For the first time in my seven-year career, this week gave me the sudden and unpleasant experience of being firmly on the wrong side of an aspect of my chosen and beloved profession. Of course, the issue at hand was not related to anything about my choice of lessons or how I acted in the major focus of the gig (teaching science to children), but rather in how I did not do as I was supposed to during a particular safety drill. It was an experience that brought me very close to being on the receiving end of the kind of administrative counseling memo that I have seen handed down to teachers more times than I can count in my experience as a union representative, and served to remind me that while one can endeavor to be spot on perfect in all that one does, every so often, one will invariably fuck it up royally.
I can’t really explain why I didn’t do what I was supposed to during the safety drill, and whatever thoughts I do have on it, they don’t remove the onus of my stupidity from off of my shoulders. Essentially, I didn’t really understand the difference between the “lock down” drill, and the “lock out” drill (embarrassing enough on its face), and I didn’t put in any time to learn the difference before finding myself firmly in the middle of the former, for the first time that one has ever been run in our building. I was too busy stringing up an instructional sequence, purchasing supplies for a lab that I wanted to run AP Biology through for the first time, holding extra help for Honors Chemistry during my lunch periods, rewriting my presentations for the last few lectures before the AP exam, attending one site-based, one BOE, and one union council meeting, and generally doing all of the things that I love doing in my professional life. This is not mentioned to absolve me of my responsibility for the transgression, but only because these things were, in fact, what I was doing with my week. Even then, when the procedure was made clear to me, I decided that in my particular circumstance of room and students, going through the motions was not a proper course of action. This was not the correct thought to have.
So it was that I found myself firmly on the administrative radar, dealing with a team of building administrators whom I respect in the utmost, who seemed firmly puzzled by what had to have come across as a total nonchalance for a safety drill that they had worked for a good while to roll out coming from a teacher who is often calculatedly flippant in persona, but never before seen to be nonchalant about anything of any importance. While I did buzz through a cursory apologetic conversation about the issue on my way to preparing for an incoming class of Honors Chemistry students, and spend the rest of the day framing conversation among colleagues with a description of just how asinine my brainfart had been, I did not really appreciate the full gravity of the situation until I got home and received a puzzled phone call from the union President, wondering why it was that he had received an upset phone call from the building Principal regarding the lack of care demonstrated by this union Vice President in dealing with an issue related to student safety.
It was then that the conceptual chickens came home to brood, and I understood more fully just how badly my actions had come across. Once made clear, I resolved to speak to the Principal today, and wrote a brief, profoundly apologetic email to the same, in case he might not be around on a Friday during the week before vacation, or if the various feces that seem to stir up in a high school at this time of year decided to fly and he was simply too busy to deal with my piddling neuroses.
All of which led in to today, which promised to be a long one from the get go when, upon grabbing my lunch box from my car when I pulled in to work, it promptly opened of its own accord and distributed my lunch evenly upon the asphalt. During the first period of AP Biology, as my students worked through the procedures that they had designed for a lab to assess response time in their nervous systems, my immediate boss stopped in to tell me that he had been asked to speak to me about my stupidity, and that the dreaded “write-up” was most likely unavoidable. To suggest that this made my day any better would be a lie, but I was already expecting such a line, so it didn’t make things any worse. Following my first three periods of classes, I made my way down to the office, where I was able to speak to the Principal for a good long while about many things, the particular offense being only a small slice of a much larger pile of personal shit that I have been working to shovel, and during which time it was made well clear to me that the demonstration that I was not, in fact, perfect at all times would not be held against me in any lasting capacity. I left that meeting feeling rather comfortable with receiving a written warning if necessary, and began to relate to it as something that would almost be a necessary facet of experience in the larger framework of teaching, particularly if it aided the administration in the demonstration that no teacher should be considered to be above reproach, a tenet that I hold deeply to in my own sentiments of how things should be done.
Tangentially, I can only imagine that most of the teachers whom I love and respect have, at some point or other, been called on the carpet for some stupidity or other, and reiterate that my actions were fundamentally not correct in the situation that I was in. As it turned out, I think the conversation that I had with the Principal demonstrated that a write-up was not particularly necessary, given the fact that this is the one instance of any disciplinary issue ever evidenced in my career to this point in time, and that I was already well into a period of self-flagellation that was more effective than any administrative punishment could be. Among other things, the fact that work had suddenly become something other than the distraction that it has been since the sadness of the winter, meant that a particular bottle of emotions that had been welled up for a few months was uncorked (to the chagrin of my better half, who found herself having to deal with a suddenly weepy spouse for the first time since early January). For that aspect alone, on a personal level the entire experience was probably worth whatever discomfort it caused me.
So that was the end of my week. All in all it had been a strange week, with me in a state of profound exhaustion for most of it. Ironically, on the day of my particular safety drill offense, the better half had remarked to me that perhaps I should take a day off, but I brushed it off, given the schedule of AP at this point in the year, and the fact that I was giving Honors Chem. an exam today. And even though my decision making was sufficiently muddled to warrant the worst blip on the radar of my entire career (I’ll leave the significance of the fact that this instance qualifies as such to the reader), I still feel like the decision to teach my classes even at a point of exhaustion is what separates those of us who love the job from those of us who like it enough. Quite simply: I wanted to be in school on Thursday. Also, it turned out that my voice as the union VP was needed at the building meeting, wherein I had to remind a certain faction of the staff that the union’s job is to protect its members, in relation to something very distant from my own situation that has occupied the attention of the staff for the past little while. For those items alone, I would go through it again if I had to (though I am certainly glad that I’ll never have to). The worst part is the embarrassment, if for nothing else than for being a momentary part of the problem, instead of my customary gig as part of the solution.