LaDena is a special education teacher that loves to write. She writes about things that interest her and things she loves!
I taught for twenty years at one school. I taught special education – interrelated classes, specifically. I loved it there. I thought I would never leave. The other staff members were awesome, for the most part. Many of them had been there as long, or nearly as long, as me. It was my home away from home.
But then we got a new principal. I had been through many, many principals. I got along with most of them. The ones I didn’t get along with, I just stayed away from. I only talked to them when I had to – for IEP meetings and staff meetings, mainly. This principal was different.
I didn’t like her from the start. She came from high school and had never been at an elementary school. Never taught in one, and had never been a principal in one. And it showed. She had no idea how to talk to the younger students. She didn’t understand the elementary way of dealing with problems. She didn’t know how to get along with elementary teachers.
Oh, she had her favorites – both students and teachers. If you were her favorite, you could do no wrong. I’m sure one of her favorite teachers could yell at students all day while watching movies and they would never get in trouble. If you were a favorite student, you could – and did – get away with trashing a classroom and scaring the other kids, and you would be back in the classroom 15 minutes later. This happened all of the time!!
I was not her favorite. My students were not her favorites. I tried – I really tried. But I couldn’t get along with her. She had been an interrelated teacher in middle school. She thought she knew everything. Things are different in elementary school – not much, but enough that she really didn’t know what she was doing. I tried to help her, but she wouldn’t listen to me. She knew it all. When I tried to explain things to her, she would say things like “You think you know more than me? I’ve been in education for 15 years, I think I know what I’m doing!” I would try to explain to her that things were just different and that it didn’t mean that she didn’t know what she was doing – just that it was different. She didn’t listen. I gave up trying to help. But she had put me on her “list.”
There were many of us on her list – her imaginary list of the worst teachers in the district. And they happened to all be at this school. One teacher found out at the beginning of the year that she was on this list. She did the brave thing and called the principal out. There was a major argument that many overheard. The teacher decided that she wouldn’t put up with it and quit on the spot, leaving a vacancy at the time of the year when it was most difficult to get a new teacher. I really admired her for that and wished that I could do the same. But I needed my job and didn’t have the thousands of dollars it took to get out of my contract.
By the end of the first quarter, things were getting more and more difficult for me. My schedule had changed four or five times by then. Just when I got a schedule memorized, it would change again. Because of this, I was often in the wrong class at the wrong time. I would fix the problem immediately, but that wasn’t good enough for the principal. She called me into her office and told me that she was disappointed in me. She told me that students weren’t getting all of their special education time because I was never in the right place at the right time. I explained that I was trying and that I always corrected my mistakes in a timely manner – but she wouldn’t listen. I was wrong and she was right.
This began to destroy my mental health. I began taking time off work. I had the time to take off – it was written in my contract. But that didn’t stop the principal from calling me into her office once again about my absences. When I was absent, students weren’t getting their minutes. When I was absent, a substitute teacher with special education credentials would take over my students – they weren’t missing any minutes. I explained this to the principal. Again, she wouldn’t listen. I was wrong and she was right.
I took even more days off. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do. This just gave the principal more ammunition against me. By the end of the second quarter, I had used up most of my paid leave. It was getting that bad. I just couldn’t handle the way she treated me. And it wasn’t just me. She was treating other teachers the same way. One teacher was trying to help the principal by figuring out how dismissal would go at the end of the day. This teacher had it all figured out – and then told the principal. The principal decided to yell at this teacher in the middle of the hallway with parents and students all around. The principal asked the teacher “Are you trying to take over my job? Are you trying to tell me that I don’t know how to do my job? You are overstepping your bounds – toe the line!!”
I see now that the principal was acting this way due to her lack of knowledge and confidence in herself, but at the time, it was just added stress. I began taking unpaid leave. I couldn’t handle it. My mental health was suffering. By the end of the third quarter, I was out of leave completely. I decided to go to my doctor to see if I could get a long-term leave. He agreed that I needed it. I went to the principal with this news and she put me on administrative leave. I was escorted out of the building with nothing but the clothes I had on my back and my phone. Everything else – all my supplies, my computer, my books – had to stay there.
