labor Day; within minutes he left with a piece of paper listing my NY state certifications. Seems I was certified after all, I just hadn’t received the paperwork.
The damage was done; schools were back in session, and any potential full-time positions had been filled. I needed to work so I decided to become a substitute teacher for this first year back in NYC. But now I had a new level of hurdles and hoops to jump through. I needed a special certification to be a sub. What? But I am already a “real” teacher! This special certification came with another fee. To add serious insult to injury, I now was required to be fingerprinted a second time in less than 7 months! To teach in NYC public schools one needs to be fingerprinted twice. At the cheap fee of $99 each time. That’s right I had to be fingerprinted by NY state, standard I get it. But separate certification to teach in New York City — FUCK NO! Almost $500 in certifications, fingerprints fees, before even stepping into a classroom. Talk about redundancy and a money maker for the city.
I spent the balance of the school year as a Sub and taking part time teaching jobs when they were available. Not the ideal situation but it was income and this gave me the opportunity to get back into the system with the hope of a full time job the following school year.. Eager to get a full time job I interviewed at a school in Whitestone during the next summer. I did not “connect” with the first person I met with, the Assistant Principal. She kept repeating the same question, over and over. “Show me what that looks like…” I would then explain, in detail, the lesson plan, which was met with minimal enthusiasm, at best, only to be told again – “Show me what that looks like.” (eye roll.)
In walks the principal. We talked, I modeled a lesson for her. The vibe immediately changed. She was warm, friendly, outgoing, everything the AP wasn’t. She called a few days later offering me a job. I was hesitant – but I needed a job. My gut told me no, but my brain and wallet told me yes. I wish I had listened to my gut.
It was very apparent the AP for whatever reason did not like me. My guess – simple – I was a man. A gay man, yes. But still a man. The only male on my grade level. AP did not seem to interact well with males. This was apparently common knowledge in the school. I am not soft spoken. I don’t treat the students like they are babies. I was the exact opposite of what she thought a great teacher looked like and sounded like. I didn’t know it then but every day was going to be a dogfight. Every day a new battle.
Her first time in my classroom, the second week or so into the school year, “Mr. Dominic I am so surprised by how impressed I am with what I just saw.” Really? That would be the nicest thing she ever said to me. It was a constant source of entertainment among the faculty. “Dominic, you know she hates you right?” I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry.
The entertainment portion ended when a month or so later she started my observations. “Mrs. Show me what that looks like” gave me the LOWEST of the possible scores. This was my 16th year teaching! I am not a novice. To put this in some sort of context, other administrators in the building scored me at the 2 highest possible scores on many of the different quadrants. AP was the only one who ever gave me the lowest ranking, multiple times. The comments she wrote to justify these scores were laughable – “Johnathan (not his name) was wearing a hoodie during instruction.” (hoodies are not allowed as part of the dress code.) “At one point Mr. Dominic had his back turned from the class for a full minute.” I WAS WRITING ON THE BOARD YOU IMBECILE! Lol.
Every time something like that would happen I would have to go see the school Union Rep. Towards the beginning she was helpful and understanding. After weeks and months of constantly having to deal with my “issues” she, like many, grew tired and weary of this never ending fight. “What now, Dominic” seemed to be her go-to response when I entered her classroom.
AP decides at one point I needed a mentor teacher, you know to help me become a better teacher. (Year 16 of me teaching btw) Sure. Fine. Whatever. I told her who I wanted to work with in the building. “No I am going to assign you the mentor teacher I think would best help you. SERIOUSLY?!!??!
Another time, I was pulled aside to discuss my bulletin board. Apparently it “wasn’t pretty enough.” Their words exactly. They got the wrong Gay for that!
Whether or not you like me personally I could give two shits. But when it seeps into your professional evaluations of me then we have a major problem. To make matters worse, my complaints seemed to fall on deaf ears. After endless meetings with the Administration of me asking, begging for AP not to be the one that observes me…not only did she continue to observe me but she observed me more than any other administrator in the building. She observed me the Friday before Spring Break. (a notoriously low attendance day, and an “educational movie” day.) Guess how many other teachers she observed that day…
Side not, after statewide testing teachers have to grade the papers all day every day for a week. Teachers are sent offsite on a rotating basis. (In the three years I was at this school I was sent once.) The DOE pays for a substitute for your classes all week.
At the end of the first day at this site, I was “promoted” to team leader by the Administrative Team running this site. At the end of the week these same supervisors sent a letter to my principal for my file, praising my hard work and leadership skills. In less than 5 days these people saw something in me that they took the time to write a letter for my personnel file. Why couldn’t this woman see a little piece of what they saw?
Personally, I did not handle the situation well. Throughout all the ups and downs of my life, teaching was always something I was good at and something that came naturally to me. It was something I didn’t have to worry if I was doing well or not. I don’t say this to be conceited, I say it to emphasize the fact that during rocky times, breakups, moves, financial struggles I always knew that teaching was the one thing thing I couldn’t fuck up.
Every day I came home dejected, depressed, mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. Months went by where I received no positive feedback or reinforcement. Tell me I am wearing a nice tie! ANYTHING! Throw me a bone here. I can laugh about it now but living it was hell.
How I felt at work naturally spilled over into my private life. I wasn’t sleeping well, was drinking more, was calling out of work more because I hated being there. I was skipping the gym, eating poorly. Everything was falling apart, especially me.
In hindsight, there are many different ways I could have handled this situation. I wasn’t the only one on her hit list. But I was the only one fighting fire with fire. Other teachers counseled me, “kill her with kindness,” “smile and just do whatever she wants,” they would say. Those suggestions probably would have made my life much easier. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.
I kept going back to the fact that she inherently didn’t like me, didn’t get me, didn’t like the traits of my personality that make me me! It showed in her critiques of my teaching. She wasn’t necessarily critiquing what I taught but how I taught it. How I spoke, how I moved. Is my teaching style for everyone? Of course not, no one person can be liked by every student every year. But I pride myself on being fair and letting students know they all have the power to succeed in my classroom.
Things could not continue like this. I had to do something. I was at the end of my rope – in every sense of the word. I eventually went out on medical leave (I lied, faking the symptoms with an Academy Award winning performance), and never went back. Never answered any letters or phone calls from them asking when I was coming back. Basically I ghosted them. Not my finest moment by a long shot.
I had never felt more like a failure professionally as I had at that point. I had been a GREAT teacher. And for all the heartache and stress and low pay, I LOVED being a teacher. My heart just wasn’t in it anymore. I felt that nothing I did would make any sort of difference in how I was judged, evaluated and scored. I became the teacher that did the bare minimum. I was going to get the lowest possible scores anyway, so why try? One day you wake up and you don’t recognize yourself anymore; it happens slowly over time. I didn’t really like the teacher or person I had become.
Am I without fault here? Of course not. I should have left that school years earlier. In all honesty I should have never taken the job in the first place. I should have played the game and kept my mouth shut. Fighting fire with fire was not the right response. I knew immediately during the first interview the AP and I did not see eye to eye. On anything. In those first few weeks I promised myself that I would not let her break me. Unfortunately it was a promise I couldn’t keep. When I walked out of the building that last day, I vowed never to go back to teaching. Today, a few years removed from the situation and with a different perspective, I can say that at some point I can see myself back in the classroom. Maybe someday. But not today.