There were a few times that I was almost ready to quit teaching all together. Here is one of those stories that happened to me years and years ago when I just started out in Canada. Things have changed so much for the better that I think it is about time for me to write down some of my interesting encounters.
After I had started teaching in Ontario for about a year, the education sector began to feel the funding crunch from the government during a recession. At first, I thought I had hit the jackpot to finally get a teaching job after three long years of unemployment, but the good time did not last. There I was about to be laid off a year later. I, along with more than 400 other new teachers, was given a lay-off notice in the spring. Fortunately, the bad news only lasted through that summer. I eventually got called back by the Board to a substitute position a few months later in September. Although the supply job was not a permanent position, it was definitely better than doing nothing at home.
The school I was assigned to was in the same neighbourhood where my old boss resided. It was such a coincidence that I happened to be placed in the very same community school where his children went. My old boss had warned me in advance about the school and the principal before I even started my new teaching post. He claimed that the principal was “a racist”. My boss was of South Asian descent and I knew for a fact that, my boss already had a few interesting meetings with the principal when I was still working for him. However, I kept telling myself that I needed to go to my new job with an open mind.
The school had a large ESL student population. The principal treated me all right when we first met. He was friendly but did appear to be a bit eccentric and a loose cannon when communicating with others. Sometimes he would blurt out something that might not be appropriate for his position. I also heard rumours saying that he would only hire tall blond teachers. In fact, I was told by some staff that if I were not assigned to that post due to my contract with the board, the principal wouldn’t have hired someone ethnic like me. As a minority teacher, I used to hear comments like that, but I would usually listen with a grain of salt and keep my thoughts to myself. The truth is that you can not simply believe everything you’ve heard!
A few months into my teaching at that school, I gradually got to know the people there better and how the school’s dynamic operated. However, I did not know all the students and parents well enough even though it was only a school of about 600 students. Certainly, not all the parents knew me well, either.
One winter day when I was on the outdoor recess duty, I broke up a fight when the recess bell rang. Two boys were pushing and punching each other at the doorway where the younger students were lining up to come into the school. I pulled both boys apart, scolded them for endangering the younger children who were lining up nicely. I quickly sent both of them back inside after the talk. I chatted with one of the teachers as I was on my way in. I told her what had just happened outside about the two boys’ fight. She told me that one of the boys had a sister who was in her class. She knew the family well and she suggested that I should immediately report the incident to the principal because the parents always blamed the school for picking on their children.
I did not know the family at all but I did follow the advice and reported to the principal about the recess incident. Later, I was so glad that I did that! By the afternoon, the principal had received a phone call from the boy’s father about arranging an interview for the next day. The parent complained that a teacher (me) had “grabbed” his son by force and would like to request a meeting for this matter. (Note 1) The meeting was scheduled for the afternoon on the next day. My principal told me that he would ask a teacher to take my class for me when the parent arrived. He wrote down the details of the whole incident and reminded me that he would do most of the talking the next day.
To be honest, the night before the meeting, I was quite nervous about how the meeting might unfold because I had never encountered such a problem in my entire teaching career. However, I do know my legal responsibility and rights. I did nothing wrong but simply followed my assigned duty at recess. I told myself how bad could it be? I was simply quite naïve.
When I walked into the principal’s office the next afternoon, the parent was already there and they already had a chat. The parent was a tall big man who probably could have lifted me and shredded me into pieces right there. He, however, was a bit surprised to see a small Chinese looking teacher walk through that office door. Apparently, the parent previously told the principal over the telephone that his boy told him that I lifted him off the ground with my two bare hands and shook him violently. The fact was that I was about the same height as his son who was in grade five. There was no way that I could have done that!
When the meeting started, the principal did most of the talking until it was time for me to recount the event. I clearly explained to the parent about the whole incident. I also told the parent that it was my duty to protect any child from being harmed by others. The two boys were fighting right at the doorway where the younger students were lining up to come into school. In fact, his younger daughter was also in line and their safety was my concern and responsibility.
Surprisingly, the parent replied to me that his daughter did tell him about what had happened but he did not believe her story. (What!) I chuckled and told him that he should have listened to his daughter’s version of the story. I did have to physically separate the two boys by holding on to their puffy heavy winter coats to pull them apart. In fact, I had to step in between them to be the human sandwich to prevent them from jumping on each other again. I was really putting myself in danger for doing so.
