Stefani's most-fantastical-reads book montage

Crooked Kingdom
Six of Crows
Yellow Brick War
The Wicked Will Rise
Charm & Strange
Their Fractured Light
These Broken Stars
Big Little Lies
I'll Be There
Red Queen

Stefani's favorite books »

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Maybe this is my midlife crisis...

Maybe this is my midlife crisis.

If you had asked me two months ago what my plan for the future was, I wouldn't have even had to think about it. My future was working in Zillah, doing what I love, watching my kids grow up here, and being a part of the community that I love. This was my home. It was where I intended to put down my roots. I have spent 12 years working in the Zillah School District. I started as a para-pro at the elementary and worked while I put myself through night classes to earn my BA in Education. My dream from the start was to teach English or reading at the middle school in Zillah and that was the first position I was offered when I applied. It was perfect. As I grew to love the quirky middle school age group. I started coaching and eventually took on ASB which led to teaching a leadership class and running a mentoring program. I adored my job. 

Then this year happened. It was by far the most challenging year of my career - by miles. I started the year with a new principal and in the beginning, we got along great. We had similar ideas about student leadership and I thought that it was the beginning of a beautiful thing. It wasn't. In November I left for an NCTE conference in Atlanta. When my plane touched down and my notifications started coming in, I discovered that the guest speaker that I had booked and had approved a year in advance had been canceled without my knowledge or consent. To say that I was furious was an understatement. I had booked someone who would have had an amazing impact on our students. I could have dealt with being told that we had to cut the speaker but I believe strongly that I should have at least been consulted. If I hadn't heard from the company themselves, I wouldn't have even known that anything had happened. When I came home, I had to tell my ASB students that the speaker had been canceled and that instead, a friend of our principal would be speaking. I was angry and so were they. I know that I didn't keep some of my thoughts to myself and I should have but because of the way it was done, I had a lot of trouble with that.

A few weeks later we did our online StuCo survey. It is a routine that we do at the end of each semester to get a feel for what the student body is interested in for upcoming events and what suggestions they have for improving our school and activities. When the results came in and my students brought them to me, I was shocked. A significant number of the responses were related to our principal and they were incredibly negative and cruel. After sharing the results with her, she became convinced that somehow I was turning the students against her. Ironically, I was spending a lot of time trying to stop the negative comments about her - both in my content classes and in leadership. If you've ever worked with middle schoolers, you know how difficult that is. Needless to say, by Christmas break the tension was high. Things didn't get any better after we came back from break. In March I left for my ASB conference in Vancouver. The first day that I was gone was an in-service day for staff. First thing in the morning I started getting texts from coworkers that the topic of the morning was moving leadership to a before school class or an after school club - neither of which would work in our community. Again, I felt like as soon as I was out of the building, my program was on the table without me there to discuss or defend it. When I got back, I was reassured that the leadership program would stay and that things would go on pretty much as before.

Fast forward to May. Things were winding down for the year and I had started working on a presentation for some leadership kids to present at the board meeting at the end of May. We wanted to acknowledge the support that we had to put on new activities throughout the year and show them what we had planned for the coming year. I talked to the kids about presenting at the meeting and told them if they wanted to sign up to do it, we would put it on the agenda. Then we watched our TED talk for the day (if you haven't watched it, you should) about the use of language and the mindset that we have about gender roles. The speaker drops the f-bomb when quoting a player that she interviewed. A parent called the school the next day concerned about the content of the video. In hindsight, I should have sent home a note to parents about it and if it had been one of my ELA or history classes, I absolutely would have. However, in leadership, most of our conversations are about hard topics and I made the mistake of assuming that it was something they all could handle. My principal asked for the link so she could watch the video and then, throughout the rest of the day, students were pulled out of my classes and were interviewed. At the end of the day, some students came to me and confided in me the interviews made them really uncomfortable and that the questions were related to my character and the quality of teacher that they believed I am. I went into the weekend in tears, trying to understand what on earth I had done to make her question my character.