Because of the way the principal had assigned me administrative leave, it looked like I had been suspended from work. Because of this, I was assigned a district doctor that I had to see so that I would still get paid while on leave. This doctor had to agree that my leave was necessary. I went to the doctor and told him about my mental health and the reasons that it was getting worse. He assigned me to a clinical psychiatrist.
I went to the psychiatrist and did many tests over the next few days. The tests determined that I had generalized anxiety disorder with panic attacks and clinical depression. I was put on medication and prescribed a therapist, as well. I tried several medications before I found the right ones for me. It was actually a combination of medications that eventually helped me the most. A year and a half later, I was ready to go back to work.
The Beginnings of a Roving Teacher
Unfortunately, I was gone too long, so my job of twenty years was gone. But so was that principal! That didn’t help me, but it helped so many other teachers.
When I decided to come back, the district told me that I was going to be a roving teacher. I had never heard of that before, so I had to ask what that meant. Basically, I was told that a roving teacher is just a substitute teacher with a teacher’s contract. I would be called each morning at six a.m. and told where I was going for the day. When I first heard that, my anxiety sky-rocketed. I needed to know where I was going each day in advance! But I learned to live with it. After a little while, it wasn’t so bad, after all.
What they didn’t tell me about being a roving teacher is that, sometimes, there are no teaching jobs available. The first day of school in 2018, there were no teaching jobs available. I had to go to the district offices and do some work down there. That first day, I did mostly data entry. There were lists and lists of teachers and students that needed to be synchronized. I worked with another teacher all morning to get this done. By lunchtime, it was completed. We were needed somewhere else for the afternoon.
That afternoon we went to the school service center. In this center, there was everything you need to run a school – from books and supplies to janitorial supplies and everything in between. We were sent there to help distribute the new curriculum to the many different schools. Basically, we would find out a school that needed the books. We would count out a certain number of books, usually 28, for each classroom in the school. We would then box them up and label the boxes. There were usually four or five books that needed sets of 28 for each classroom. It was a hot job, because we were working out of a warehouse with only a huge fan to keep us cool. The people I was working with were very hard workers – they didn’t take breaks except for lunch. The process was that we would have to walk to the part of the warehouse that had the books, take them to the middle of the warehouse to sort them and box them, and then move the boxes to the other side of the warehouse to be shipped out. And we needed to do as fast as we could so that the boxes could get shipped in time for the second week of school. Like I said, it was a hot, tough job. But it was also fun.
The second day of school was more of the same. By the end of that second day, we had all the books boxed up and ready to go to their respective schools.
Finally in the Classroom
I didn’t get into a classroom until the fourth day. And it was an experience! Before that day I had never taught an art class – and never taught in a middle school. That day I did both. Luckily for me, the teacher left great lesson plans and the students were doing something simple – decorating folders for their art projects. I just had to supervise and maybe give a few ideas for the drawings. I did this each hour for seven hours. I met some amazing kids that were talented artists! It was an awesome day. It was great to be able to joke around and have interesting conversations with the students.
A few days later, I did another new thing – taught PE! I had subbed in a PE class more than twenty years ago, but this was a new experience. Luckily, there was another PE teacher working with me all day, so the day was fairly easy. My job was more about keeping students on task. I could do that!!
I forgot about how innocent the kindergartners and first graders can be. I had two different students in two different classes come to me and pat me on by oversized belly. Both asked “Do you have a baby growing in there?” No, my innocent little sweeties, just a bunch of fat!
Another kindergartner came up to me. He looked directly in my eyes. Then he pulled back for a minute, and then got real close again, saying “You look kinda old!!” Well, sweetie, I am kinda old!!
Things finally began to go in a pattern. Some days I would work at the district offices doing data entry, but more and more often, I was in the classroom. Working with kindergartners at the beginning of the school year was like herding kittens – lots of herding and a little work getting done. And then working with pre-kindergartners – it was even more rough!
Some Long Term Assignments
Before long, I was given jobs that lasted more than one day. One day, I went downtown to work because I had laryngitis. I couldn’t talk at all. When I got there, they had nothing for me to do, but they did have a school that desperately needed a sub. So badly that they would even take me with no voice! I went to the school, only to find out that they already found a sub while they were waiting for me. The only problem is that this sub did NOT want to be there. The class was a little bit rowdy. There were several students with special needs and needed lots of attention. The sub that was there just wanted to yell at the students. She didn’t understand students who wouldn’t – or couldn’t – settle down to learn. She expected all of the students to be perfect little soldiers and say “Yes, ma’am” every time she spoke. This school was not that kind of school…these kids needed someone that could be firm, but loving. These kids had to know that you cared about them and their education before they would do anything for you.
