Victory was fleeting. For one week, it appeared as though the system was beaten, and all was right in the world again. The students protested and won, applying lessons they learned in my class. They chanted "Save the Beard!" and "An injury to one is an injury to all!" or "Save our teachers!" How naive I now feel.
The day after the students protest I had the board meeting where the Board of Education was to vote on whether to approve or disapprove the recommendation of my non-renewal. The bad news was that the Board had not voted against a recommendation in years, and only a few times in the district's existence. In addition, I was bundled in for approval with all the other non-renewals, transfers, retirees, and other miscellaneous personnel changes.
When I pulled into the parking lot I greeted by a cop, who asked "Are you here to protest, or are you here for the meeting?" Security is out in force when dangerous activities abound. Amazingly, the students, their parents were out in force, and the State Representative from the district showed up, all for the TV news cameras.
The Board filibustered until the end, and finally opened up the room to speak. Dozens of students and their parents bravely got up and spoke. I learned a lot about what I do that night. How I was the only teacher that understood when one of my student's mothers was diagnosed with cancer, or how I was the only positive male role model in their daughter's life. I never felt more appreciated, overwhelmed, and right in my life. That night affirmed why I teach.
In the end, the board voted 5-2 to reject the recommendation for my non-renewal. We were all stunned. We had won. Stand and Deliver bitches!
That night, I sat on the porch with a few glasses of local whiskey and a few cigarettes. Victory tasted so sweet. I meant as much to those students, as they did to me. I was a teacher.
Those in power quickly moved to regain their authority. The day of the protest, I was pulled out of the classroom and placed on paid leave while an "investigation" was conducted. The human relations automatons and principals worked the board members behind the scenes and called for another board meeting a week later.
News once again showed up, but a smaller contingent of parents and students. Four days notice is tough for kids who need to take care of their families. The student's spoke passionately again. I lectured the members on history and checks and balances. We lost 4-3. Shit, Dead Poet's Society.
Afterward, I stood outside with my students and attempted to repair the damage. They were despondent. The Board destroyed their faith in the system. I explained that you don't always win and urged them to never give up, always speak their mind. We hugged, took a few photos, and I said that I was proud of each and every one of them, and they should have no regrets about anything they did. Those kids will run this country some day. They have morals and balls.
The next day, the students started working on their civil rights people's poster project, modeled after these. I made an example for the students, about the students. I asked the students to get it from my desk and pass it around the class. My sub tried to resist, but the student's didn't listen.
Ever since, I have been languishing at home on Elba Island, still on leave while an "investigation" proceeds. It is a bizarre feeling. I have accomplished so much in four years of teaching. What does the next 36 hold? Yet, here I sit, wasting away.
People ask if I am doing anything with my "time off." No, I am not. I am angry and melancholic. I have somebody teaching my kids. Many are ditching class. Retaliation from the district is not just affecting me, but the students also. I don't understand how somebody can work in education and not either care or see the damage they are doing by placing me on leave.
A great bathroom poet once wrote,
Here I sit,
all broken hearted.
Trying to shit,
but I only farted.
Strangely sums up the situation right now.