“If that’s the case, I quit!” I say as I get out of my chair and walk towards the door.
“Quit? Isn’t that being a bit irrational…Wait, let’s…” the rest of the words are drowned by the sound of the door closing. Being a new teacher, everyone blamed me for poor achievement by students in various subjects. After being here for one year, I have had enough; I could no longer take the blame for another teacher’s laziness. I open the door to my car, get in, close my eyes, and take a deep breath as events of the meeting are replaying in my mind.
“Thank you all for coming to today’s meeting,” Mr. Parker, the principal, says as he enters the room. Mr. Parker is a tall man in his late fifties. He is very serious about his job, lateness and laziness are not tolerated from both teachers and students. Since he grew up on a farm, such an attitude was not a surprise. Though a stern man, he is respected by all his colleagues. “Shall we settle down and begin.” We take our positions as he continues, “As you all know from the memo that was sent out yesterday, our agenda for today is the academic performance of our senior year students.” He clears his throat and continues, “Of late, we have been experiencing a drop in the academic performance of our learners, the meeting today is to try find out why and how we can solve this problem. The floor is now open for comments and suggestions.” A cold silence sweeps the room. We all turn our heads looking at each other as if searching for answers on each other’s faces.
A hand goes up, Mrs. Miles, the biology teacher. She has been teaching here for twenty years now. One of the longest serving teachers and the most loved by students. She clears her throat as she begins, “Well, I think it could help if we know when the performance started dropping, that way it would be easier to narrow down the problem,” she says.
“I agree with Mrs. Miles,” chirps in Mr. Andrew, the science teacher, a tall lanky looking man, not too popular amongst learners.
“Mmm,” Mr. Parker lets out; as he leans forward on the desk, resting his right cheek on his fist as if giving the suggestion some thought, “Okay, give me a minute.” He opens his folder and searches through his papers.
“Even if we do not know when performance started dropping, I think discipline is the main problem.” Mr. Stevens, the history teacher, interrupts. Mr. Stevens is a typical old-fashioned kind of guy. He is anti-technology and does not believe in modern methods of teaching. “How do we teach students when every time our backs are turned towards them they are updating their statuses on Facebook or Twitter? You ask them a question about what you just said; they have no idea of what is going on. You ask them to hand in their phones or put them away, they answer, nowhere in the school rules it is said that phones are not allowed, adding that they need their phones to access notes.” Some teachers nod their heads in agreement with the point Mr. Stevens brings up. “Maybe it is time we revise our schools rules in connection to mobile phones in school,” he carries on.
“Okay,” Mr. Parker answers as he nods his head, “Thank you for the contribution Mr. Stevens, point taken, anyone else?”
Mr. Blake, the religion teacher, chuckles as he speaks, “I think the problem roots from the dressing of our young female teachers.” Young female teachers begin to chatter in the background.
“There he goes again,” exclaims Miss Lily, the mathematics teacher, another amongst student favorites. Miss Lily is well known for her love of extravagant dressing and, though it is sometimes a bit too much, no one has ever commented. As warm as Miss Lily is, she has a feisty temper and no one wants to activate that side of her. “You are always trying to put the blame on us female teachers.”
“Yes, always,” other young teachers chant in agreement.
“Ladies, relax,” Mr. Brooks continues, with hands mid air trying to calm them down, “I am not putting blame on anyone, but think about it. The majority of learners in our senior classes are males, meaning they contribute a greater percentage to the average.” He leans forward as he carries on, “How do you expect our males to concentrate in class when you ladies are dressed in a way that attracts seventy percent of their concentration.” He leans back smiling. I try hard to fight the smile that is forming on my face. Though his point is crazy, there is a bit of sense in what he is saying. I catch Mr. Blake’s throwing a wink at Miss. Lily. Half the female teachers are fumed by what he has just said and he is not even concerned. Mr. Blake is famous for commenting on sensitive issues and not feeling bad about hurting other people’s feelings in the process. According to him, the truth hurts.
There is now a feel of tension in the room. Tiny whispers can be heard coming from different parts of the room. Mr. Parker seems tongue-tied; behind me, two male teachers are discussing how they agree with what Mr. Blake has said. It seems he has voiced concerns of many teachers without knowing.
“What do you think huh?” Miss Clarke, the social studies teacher, leans to ask me.
“Think about…?” I pretend not to understand her, trying to run away from voicing my thoughts.
“About what he just said,” referring to Mr. Blake’s comment, “about all of this.”
“Mmm, well,” I try to stall her question. Miss Clarke is the goody two-shoes kind of teacher, the kind that follows all the rules and never does anything outside the book. I bet she was amongst students that never attended parties because they were too busy studying. She and I have grown to be good friends over the course of time. She clears her throat, prompting me to respond. I try not to make comments that could get me in trouble. I believe that staying away from school politics is the safest and the best way to survive the job. “I think…,” my sentence is interrupted by Mr. Jordan. Whew, I breathe out the deep breath I did not know I was holding, being saved by an inch.