After that first day, I was asked to come back. The other sub was sent on her way. What I expected to be a two day assignment turned into a three week assignment. It was a rough class, but the students were all sweethearts. They didn’t want to cause problems, but they had learned that when they did, someone paid attention to them. So I just paid more attention to each student. The behaviors never did stop, but they did get better.
One little girl had many learning differences. She could barely recognize her letters, numbers and sounds – and this was a third grade class. When things got tough for her, she ran from the room. A few times she just ran up and down the halls. But mostly she ran to the assistant principal’s office. She knew that the AP would talk to her and help her with whatever activity she needed help with. Usually the AP and her would come back to the classroom and get the work she had been working on. They would take it back to the office and complete it. The little girl would eventually come back to class and work for a little bit before it started all over again. I tried to make sure that I explained the work very carefully and adapted it to fit her needs, but she continued to elope from the classroom. I just figured she needed the AP’s attention as much as she needed any assistance.
There was a young man in this class, as well. He thought the rules didn’t apply to him. At least, that’s what I thought at first. I would ask him to sit in his seat, and he would remain standing. I would ask him to stand up, and he would sit down. I would ask him to do his work, and he would just sit there. What I didn’t realize is that he was very low academically. He didn’t know how to read and barely knew how to add simple equations. I learned that if I could sit beside him and help him read the questions, he would be willing to work. If I couldn’t be there, he would act up and be silly. I did a lot of teaching sitting right beside him!
One particularly funny assignment was helping another music teacher. We were doing double music classes in her room, since I know nothing about music – except I like to listen to it! Everything was going very well – I was mostly supervising the students and making sure they weren’t getting into any trouble. The students were mostly doing a great with very few, minor behavior issues. Then it was time for the fundraising assembly! We took both groups of students to the assembly. The assembly was loud! Students were being asked to yell and shout over various prizes they could win. It was a controlled chaos. Then, right in the middle, we were supposed to switch classes! I was supposed to go and supervise another kindergarten class. I went over to the kindergarten side of the gym and stood by watching the students. The students were all being good, so there wasn’t much else to do. When the assembly was over, I motioned for the class to stand up and for them to follow me. We went to the music room. The teacher I was helping looked at me and then looked at the class. She said, “This is the wrong class – these guys are first graders!” I took these students back to the gym where their teacher was looking for them – standing next to the kindergarten class I was supposed to have! Thankfully, everyone was all right and we went to the music class to continue our lesson.
Back To My Roots
A couple of times I got to back to the school where I taught for twenty years. It was bittersweet. The plus side was that I knew most of the students and how to work with them. The bad side was that some of the teachers remembered that I was put on administrative leave and wondered what I had done to deserve that. Some of them thought the worst and couldn’t believe I came back. Others thought I had just retired and were happy to see me. Still others just didn’t care one way or another. The fun thing about being back is that this is the school that two of my grandchildren go to, so I get to see them throughout the day.
It Was The Teachers
I was at one school where the students weren’t an issue at all – the teachers were! I saw teachers yelling at students for minor behaviors. One teacher got right into a student’s face and yelled at him for over five minutes – just because the student dropped a pencil and it rolled across the floor. Another teacher grabbed a student by her shoulders and yelled at her to quiet down. One teacher yelled at the entire class for being too loud while completing an activity. I went to the principal and told her about all the things I had seen. She told me that she knew things like this happened. She had tried to replace these teachers, but was told that she couldn’t by the superintendent because this was a high needs school and there were no teachers who wanted to work here. She did report all the issues I had witnessed and put it in their permanent records after talking with the teachers.
Teachers Are Awesome
I was lucky that this school was the exception. Most of the schools I went to had teachers who were very kind and respectful to their students. Most teachers felt that their students were “their kids” and would do anything to protect them while they taught them.