The following week, my union rep and I sat down with my principal and vice principal. She proceeded to tell me that she had interviewed students from my classes and that she believed that I was trying to pit students against her and that I was a poor role model for leadership. She had heard bits and pieces about students presenting to the board and somehow twisted it to believe that we were going to the board to try and get her fired. She could not have been further from the truth. She then told me that she was going to take my leadership program away from me and that I would no longer be the leadership teacher OR the ASB advisor at ZMS. My rep asked her if this was something that I could earn back if the following year went well and I was told, unequivocally, NO. Prior to the meeting, I had asked if I needed a rep, if there was some sort of discipline that I needed to be aware of, and I was told that there was no discipline to be assigned. After she told me that I would no longer be working with student leadership, I said I had been under the impression that no discipline was occurring. She smiled and said that it wasn't. She explained that she could assign or take away supplemental contracts as she saw fit. So I wasn't be disciplined but I was losing everything that I held dear. I lost it. I left school in hysterics. I went to my best friend's house and I bawled until I didn't have any tears left to cry. Then, I started updating my resume and applying for jobs. I knew that if I couldn't teach leadership or do ASB, the things that brought the deepest joy in my job, that I did not want to be a part of ZMS anymore. Leadership and ASB kept me grounded and made it so I could tolerate the bullshit that was thrown my way. I took two days off, updated my resume, and applied for several jobs around the valley.

The kicker came the day that I returned to work. A district administrator came to see me first thing in the morning and told me in no uncertain terms that the interviews and "investigation" did not yield ANY results that warranted discipline. Let me say that again - there wasn't anything in the investigation that HE conducted that warranted discipline. Then, a few days later I was visited by another administrator. He went on to tell me that the relationship between my principal and I was too toxic for us to continue in the same building. So, after 9 years at ZMS, I was told that I would be moved to a position at the elementary school. That sealed the deal for me. I was done with Zillah.

I have given 12 years to the Zillah School District and I intended to give my entire career to the students in Zillah. In nine short months, all of that was undone by one human. The saddest part is that I am not the only teacher at ZMS who has been put in this position, who has had to contact the union, who has considered leaving the district, who has felt isolated and unappreciated. I am one of several. In conversations with educators and administrators from other districts in the valley who have worked with this person, I am one of many. Prior to my resignation, I was told that I wasn't to share my story. Now that I am no longer a ZSD employee, I am exercising my right to free speech and I am sharing my story. I believe that I was treated unfairly and I believe that my reputation in Zillah speaks for itself. I know the truth about the situation and I know that truth about what went on in our building. I may not have been allowed to share it before, but I am choosing to share it now. I don't believe that silence solves anything.

It hasn't only been my career that has been impacted. This all came to a head as we were in the process of moving to Zillah. My commute has literally been flipped around. My kids will be in Zillah this year since we are living here but next year they will be moved to Selah. This has impacted every aspect of my life.

The saddest part of all of this and the actual point of this incredibly long post is that this entire year has made me question every part of myself. After I got the call from the principal in Selah, who expressed how excited he was to bring me on board, I realized how much my perception of myself had changed this year. I have always struggled with self-esteem but this year has been horrendous. I have questioned my ability as a teacher, as a wife, as a mom, and as a friend. I have doubted myself in every regard and I am so angry about it. I have lost an entire year of my life. I have lost a year of my kids' lives. I have been so depressed and full of self-loathing that I haven't been the wife or parent that I was designed to be. I will never get to go back and relive this time in my kids' lives, I can't go back and be more present in my marriage. I can't undo the poor decisions I made in regard to my health and wellness. I have lost an entire year to negativity, anger, doubt, fear, and hate. I am trying to find a healthy way to process that anger and harness it into being a better wife, a better mom, and a better human in general - but it is hard. I can choose to let it fester or I can write it out, share it, and move on with my life. I choose the latter.

I have a new chapter beginning - a new school, a new community, and new opportunities. I am excited and I am optimistic. I feel like in the weeks since I walked out of the middle school for the last time, I have started to see pieces of the real me again. I have started working out, playing with my kids, and being a human who participates in life again. This post is the endcap of a part of my life - it is the final lines in a dark chapter and I am so ready to turn the page. I am so grateful for the experiences and relationships that have been a result of my time in Zillah. The community has been awesome and supportive and I have taught some of the most amazing students and have watched them grow into kind, compassionate, successful adults. I value those memories and relationships more than I can express and they have shaped me into the teacher and human that I am today.

Thank you Zillah. I will love you always. <3 p="">
Selah... let's do this.

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