“I think this dude is for real hey,” he tries to whisper. Mr. Jordan is the sports teacher, young and hip. “The other day I caught the boys discussing the “topography”, as they put it, of a certain female teacher. They explained how the clothes she was wearing that day brought out all her contours,” he giggles and carries on. “I never knew how much geography these boys knew until I overheard that conversation. At the end of their conversation, one of them even commented that he got nothing out of the lesson that day.” “Booyaka baby,” he says as he clicks his fingers, “this man is on point,” referring to Mr. Blake. “If we could give the learners a chance to voice out their reasons, I’m sure the same point Blake just made would come up.” I turn to Miss Clarke and catch her rolling her eyes.
“Haa, men!” she says as she shakes her head.
“Oh, come on, Clarke,” Jordan whispers, “you can’t tell me you’re not taken aback by some of the outfits your fellow female teachers wear. Sometimes I come to school and think I just walked into a beauty pageant. Blake made a really good point, whether you agree or not.”
“Right,” Mr. Parker says as he stands up, “shall we settle down. Seems we are making little progress, yet we are racing against time. We have been here for almost an hour now and we still have not come up with enough to go by on.” He folds his hands, worry lines forming on his face, silently telling the story of his life. “Though Mr. Blake’s point seems unwelcomed by some, it is a very good one, and as much as I would like to dwell on it, I think we will discuss dressing at length in our next meeting.” He says in a stern voice. Mr. Parker is the best principal I have worked with. He knows when to laugh and when to be serious; I think that is what makes him a good leader.
He reaches into his pockets and removes his glasses, holding up a paper as he puts them on. “Okay, so it seems performance started dropping about a year ago. “Mmm… interesting,” he lets out as he is studying results on the paper. A hand goes up, Miss Lily.
“Excuse me sir, if I may,” she asks politely.
“Yes, yes, go ahead,” he prompts with his glasses as he puts the paper down.
“I think it could be due to the decrease in pass mark. When sixty percent was the mark students had to get to pass, learners put more effort in studying and concentrating in class. Now that it has been reduced to fifty, I think they feel they can relax because they are not required to give as much as before. If I remember correctly, the pass mark was decreased about a year ago.”
“Yes, you do have a point there Miss Lily.” Mr. Parker nods his head in agreement.
“After careful thought, I think the problem could be in the language department,” Mr. Stevens says. The comment grabs my attention.
“What?” I exclaim with shock and surprise in my voice, “You cannot be serious!”
“Calm down, let him finish,” says Mr. Parker. I sit up straight in my chair to hear what Mr. Stevens has to say. Being new and teaching senior level English, I have always given my best and my learners have shown great improvement from the level I found them initially. “Continue, Mr. Stevens.”
“As I was saying,” continued Mr. Stevens, “I think the problem is in the language department. We can all teach our various subjects to the best of our abilities, but if learners do not understand what we are saying or what the words mean, then whose fault is that?”
“I somehow agree with Mr. Stevens,” added Mrs. Miles. “We teach the whole lesson and think we are making progress only to find out no progress is being made when you see results of the weekly test. I was so frustrated with this once, I asked the learners why they perform so poorly when they write their weekly tests. They answered it is because they do not understand what the question is asking of them. If the question is in English and when I teach learners say they understand, the only thing left for me to conclude is that they do not understand the language, meaning the problem is with the language department.” I look around and some teachers are nodding their heads in agreement.
“How does that even make sense?” I blurt out, “Firstly, I thought as a teacher every new word and term you introduce you are suppose to define so learners know what you are talking about. Secondly, isn’t that why we have homework? So, learners go home, practice new concepts and we check how much of it they have understood at the next lesson.” I turn to Jordan, hoping and searching for a life line. He shrugs his shoulders as if to say ‘sorry, you are alone on this one’.
“As much sense as what you are saying makes, buddy, I have to agree with Miss Lily on this one,” adds Mr. Blake. “Image, the other day I asked my learners to write an essay on something and, while marking, I felt as if I had asked them to tell their favorite joke. The level of their writing was horrible. Even my seven-year old can write better.” He looks into my eyes and smiles. Such moments are amongst the moments when Mr. Blake is my worst person.
“Which other teacher is experiencing similar problems? Can we show it by the raise of hands?” Mr. Parker says. I look around; every teacher raises their hand, even Jordan and Clarke. I feel betrayed, Clarke and Jordan are the two people I thought would have my back, but even they turn against me. Making it all worse, Jordan does not even really teach, yet he raised his hand. I have nothing to say. I look to the principal who looks back at me and continues, “Seems it is a general concern, so what do we do? Maybe you could tell us what the problem is. Why are learners failing to learn and understand English? Why are they failing to express themselves according to the required level?”
I scratch the back of my head as if trying to dig out answers. “Well, I am really surprised that the performance has dropped as, according to my continuous assessment, they have shown great improvement from the level I found them.” I take a breath and continue, “I really do not think the problem is in my subject as much as I agree that my job is to teach learners English, there is only a certain amount I can do and that amount has been written in the syllabus. Nowhere in the syllabus does it say I am supposed to teach learners new words. I am only responsible for the usage of English and articulation. However, when we are learning something related to another subject, say Geography or History, I make it a point to define words that may seem new to them and you can cross check this in the learners’ work books.”
