I Am The 22%

This is in reference to an article posted in The Washington Post today. You can read it here.

Two years ago my life changed for the better. I didn’t know it at the time. In fact, I really never could have imagined all that was in store for me. Two years ago (and a few days) I quit my job.

I didn’t have another job. I really had no clue what I wanted to do, but I knew that I couldn’t survive another school year at the Northern Virginia school where I had spent the last three years. With the support of my family, I walked into the office that Tuesday, and resigned. It was easier than I had imagined it would be–probably due to the end of the rope that I had been dangling from snapping in two.

It took me four months to recover.

Luckily, I was able to rediscover my love for teaching, and I moved to Mexico to teach in an American School. This school was far from being perfect. The teachers I taught with were very unhappy. As foreigners teaching in Mexico, they were lacking the support that most international schools offer. I didn’t mind. I was happy with my shabby furniture, the extremely hot houses, and the lack of water.

One of the teachers who was experienced in teaching overseas said, “You know, Jania, you were just in an abusive relationship before–so everything seems great to you now.”

Oh, how true those words were.

I feel somehow validated to read about my school in the Washington Post. I was one of the 22% who left with the first mass exodus. We knew as we left Fort Hunt that we couldn’t cite the REAL problems as reasons for leaving. Fairfax County Schools probably has a file folder full of teachers resigning for “personal reasons,” “health reasons,” or “moving to another area.” That’s so far from the truth. The truth is that telling your future employeers that you had to quit because you couldn’t work in a “toxic environment” any longer makes you sound like you’re weak. Telling future employeers that your principal sucked the life out of a great little community school makes you sound like you shift responsibility. Telling future employeers that you were promised many things that never came to light makes you sound like a whiner. Telling your future employeer that you were switched grade levels, given split days of two grade levels (around 50 students), and not given the special ed support that you were meant to have (by law) makes you sound inflexible.

When other teachers left, we were led to believe that changes would occur. That the whole reason why we were miserable was due to the a group of old school teachers and their negativity. We started Happiness Campaigns to boost moral, but that will only go as far as the administration allows it to go.

The readers of the Washington Post article speculate (as did the parents) that teachers left due to the population of students. False. Our students were the best thing we had going for us. We had a great mix of low-income minority students and the neighborhood kids. I say a great mix, but for years they weren’t allowed to actually mix. The administration did actually encourage that to happen–but with very little cultural understanding.

The teachers were completely unsupported. One teacher was told after a trip to the hospital with heart palpitations (at the tender age of 24 or 25) that she needed to learn to deal with her stress better. I was told in a post-evaluation conference that sure, I would be a good reading specialist, but so would my co-worker. We were built up and broken back down on a daily basis. Teachers were moved like pawns to intentionally (admittedly) disrupt their comfort. Teacher after teacher would leave the school ragged, tired, and worn out. Happy Hours became more common, and more teachers than not would mention the need of alcohol to relax. Many teachers retired before they planned due to the environment. Some teachers left to have their children–choosing to stay at home. One employee told the cluster superintendent that he would take a demotion rather than work at that school another year. Others did move to areas outside of Northern Virginia. But most would have stayed had the situation been different.

I feel like I suffered from PTSD while working at Fort Hunt. I have blocked entire memories out of my head. Sometimes, I think of something–and often it is with wonder that it even happened. Be assured: this article isn’t lying. It isn’t exaggerating. It’s the real deal, people.

Maybe you don’t feel like pointing fingers at the administrator is an appropriate thing to do. The truth is, in this situation, it’s the only thing to do.


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