Most teachers also left awesome lesson plans. These teachers would leave detailed instructions about what I needed to do throughout the day. Sometimes they even had separate folders for each subject with the books and any worksheets needed for that particular lesson. This made my life so much easier! Other teachers would put complete lessons on the computer to be shown on the smart board in their classroom. Once I figured out how to connect it all together, this made my life easier, as well. In those classes, I just had to pull up the lesson and go through each of the slides until the lesson was done. These lessons also had approximate times it should take me for each slide and for the entire lesson. I love technology – when it works! Those days that required the computer or smart board and those devices didn’t work for one reason or another – I wanted to run away and hide! But that’s where the other teachers in the building really helped!
One such time that I could’ve kissed the other teachers was when I got my call to go to a particular school. It was a K-8 school, meaning that students were in kindergarten through eighth grade. Most schools that I went to had a start time of nine o’clock. I was taking my time getting ready that morning when I got a call at 7:55 am. “Are you close?” the secretary asked. I told her no, I was still at home. She said, “You do realize we start at eight o’clock, right?” Ummm, no…I didn’t. I rushed around and made it to the school in less than fifteen minutes. Thankfully, the other teachers had taken the class I was supposed to be with and had taken them to music. Because of that, I had plenty of time to go over the lesson plans and still have a good day.
Kids Are Awesome, Too
My favorite part of my job is the kids, of course. I wouldn’t be doing this job if I didn’t like kids! I like working with the younger kids because they are so innocent and still love coming to school to learn. Some innocent comments from these younger students are just too funny. These kids are honest and can hurt your feelings quick if you let them. I choose to laugh, instead. A favorite question from all students is “How old are you?” I can give a quick lesson on manners and say “That’s not a polite question to ask.” Or I can just answer the question. What I like to do is answer their question with a question, “How old do you think I am?” Do NOT ask this question if your feelings are hurt easily!! They WILL hurt your feelings! But not intentionally. I have had students answer anywhere from 16 to 106! And I laugh at all of the answers. If a student guesses too young, I always laugh and say “I love you! You make me feel so young!” If a student guesses too old, I still laugh and say “Wow! Do I look that old??” Another question you do not want to ask if your feelings are easily hurt!
One young student, maybe a second grader, looked at me one day. She asked, “Why are you fading at the top?” I had to ask her several times what she meant. It finally dawned on me – I was beginning to turn gray at the top of my head! She thought I was fading! I told her that I was just going gray. She told me, “My mom went to the hairdresser and had her gray turned back to brown. You should do that, too!” She was so happy that she could come up with a solution to my “fading!”
A Mini Lesson
One of the things I like to do is give out small treats when students are behaving well. Usually a single M&M or Skittles. Sometimes a sticker or something similar. When I want to do “healthy” I give Goldfish Crackers or fruit snacks. No matter the treat, I always distribute them the same way – if you are on task when I begin passing out the treat, you get one. If not, you don’t. Simple. One day I had a class that was particularly unruly. There were four or five students who were almost always doing the right thing every time I looked at them. The rest of the class – about 10 or 12 students – were just not listening or not working or playing around or a combination of all of the above. I was giving the four or five students who were on task lots of treats. The others were not getting nearly as many. They told me I was treating them unfairly. I decided to do a quick mini lesson that I had learned many years before.
I told everyone to sit down and I would give them all a treat if they did. They all sat down. I gave them each a treat and told them if they could stay sitting and listening, I would give them another. Then I had three students stand up. I told the class “This person has a bump on her head. The second person has a scratch that is bleeding. The third person has a broken arm. I am going to treat them all the same. The each get a Band-Aid!”
The students couldn’t believe it! They all began talking at once, saying things like “That’s not fair! The person with the broken leg needs a cast!” and “A Band-Aid won’t help the bump on her head!”
I switched things up again. I said “Then everyone gets a cast!” Again, students began telling me how a cast wasn’t needed for the scratch and bump on the head. I then told them “Everyone gets an ice pack!” More grumbles about me not treating the “victims” fairly. I asked them to explain, and they did!
One student said, “You can’t give them all the same thing – that’s just not fair to them! They each need something different!!”
Another student, agreed, saying, “I know what you’re doing! You’re not treating us all the same because we are all acting differently!! If we all want a treat, we all have to do the right thing!” That young man got two treats from me. I gave everyone else a treat, as well. Lesson was learned!