“So, what you are trying to say, if I understand you correctly, is that I should help you do your job?” asks Mr. Stevens.
“No, what I am trying to say is you should do your job efficiently.” I reply. The noise starts rising; I can see that some teachers are not happy with the reply I give. What do they expect me to say? I honestly believe the problem should not be blamed on me alone. I think every teacher should reassess himself or herself honestly before they blame it on me.
“Okay,” Mr. Stevens says, “If we are not doing our jobs efficiently, as you put it, why then did the drop only start happening a year ago? The only change we have had in this one-year period is the decrease in pass rate and you.” Silence fills the air, all eyes are on me. I feel cornered. If this were a boxing match, I would be knocked out right now. I turn to Mr. Parker, waiting for him to step in and put a stop to this nonsense. He looks back at me, waiting, expecting an answer.
I am speechless. I feel like I could dig a hole in the ground and bury myself. So many thoughts are racing through my mind. What do I do? What do I do? My blood feels like it is boiling inside me. I had worked at two other schools before this one and never had I received a complaint about my work or performance. This is all new and surprising to me. “Well,” I manage to let out, hoping my voice does not sound too shaky. “If you feel and believe the problem is my subject, then I have failed to do my job. Since, all along I thought I was doing my job, yet it turns out I am not, there is no reason for me to be here,” I manage to say calmly, “and if that’s the case, I quit.” I say it as I get up and walk towards the door.
I can feel eyes on me as I head towards the door. “Quit?” I hear Mr. Parker say in astonishment. “Isn’t that being a bit irrational…Wait, let’s…” the rest of the words are drowned by the sound of the door closing. I walk down the corridor towards the parking lot. As I open the door and take a step outside, I am welcomed by a gentle breeze and light rain. It is as if the weather understands how I feel right now. I reach my car, open the door, and get in. I sit there for a while, trying to recall and make sense of what has just happened. Still, nothing makes sense.
I turn on the car and drive out of the parking lot. I decide to drive around for a while as I try to organize my thoughts, as I try figure out what I will tell my wife. It is because of me we moved here and, ever since, she has been struggling to find a proper job. How do I go to her and tell her I quit my job, especially now that we are expecting a new member in our family? She will be angry, she will be beyond angry. I turn on the radio, and the song playing is as if someone is trying to comfort me. I hum along to the song …it means no worry, about a thing, cause every little thing is gonna be alright …“this is my message to you,” I sing along the last bit.
Polishing Your Writing to Make it Shine
I take a right turn and decide to head home. I know my wife will not be too happy, but I have now calmed down and am feeling a bit more confident than before. For now, I am just going to pretend everything is fine until I figure it all out. …come away with me my mobile starts ringing, bringing me back to reality. I look at the screen, it is my wife. I pull over and answer the phone. “Hi, honey, how are you?”
“Bill, where are you? Is everything okay? Some friends of yours from work were just here, apparently you left early because you were not feeling okay, they came to check on you and see if you were fine.” The anger that has just subsided starts to build up again.
“I’m fine, honey, on my way now, in fact, I am five minutes from home, will see you when I get there.”
“Okay, Bill, see you soon,” she says and hangs up.
Anger and annoyance build up inside me. Those teachers are such hypocrites, now they are concerned about how I am. Why did not they show the same concern during the meeting? Instead, they all seemed ready to crucify me. Like an innocent lamb, they were willing to slaughter me. I was starting to grow fond of this place, guess that will not be happening anytime soon.
I turn into the driveway and drive into the garage. I take my things from the car and head inside the house. As I open the door, my nose is greeted with the smell of my favorite dish. Events of the day and all negative emotions melt away.
“Honey, I’m home,” I shout as I close the door behind me.
“In here”, she answers back from the living room. I follow the sound of her voice. “How was your day?” she asks
“Same as every other day, really, nothing interesting,” I reply and attempt to change the topic. “How did your interview go?”
“Went okay, seems promising.” She brings the subject back to me, “How was the meeting, I was surprised when you friends showed up at our doorstep, I almost went into labor. I thought something bad happened to you.”
“You worry too much, honey,” I say as I lean over and plant a kiss on her forehead. “The meeting was okay,” I continue, “not quite as I expected, but okay.”
“Why, what happened?” she asks with concern in her voice.
“Nothing expected, everything unexpected,” I reply.
“Mmm, I know that tone. Oh, before I forget, your friends said I should give you this when you arrive.” She gets up and hands me a box with an envelope attached to it. I look at it suspiciously, wondering what is inside.
“Did they say what it is?” I ask curiously.
“No, just said I should give it to you when you arrive.” She says as she makes her way to the kitchen.
“Ok,” I reply and inspect it once again, wondering what could be inside. I open the envelope, take out the note and inside it reads: “Welcome to the team. Happy April Fools’ Day. See you on Monday.” I smile, put the note back in the envelope, and head for the kitchen. How could I forget that today is April 1?