During my annual review, my principal, David, stood up from his desk and moved around in front of me to do a runner’s stretch. I sat watching as he leaned and pushed his weight into the desk, his back to me.
‘I know it’s been tough,’ he grunted.
‘How so?’ My hackles up, I faked ignorance.
‘You know your classroom is crazy. They were even out in the hall that time,’ David pushed his hands into the desk so that his legs extended out behind him. ‘Jeez, my hammies get tight,’ he grimaced.
I shifted in my chair, wondering if I should say something. He returned to his seat behind the desk, took a swig from his water bottle, made a weird face, like there was poison in there, and swallowed.
‘Look, I’m not saying you’re not getting your work done. But you need to step it up a little. Get more control. That’s all.’
‘They were practising a play that time. In the hall,’ I said, my voice catching.
‘I think the Teacher Support Conference is a great idea for you. I really hope it helps,’ he said.
‘Is that like being in trouble or something?’ I asked.
‘Well, yeah,’ he said, standing, the universal sign for Meeting Over. ‘Seriously, if you don’t figure out some solutions… well, I don’t know if you can, you know, keep teaching here.’
‘Okay. Well.’ I stood to leave.
‘Stay strong, girl,’ David said, closing the door behind me.
I entered Bad Teachers’ Camp (BTC), the name I quickly assigned to the conference, and was immediately surprised by the wide field of allegedly bad teachers.
‘Why are you here?’ a woman whose nametag said Donna asked, quickly offering, ‘I flipped out on this kid for making a bow and arrow out of my yard stick and a rubber band.’
‘I get bullied by twelve year olds,’ said Jess, a small young woman who emerged from behind Donna.
‘Yeah, I hear you,’ I said.
‘I’m an addict and I am getting divorced. It’s hard for me to care, to stay organized,’ Mike said.
We all sipped coffee in awkward understanding.
The energetic conference leader, Dan Razz, spellbinding in his delivery, began teaching us the acronyms of good teaching: LIM (less is more), FTM (fake it till you make it), PPP (prep, prep, prep), and LYV (lower your voice). He presented his practical, action-oriented lessons, like Write it! Don’t Recite It!, showing us how to communicate and streamline our instructions. Meanwhile, we read relevant essays from our binders and broke into small groups to practise our skills. My shoulders unhunched themselves a little more each day as I relaxed and began to have fun.
On the last day, Dan offered his final assignment with a soft voice and sincere face, hands tucked into his jeans pockets.
‘For your ticket out of here I want you to write me a letter telling me what you love about teaching and why you want to keep working at it. If you don’t love it, if you have no passion for it, tell me what you’d rather be doing.’
I looked around the room, noting various reactions. Donna’s right leg started twitching and her fingers drummed the table. Jessie looked stunned. Mike had this I don’t want to write a letter look on his face I recognized from my students.
I forced myself to face the blank white paper laid out on my desk. Why do I want to keep working at it? All I could think of was David stretching with his back to me. I put down my pen, folded my paper and shoved it into my purse. I would just leave. No one would notice. But before I stood, Dan Razz appeared, squatting by my side.
‘You know your principal, David, was sent here when he was a teacher, right?’ he whispered.
‘Really? No. I didn’t know that. He didn’t tell me.’
‘Yeah, not surprised,’ Dan said, handing me my pen and moving on to the next bad teacher.
Maggie Nerz Iribarne practices her craft in the third-floor attic of a yellow house in Syracuse, New York. Her story, “The Bayside,” won first place in Dead Fern Press’ 2021 Valentine’s Day Creative None Fiction contest (deadfernpress.