An argument ensued. The gist of it was this: I felt I hadn’t done anything wrong but, if I had, I’d more than owned up to it, and taken responsibility. I was sick and tired of being told that I was somehow unprofessional and that the tension and problems were my fault, especially considering how little my CT seemed to be in the classroom herself, not to mention what happened at outdoor school. She made little effort to communicate or welcome me into the classroom. I received increasingly ambivalent or hostile reactions to my presence. What’s more, my graduate studies were intense and disorganized. I was just trying to keep my head above water and I thought it wasn’t too much to ask for a little compassion.
But my CT saw it differently. Everything I said seemed to be an excuse to her. When I told her I had a lot of my plate and that I was just asking for a little bit of understanding—not any kind of special treatment—just a basic understanding of my perspective, she snapped back that “this was a job.” I was so taken aback that I asked, “Is it unreasonable to ask for a little understanding.” Her response was “understanding is one thing, but this is a like job and you have expectations. You can’t just leave early because you’re tired.”
My reply was that I’d already apologized for that, and I’d only left early that day because I didn’t know what my roll in the classroom was, not to mention I’d been up since 3:00 A.M. and had lots of work to do. Her response was, “This is a job. You wouldn’t say that to your boss… And I am like your boss.”
I’d been attempting to survive the placement the best way I knew how: by taking it seriously and putting my head down, working hard until tension started to lift, and being respectful of her territory. Somehow, this backfired on me; she seemed to read my actions as disinterest and distain for the entire teaching profession. And when I tried to tell her that I didn’t even feel comfortable addressing these issues because of the power dynamics (me, being essentially a guest in the classroom, allowed in by her grace), she just snapped again “this is a job.” By her logic, my experience was exactly like any job; there is always a power dynamic in the hierarchy of any workplace.
And that’s true. Except it’s not really that same thing. Yes, she has a boss. But she gets paid to be there and has union protection for her job. She has her own teaching certification and her own classroom. She’s not a guest in the school. She has a lot of freedom to run the classroom according to her own style. If she wants a day off for any reason, she gets a sub. I, on the other hand, hadn’t missed a day even though I’d had a persistent cold for about a month. Were I to call in sick, I would need to contact my CT, my cohort leader, and my university supervisor. For me, it wasn’t a “real” job. It was an internship. And, while that entailed certain expectations (which I believed I was more than meeting), it also meant that I was there to learn. And it meant that I had other responsibilities including my graduate coursework and my actual paying-job that helps make ends meet. And it’s not fair to reduce my life and responsibilities into a simple ranking of priorities; all of those things are important for different reasons. The issue wasn’t that I didn’t prioritize the field placement. I did. In fact, taking it seriously while being in a hostile environment had been perceived as scorn for the profession, while paying attention to my own sanity and valuable time had become unprofessional. The issue was fundamentally communication breakdown and lack of respect building into a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t ensnarement.
She’d already verbalized that even trying to understand my perspective was too much to ask. I kept saying throughout the course of the argument that I could see I wouldn’t be able to convince her to agree, and it seemed pointless to have the argument. I essentially surrendered a dozen times, but she kept at it, spitting a new attack from a new direction before I could finish responding to the one before it until, at last, she also said she was “getting angry” and needed to end the conversation. Then she looked me straight in the face and told me, “Ok, I’m not setting you up to fail, but I’m going to have you plan the opening activity today. Because of outdoor school, it’s been a long time since we’ve read The Misfits. You can ask me for help or not—it’s up to you—but we need to design something to remind them about what we’ve read.
I was angry and not about to ask for help. I also didn’t really understand exactly what she wanted, but I set up a brief activity to jog their memories as she’d asked, thinking she would design some sort of mini lesson. That wasn’t her plan. I got the lesson going with the memory jog activity. When I was done, there was an awkward moment in which I didn’t know what to do next, but she continued working at her desk. So I had the students set up the composition book and started the audiobook and taught the rest of the class while my CT just busied herself with other tasks and even left the room for long periods of time. I was in a blinding white-hot rage. She’d completely dumped the class on me, which I would have been glad about in different circumstances. But the communication had been so bad I hadn’t understood that by, “plan an activity,” she meant, “teach the whole class.” I thought I’d done all right, considering, but I felt completely unsure about myself and angry.
The tension was worse—much worse—than it ever had been. After first period she went out for her hall duty without saying a word. I went out also to monitor the halls. After that, it was prep period. She came back into the classroom and I followed, assuming she would discuss my “lesson plan.” Instead she said this:
“Forrest. I think I’m going to send you home early today. And don’t bother coming back in tomorrow. I’m really upset by what you said. You can tell your university supervisor all the terrible things about me you want. And I’m going to email her also and tell her what you did.”
And that was the end of my placement. I carefully packed up all my things, making sure not to forget anything and drove home.
photo credit: Cryill via Flickr