When I came of age as a teacher, for women who entered the field, teaching was a first career choice. Generally, we were not single parents with children. Other than juggling the responsibilities of teaching our students, our outside the school house juggling acts included hanging out with friends or a significant other, going to the club, shopping, attending a movie or concert, traveling. Having escaped our parents’ watchful eyes and having graduated from college, we could EXHALE .
New teachers who were married were on a different path: perhaps putting a spouse though medical or law school, saving money for a down payment on a home. When children came along some stayed home or took time off until they were in school. Even those who returned to teaching after a maternity leave looked forward to the scheduled time off. In reality, many women opted for the teaching profession because the school calendar/schedule enabled us to navigate a family and to earn an income. By the time life’s BIG CHALLENGES came along, most of us had mastered teaching the content and fine tuned our classroom management strategies. Not the case with Amina and Carrie who entered the field as 30 something women, the primary economic heads of their households, coping with failed relationships and child(ren).
A young high school teacher bursts into my office emotionally distraught. Recently married and with a young daughter who is not her husband’s child, she shares with me that she feels as if she is being torn between two competing forces. Her daughter is needy because for most of her young life they have been a duo. She resents having to share her mother’s attention with the husband. The new husband feels as if he should be first in his wife’s life. That’s what the Bible says. Every night Amina is caught up in a tug of war which prevents her from proper
The chair of the department has requested that I work with Carrie, a young, 1st year teacher who is experiencing classroom management difficulties. Her attendance is poor and her lesson plans when she turns them in are incomplete.
After chatting with the teacher informally on several occasions, I learn that she is in the process of divorcing her husband. Carrie is leaving an interracial marriage with two children. Her husband doesn’t want to divorce; her parents never approved of the union. Every evening is a steady stream/barrage of phone calls, unexpected knocks at the door, meal preparation, homework monitoring. Of course, lesson planning and assessing papers are an afterthought. Each day is a struggle to get up, get the children off to school and get to work. Carrie is emotionally and physically spent by the time she arrives in front of her classroom door to greet her students. Daily, she hides behind her desk which nonverbally communicates to students: Do not disturb.
Coaching Challenge: Can These Teachers Be Saved?
Eventually, I am called to the office by the principal who is concerned about both teachers and wants to know what I am doing about the situation. Naturally, she is worried about the school’s test scores because both teachers teach in content areas that are tested. Priestlike in my demeanor, I DO NOT divulge any information about the two teachers’ personal lives or their weaknesses as teachers. However, because they send so many students to the office and their department chair has reported to her the state of their lesson plans, she is aware. She informs me that she is considering placing both teachers on the unsatisfactory track which is the prelude to being released.
Historically, American schools have been the least successful educating a population living in poverty, a population often parented by the chronically unemployed, or underemployed, or chemically dependent. We call such a population at-risk. We are well aware of the adversities they face daily and our moral responsibility to try to overcome them
However, some of our teachers go through periods of living on an emotional roller coaster in their personal lives too. What is our responsibility to them? What is my responsibility to Amina and Carrie vs. my responsibility to their students? Can they be reconciled? Can these teachers be saved? Should they be? Should I recommend to the principal that they be placed on the unsatisfactory track? Once she decides on that option, all confidentiality goes out the window because the principal becomes my client. I am obligated to report to her all that I know so that she can build a case against them. As professionals, how much of a responsibility do we have to one another? As humans, how much of a stake do we have in one another? What would you do?
A Coach’s Journey