I sat there and listened to the parent’s blabbering about how all the teachers at the school had mistreated his son over the years. I was not impressed but, as an inexperienced teacher, I listened on. I thought at this point at least my part of the meeting went well until the principal turned to me and said, “Mr. XXX mentioned that his son has bruises on his arms because you grabbed him, lifted him off the ground and shook him.”
OK. I was very professional and polite throughout the whole meeting, but when I heard what he just said, I was ready to explode. (Thank Goodness, I didn’t though.) I suddenly had the strange sensation of “calmness before the storm”. I didn’t know where I got the courage. I paused and then replied, “Mr. XXX, I have explained to you about the whole event in detail. Are you implying that I have physically abused your child by “grabbing” him with force and bruised him on his arms?” The principal then immediately jumped in to say, “Yes, yes. Are you implying that, Mr. XXX? Maybe we should call your son to check his arms.”
I might appear to be calm but deep down inside me, my anger was boiling furiously. I stood up then and politely but firmly announced to both of them, “I am sorry, Mr. XXX and Principal YYY. If you are implying that I have physically abused and bruised your child yesterday, I would like to officially end this meeting right now. I am sorry that I would have to call my lawyer first before I continue this meeting with you.” (Note 2) The principal immediately jumped in to say, “Yes, Mr. XXXX, we have to stop this meeting for her to call her lawyer first. If this is the direction that you would like to take, I suggest you should contact your lawyer as well.”
Right then, I stood up and was ready to leave the office when the parent suddenly changed his tone and stood up to stop me from leaving the office. He said that he did not wish this matter to go beyond that office door. He would like to solve this problem at the school level. Anyway, I politely gave him my last statement that I had told him the whole truth that happened at recess and I had done everything I could in my power to stop his son from fighting with the other boy and endangering himself and the small children. I suggested that he should talk to his son about the true story, and maybe listened to his younger daughter and believed her for once.
I walked out of that office with steam coming out of my ears! Anyway, I was not ready to budge for something that I did not do and to give in to someone who had a blanket accusation against all teachers at the school of being racists towards his children. I might be new to that school but I was not a punching bag. I had to face racism myself to get to where I was. I was not ready to stay quiet and accept what he had wrongfully accused me of! What kind of nonsense is that?
At that point, I was determined to jeopardize my new career to defend my honour over a shameful accusation. The whole afternoon, my mind was on how to explain to my family that I was ready to quit my teaching job because my honour was more important than anything else. I had lived through the longest afternoon that day!
After school, the principal cheerfully came to my classroom to inform me that he and the parent had questioned the two boys and the other witnesses. They agreed with my statement. The principal then congratulated me for standing up for my rights! In fact, he told me that he was quite excited the moment when I stood up to tell the father that I had to contact my lawyer. The principal told me that he had never seen a new teacher or any teacher who was able to react as quickly and firmly as I did. He explained to me that this particular parent had a reputation of picking on the teachers at school and he had to be neutral in his position at the meeting to speak for both parties.
The worst part of the story was what the principal had told me after he congratulated me. The comments came out of his mouth were totally shocking to me, which I am not prepared to disclose just yet. I just remembered that my jaw dropped. Maybe one day, when I am no longer teaching, I will write down the whole story. I can only concur what my old boss told me about the principal.
I lost respect towards the principal that day and was totally disgusted with his later comments. However, he apparently began to think pretty highly of me as a professional and value my integrity. Anyway, the principal went around telling people about how well I handled the situation. I did earn the respect from the principal, the parent and the fellow teachers since that day! Most importantly, I kept my dignity! (Note 3)
Note 1: This boy was about my height. In North American, it is quite possible to find a grade 5 student who may be taller than me. I always said that I do not wish to teach students who may be taller than me in Canada. Hehehe… I do have my reason.
Note 2: I had thought of the last draw of contacting a lawyer the night before the meeting. I kept telling myself that, hopefully, I would not have to get down to that level to call a lawyer. I did take the education law to know my basic rights as a teacher. At that time, the union did not give new teachers any clear guideline on how to deal with this type of harassments.
Note 3: There are always both sides to a story. When parents complained about the staff at a school, there might be some reasons behind the whole truth. However, there are also bully parents who complain about the school and teachers for no sound reason at all. Sometimes, they would act like bullies and encourage their children to be bullies. I have heard and seen people with a strange mentality- “Since you may discriminate against me, so I will fight and pick on you first.” In my view, reverse racism is just as bad as racism!