How an Old Teacher Learned to Survive in a New Position Where Cattiness and Cliques Rule

Mary McLaughlin
Special Education Teacher

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My good friend Marti had a very nice job in a district near her home. She was a Special Education Teacher in a self-contained classroom. Her ten students were moderately to mildly disabled. Two of her kids were medically fragile but in stable health.

Marti was very connected to her students' families; in fact, she frequently found herself invited to Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas events, birthday parties, family weddings, and more. She had become woven into the fabric of her students' lives.

Marti had the benefit of a three minute commute from her home. She had a wonderful connection with her paraprofessional-the kind where one could read the other's mind. They socialized outside of school and attended church together.

The Director of Special Education for Marti's district was notoriously disliked for the way she handled pretty much every situation. She was negative in her demeanor, cross with everyone, and for the most part, the district's Special Education staff stuck together and assisted each other in making sure they remained upbeat and positive with each other to the best of their abilities.

Money Matters…

Marti was content working for the mid-sized school district in a Southern town, but the one thing that remained a crushing weight against the chest of her family was the fact that as a Teacher who had relocated from another state, Marti was being paid as though she was a brand new Teacher.

Even though she had nearly 20 years of experience under her belt, Marti's pay reflected the number of years she had worked as a Teacher in her new home state.

With her two Master's degrees and numerous years of experience, Marti could not pay all her bills to live a basic, no-frills lifestyle each month.

…and so she decided to apply for a new position in a different district.

Going Hunting…

Marti knew that for the sake of her own special needs son, she would not be able to commute longer than 20 minutes. This narrowed her job search significantly. Having to be home to meet the bus on which her son came home from his own adult day program meant she needed to be home before 4 p.m.

Marti applied for a Special Education Teacher position in a district 20 minutes from home but one with a wonderful reputation for providing a quality education to the children of their community.

Marti wouldn't be offered the job because she was considered expensive. Those two Master's degrees would cost the district an extra $15,000 compared to a candidate fresh out of a local college. The district Special Education Director thanked her for interviewing but said they would be passing.

Knowing her options were limited, she gave up the search until one day early in her summer break when a call came in. A friend in the neighboring district said a position had opened up in an alternative education room for children in grades four though six. The Teacher would need to be certified in Special Education to meet the requirements necessary for the class to receive funding.

Marti applied online on Sunday. On Monday, she received a phone call offering an interview the next day. By Thursday of the same week, she was offered the position with an $8,000 pay increase.

New Horizons…

Exited to launch into a new position, Marti was excited to blend her Special Education experience with her lauded behavior management techniques.

Within days, she reached out to the former classroom Teacher, as she'd been instructed to do by the district's Special Education Director.

What she didn't expect was the chilly greeting she received.

Marti hoped the less-than-warm greeting was attributed to the fact that the former Teacher had recently made the difficult decision to take a new position and was dealing with the busyness of relocating buildings. Marti felt the best thing she could do was simply ask the kind of questions that would give her a feel for the way days typically unfold in the specialized classroom.

At every turn, the outgoing Teacher told Marti she would just have to figure it out on her own as she learned how to interact with the students' personalities.

She's a Brick House…

Having been around the proverbial block once or twice, Marti decided she would chalk up this Teacher's attitude to something other than what it seemed to be: regret for choosing to leave.

If Marti was being honest with herself, as her friends prodded her to do, it would seem that the district wasted no time at all in filling the job Marti was now stepping into.

The summer went by. Training sessions and in-services occurred where she met her new team members. Oddly, she noticed the same chilly reception from them but she decided she would not take any of it personally. She began to feel the dreaded Mean Girl vibe coming from her new workmates.

The first day back-to-work meetings came. Her new teammates would not sit with her but our Marti Girl didn't pay any heed to their juvenile behavior. Instead, she held her head high and started her new year preparing to do what she had been hired to do: teach.

But really…this is not they way she wanted things to be…not at all.

Over the next few months, the team of 4 became a team of three and one. Marti held her head high, was kind to her students, did her best to teach lessons to grade level content standards, and treated the kids with the dignity they deserved while holding them to the high standards she expected. The two paraprofessionals made it evident at every turn that they would make every effort to besmirch her in front of her students. Marti stepped in and clarified things appropriately. She knew the students were old enough and perceptive enough to see what was going on. She didn't really care if her adult peers liked her or not, but she did care about the example the adults were setting for the students.

