she wore jeans or professional suicide

30.3.10

There was a bigwig from one of the California schools coming up to visit for a Waldorf standards inspection, kind of like an audit or evaluation or a root canal. Let’s call California bigwig, Old Woman, from Hansel and Gretel – you know the one who lived in the candy house and tried to push Gretel in the oven?

This oven-pusher, I mean, Old Woman did not have the time to visit all the classrooms but it was agreed she would visit mine and Mrs. Rabbit’s because we were considered needing the most help. She spent about two or three days observing our morning lessons.

I was apprehensive since I knew the rest of the faculty would be looking to her for her “expert” opinion. Besides it’s unnerving to have someone watch you for the purpose of evaluating your performance. But this wasn’t an audition, it was my job.

Yeah. I didn’t perform well. I knew somewhere in the smallest part of my brain that I should play the ass-kiss game but I’m not of the boot-lickin’ toady sect. I’d rather be true to me which sounds dandy and noble but it can be a dark and damp corner of the room to sit in.

Whenever adults (as oppose to children) were around I became conscious of my weak singing voice which, of course, only made it worse. My throat would tighten and I would squeak rather than carry a tune.

Then there was the day I decided to wear jeans. What can I say? The school building was ancient and freezing cold in the winter. Everyone had space heaters in their rooms and wore mufflers and jackets in the mornings. I decided I would wear my nicest pair of jeans, boots and a heavy sweater. Respectable enough but Old Woman hated it. Where was my flow-y Waldorf looking dress, my perfect sing-song voice, my silk scarf? Where was Maria von Trapp goddamn it? The Americans mucking up a gift from Europe, as usual!

Thursdays were short school days, so that the faculty could have one of it’s useless meetings, so I felt justified in wearing jeans. I knew I blew it though. I guess there is something inside of me that, sigh, I don’t know what it is, had independent thought? Wanted to be warm?

As we sat in a circle, Old Woman discussed how she thought Trembling Trees was a lovely up and coming school. Blah, blah, blah.

Then Mrs. Bluejay asked the dreaded question that cut to the chase like a journalist to a politician, or a parent asking how their child’s exam went, or a neighbor looking for gossip, “How did your classroom evaluations go?”

Now I thought Old Woman would just say some little remark like, “Oh fine. Here’s how you can support them,” kind of thing. You know a few broad remarks because the school faculty meeting was not the place to discuss the third grade or second grade teacher evaluations.

But I was wrong, wrong, wrong. How could I forget that I was in a school that functioned like a gag reflex? Old Woman proceeded to tell everyone all the juicy little giblets and tidbits they wanted to hear, “Miss Cox and Mrs. Rabbit have a lot of work to do in their classrooms. I found them to be struggling to engage the boys. In fact, the boys were basically left to fend for themselves. I don’t believe either of them have the capacity or background to engage the boys’ energy in a positive way.”

I felt any dignity that I still had blister away. And as the rest of the faculty devoured the Old Woman’s hard candy like Hansel and Gretel lost in the woods, I sat there seething. Seething. I was so pissed by her sweeping conclusions and her lack of professionalism. I clenched my fists, tried not to cry, scream, run, and looked over at my fellow suffering colleague. Mrs. Rabbit looked as pained as I did.

And I was truly shocked at how long Old Woman talked. I think she fell in love with the sound of her voice, her rapt audience, her EGOIC intentions that afternoon. Unfortunately at the expense of two teachers who were already in deep sewage or ca-ca to use an industry term.

Mrs. Rabbit was not liked by her class parents and like me she had inherited some challenging children. Children who were rejected from other schools. But like many new schools, especially alternative ones, they have a tendency to throw their arms wide in well intended but blind acceptance.

Even if we both had glowing reports, the finer details, the things we needed to work on should not have been shared with everyone in the room. It was embarrassing. Maybe I’m wrong. But both of us were the product of an ill-formed classes complete with outspoken parents and problematic boys. (You might be saying, aren’t all boys problematic? The answer is no.) I wondered if the rest of the teachers would have been pleased to have their evaluations shared openly in front of their colleagues. We weren’t even asked if this was okay.

In a normal work environment individual evaluations are done behind closed doors between the supervisor and the employee. I can’t believe I even have to say this, it seems so obvious but I think when people are trying to work together and form a democratic process common sense is one of the first things to leave the room, you know, like in Congress.

But the ramifications Old Woman’s evaluation caused continued long after she left. First her evaluation for me was sent to the wrong school so I did not receive her formal letter months after the visitation had occurred. When I did receive it, it was harsh. I had to gargle with salt water after reading it because my throat had become so hoarse from screaming obscenities. She questioned my ability to create pictures or foster the children’s imaginations. She said I struggled during the lesson, didn’t smile, sang off-key, was matter-of-fact which was great in a faculty meeting but not with eight year olds and even suggested I work with a higher grade.

I wrote an addendum to the Old Woman’s assessment which took many, many, many revisions. I had to flush out the biting salt and bitter feeling out my mouth. Perhaps if I had worn a hoop skirt and acted like Glinda the Good Witch from Wizard of Oz I would have gotten a better evaluation. Unfortunately I donned my Wicked Witch of the West outfit.

But I defended myself as honorably as I could, by reasoning that I did engage the children in a healthy way and that I did have a good imagination for the boys. And I thought my matter-of-fact speaking was an appropriate way to speak with children. I ended the letter with: "Please remember there are many ways of teaching as well as learning styles. I believe it is important as Waldorf teachers that we do not fall into dogma or “this is the way we do it” trap. Lecture one, in The Foundations of Human Experience, Rudolf Steiner said, “You will not be good teachers if you focus only upon what you do and not upon what you are. Through Anthroposophy, we need to understand the importance for human beings on earth to act not only through what they do, but more importantly, through what they are. There can be a major difference between the way one teacher enters the classroom. There can be a great difference, and it does not depend simply upon whether one teacher is more clever than another in superficial pedagogical techniques.”

After I gave a copy for Mr. Skunk to sign, I made copies for Mr. Worm and Mrs. Bluejay as a formal courtesy.

That day Mrs. Bluejay found me in Mrs. Squirrel’s preschool class. She peeked her head into the room.

“Can I talk to you?”

“Sure,” I got up and closed the door behind me, “Is everything okay? You seem out of breath.”

“Yes, I’m fine. Look I just got my copy of your addendum to Old Woman’s evaluation. Did you send it yet?”

“No, I wanted Mr. Skunk’s approval and for everyone to see it first. What did you think?”

Mrs. Bluejay laughed awkwardly, “Uh, I don’t think you should send it.”

“Why not?” I wasn’t expecting this, “I made some valid points. I wasn’t mean. It’s completely professional. I mean she criticized my clothing for crying out loud. There is nothing wrong with the way I dress.”

“You’re right, you’re right. It’s just. I’m just concerned about what kind of message we are sending. She evaluated our school too, remember? We need to get approved as a Waldorf school. If you send this letter it might give her the wrong impression.”

She saw the look on my face and then rushed to say, “Look, I think you did say some valid things but she might take the letter wrong way. Why don’t we sit down and talk about it? Just don’t send the letter, Lani. Please. Maybe we could rewrite it?”

The letter was never mailed.

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