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In August 2007, I was a bright-eyed, brand-new student teacher. I had a placement in sixth grade English at the middle school I had attended. I was eager to get started, partly because I was excited to pass my love of writing and literature on to a group of new middle schoolers, and partly because I’d get to see some of my former teachers, some of whom had made an impact on my life when I was a shy sixth-grader myself.
Little did I know this experience would end up ruining my teaching career.
On the first day of school, I showed up early to greet the students and meet some of the other sixth-grade English teachers (there were three altogether that year). My mentor, Mrs. Ronald*, welcomed me and showed me the roster for our first class. I would spend the first two weeks of school observing her teaching methods and helping students during their daily language exercises. She had me do a few things to help prep the room, and five minutes before the bell rang, we were at the entrance to the classroom, ready to welcome the students to their first day of sixth grade.
The first couple of days were overwhelming and I felt like I was starting sixth grade all over again. The kids were a little wary of having someone watch them all the time, but I did my best to stay on the periphery. Occasionally, a kid would raise their hand and ask for my help when the teacher was busy with another student, but mostly I stayed in the back of the room, watching and taking notes.
By the end of the second week, we’d fallen into a routine, and I was beginning to be a little more involved with the students, as well as grading papers and making sure materials were ready for each class. It was fun, and I was really enjoying myself.
Unfortunately, things started to go south. I began to stay after school to grade papers and work on lesson plans for the coming weeks. Mrs. Ronald and I chatted about other topics besides school and the students during this time, which I now regret, because it was unprofessional on both our parts to get so personal.
At the time, Mrs. Ronald was having an affair with the principal of another middle school and often shared those details. Looking back, I should have shut down that conversation the second it began. I should have told her it made me uncomfortable and that I wasn’t the appropriate person to be sharing that information with. But I was shy and didn’t want to mess up the opportunity I had been given to work with this teacher, someone the students admired.
As the semester passed and I began to teach more lessons on my own, Mrs. Ronald got more and more comfortable chatting with me, which led to her telling me more and more details about her affair. I did my best to not respond, and it wasn’t a topic of conversation I ever initiated. I kept everything school-related, occasionally asking about weekend plans. I was in a professional role from the moment I walked in the door on the first day of school.
I mentioned the conversations we had to my parents several times; they always told me I was doing the right thing by trying to stay out of it and remain professional and focused on the students. There wasn’t much to be done beyond that, though, because I had to complete my student-teaching if I was going to be fully credentialed and able to have a classroom of my own at the beginning on the new school year.
Everything came to a head the day we returned from Thanksgiving break. I was nearing the end of my time at the school. In fact, all that remained was for me to spend two weeks observing other teachers at the school. Once I got through that, I could consider my student-teaching complete and begin looking for teaching jobs.
I hadn’t planned to stay after school that day, but Mrs. Ronald asked me to stay for a few minutes because there was something she wanted to speak to me about. I immediately got nervous, as I am prone to do in these kinds of situations. This time, I was right to have anxiety.
Once the last student and their parent were out of earshot and the classroom door was shut, she began to rant about what an awful teacher I was, how I didn’t know what I was doing, how I was only in it for the paycheck (never mind that I was paying my college to student-teach), that I wasn’t there for the kids. None of this was true, but I think she got scared that I was going to rat her out about her affair once I had my credential under my belt.
She ranted for 10 full minutes, not letting me get a word in edgewise. Not that I had anything to say, because frankly, I didn’t know what to say. I walked home in tears that afternoon, only to be greeted by a very worried mother because I was half an hour late getting home and hadn’t had time to call. I told her what happened and then called my student-teaching adviser who told me not to return to the school, that he would find me another student-teaching assignment for the next semester, after the holiday break.
I will fully admit that perhaps sixth grade wasn’t the smartest choice of grade levels for me, as I did have some struggles during the semester, but nothing that meant I didn’t know at all what I was doing. It was all normal student-teaching struggles, all things I would overcome with time and practice.
I student-taught for a second semester in a first-grade class at a Title One, at-risk elementary school, where things went much better and my mentor teacher was able to write me a good letter of recommendation. Unfortunately, it was all for naught because Mrs. Ronald had written me a letter and sent it directly to the school district in our city. That letter contains a lot of false information about my experience student-teaching under her and has prevented me from getting a job. I was “mentored” by her in 2007 and have never even been able to get so much as an interview with the school district, either as a full-time teacher or as a substitute. I tried for two years to get a copy of my records from the district, but to no avail.
As a result, despite being a licensed teacher, I haven’t had a single second of teaching time. I worked as an assistant at a preschool for a brief time, but I was only responsible for making copies, watching kids on the playground, etc. I haven’t had any actual teaching time as a teacher, despite having a Master of Arts in Teaching.
A few years ago, I gave up trying to get access to my file and no longer have the desire to be a teacher, something I wanted to do from the time I was in first grade. It’s sad how quickly things can change and how one person can ruin a career before it even has a chance to get started.
*Names and other identifying details have been changed.