The older students are fun to work with, as well. They might be more reluctant to learn in some cases, but there are way more activities you can do with them. They know how to follow more than one-step directions. They can work independently when necessary. And they know how to joke around and understand sarcasm!!
The older kids know how to get into more trouble, though. And it only takes a second for something to happen. One day I was working with fourth graders. There was one student that I was warned about in the lesson plans. It said that he angered easily, often with no obvious reason. That day it happened. We had just come back to the classroom from music. I was near the middle of the line. The students at the beginning of the line entered the classroom, even though I had told them to wait for me. In what was only a few seconds, I entered the classroom just in time to see my one little friend with anger issues take another student by the head and pound his head into the bean bag chair as hard as he could. I pushed the call button on the wall to call for the office as I ran to check on the students. Luckily, for me, the angry student stopped when he saw me. He ran from the room as the principal was coming in. The principal went after him and I got the class back in order. I sent the injured student to the nurse and continued on with the days lesson as best as I could. About an hour later the principal came back into the room and wanted to talk to the injured boy and a few students that had witnessed what had happened. He was trying to get the whole story.
It turns out that the injured boy had accidentally stepped on the angry boy’s foot, making a mark on his new shoes. This had angered him and he pushed the other boy into the bean bag. Luckily the injured boy had only a small bump and the principal suspended the angry student.
After school that day, I went in to talk to the principal. I wanted to know if there was something I could have done differently. He told me that I had done the right thing in calling the office as soon as I did. He said that the angry boy was working with the school counselor and one outside the school, as well. He thanked me for being there and asked me to come back again.
I’ve been lucky to have been at some schools for interesting activities. Spirit week is always fun, no matter what school you’re at. My favorite is Wacky Hair Day. There are some very interesting hair styles that come in on that day! I think the best was a little girl with her hair done up as a poop emoji! That was pretty awesome! Next to that was a girl with a pop bottle in her hair that looked like pop was spilling out.
One day I was excited to see that I had to supervise students while they were watching a play. The play was Newsies. If it was a professional acting troupe then it should’ve been! The actors were just amazing. At least as good as the movie, if not better.
Halloween is also a fun day. The school I was at that day had teachers dressed up as performers from a circus! The principal was the ringmaster. Students came dressed as so many different things! Some teachers were unicorns and so were their students. One teacher had styled her hair to look like a unicorn’s horn. There were also lots of super heroes, witches, cowboys and so much more!
Gifts Are Great
One of the perks of being a teacher – even a sub – is getting little gifts from the students – and sometimes the teachers. The little notes they left me were always so cute and heartfelt. I received many notes that said “I love you!” and “You’re a great teacher!” One even said “You’re a great teacher – for a sub!” The teacher that I subbed for over two weeks for sent me an edible flower arrangement. And I can’t forget the hugs! All of the kids – especially the younger ones – love to hug! I think those hugs were the best gifts of all!
A Great Adventure
Being a roving teacher has been a great adventure. No two days are exactly the same – even if I’m at the same school for more than a day. When I first started this journey, I expected my anxiety to skyrocket, but it hasn’t. I get a little anxious each morning, but nothing I can’t handle.
I’m ending the year on an even newer journey. I will be at an alternative high school working with middle and high schoolers do independent study on computers. A virtual school, almost. This is a brand new program and I am the first teacher for it. So far, I have one student, but am told that I will have more soon. The class is set up for at least twenty students. This will another great adventure.
A Song That Sums It All Up
I’ll end this with a song that I learned while helping with music teacher for several weeks. It kind of sums up how I have felt all year long.
“Am I welcome here?
Am I safe to sing or laugh or shed a tear?
Will I be loved the way I am?
Am I welcome here?
Am I welcome here?
You are welcome here!
You are safe to sing or laugh or shed a tear!
We love you just the way you are,
So have no fear!
You are welcome here!
This is a place of peace and grace
Where all of God’s children have a home
God’s reign will come
God’s will be done
All are loved and no one stands alone
All are welcome here
All are safe to sing or laugh or shed a tear
God loves us just the way we are
So have no fear!
All are welcome here.
I am welcome here!”
(song by Mark Burrows)
© 2019 LaDena Campbell