After a time, Marti went to her superiors to discuss the tenor within her classroom and program. Conversations were had; attitudes did not change. Reprimands were issued, but it seemed they fell on deaf ears.

Marti wondered if leaving her former district had really been worth it. Even though the salary increase that came with the new position was great, dealing with high school girl attitudes from fellow faculty really didn't feel as though it was worth it in the long run.

Reality Bites…

One of the realities of Teaching, especially in the niche of Special Education, is the fact that Teachers change districts. Sometimes often. It's not that we're seeking perfection, but for many of us, we are looking for pastures that might be a bit greener. None of us are daft enough to think that there is one perfect district or situation.

Our days are long. We give of ourselves all day long. We spend a lot of time making sure our paperwork is done, making sure our students are treated with equity, making sure our classrooms have the basics (even if they're from the school's leftover supplies), and making sure our students feel the loving-kindness we have for them.

Our ideal of a perfect environment is not the same as that of our general education peers,

however, we ARE clever enough to believe there is one perfect district or situation FOR US individually.

It's like chasing the proverbial brass ring. We want better-for our families, for ourselves. We stay in situations that give us stomach aches from stress because we're unsure of the Devil We Don't Know versus the Devil We Do Know.

Old Broad, New Tricks…

What's the moral of this story? Why did I deem it so important that it needed to be shared?

As the old lady in the game, it is my opinion that I have earned the right to say this: because our world spends too much time embracing only what's good for us as individuals; we do not consider how we can be of support to others as they work toward finding what's great for them.

We humans can be a selfish lot.

Mean Girls…

Why are women so UNKIND to one another, especially in the workplace? We need each other. We need the wisdom proffered by our peers, be they young or be they seasoned. Why are we spending no time giving one another a hand up the ladder of success and instead, giving one another a high-heel to the head??

Over the years, I have worked so hard to align myself with peers of all ages. The young ones bring fresh ideas and new insights to be considered; the seasoned ones share the wisdom which can only be gained from years in service. How many times have I hugged a coworker as they shared their heart regarding various matters of life? How many times have I considered their insights before making a decision? Too many to count!

It is so frustrating to see people be cruel to each other. There is no shortage of cranky coworkers in most schools, and wise is the one who learns to exit the room as the school's Grumpy Gus enters. Left unchecked, the resident grouch assumes their behavior is okay and their curmudgeonly natures are acceptable.

Wise and brave is the administrator who takes these folks to task. No, it's not funny that people exit when you enter. No, it's not cute that others say they'd rather not work with you. No, people are NOT being too sensitive: you're just mean!

If we work together, we are stronger. A rope is made up of not just one single thread. It is made up of many threads which are tightly woven together to create a strong tool intended for a variety of tasks, including lifting up others.

With so many clichés popping into my head right now, all I want to be sure and communicate is this one simple point: find your spot. Make it a great place. Nest in it. If the other birds are pecking at you, find your flock. Your flock may not be in your hall…heck, they may not even be in your building…but you have people in your life who know you're doing good work. Lean on them. Let them love you to success, just like you love your students to success.

Be a thread within the strong rope. We need to bind together, we need to count on each other, we need to celebrate the successes of one another, and we need to lift up each other in our daily thoughts. If we continuously try to crush the spirits and souls of those around us, we're only showing our students that the world is right: Teachers don't deserve to be respected because they can't even bare to respect each other!

Who are YOU that you get to teach THAT ugly lesson??

Rise up, people. Be the best.

Be kind.

"Kindness is a language the blind can see and the deaf can hear." Mark Twain

Mary McLaughlin

Mary has always loved learning, but was a struggling learner who couldn’t read until one day, the right teacher came along with the right methodology, and everything clicked for Mary. Understanding the struggles of children who just “don’t get it,” Mary has spent her career supporting children with learning difficulties and finding ways to excite them about education. Over her career, Mary has taught Second Grade, Third Grade, and served as a Middle School Administrator in Michigan, most often in the urban setting. In 2015, Mary relocated to Arkansas in search of new opportunities and is excited at all that has been placed before her. She currently teaches Special Education in a self-contained setting for children in grades 2-4.
Mary McLaughlin