This guest column is from Raymond J. Golarz, a former superintendent of Richmond and Hobart community schools and co-author of The Problem Isn’t Teachers.
I had been invited to keynote a conference in Phoenix. The day before my address, a superintendent colleague invited me to visit some elementary schools. As we walked through one of the school hallways, we noticed a young teacher farther down the hall on one knee with what appeared to be two primary-age boys.
We could see that she was attempting to resolve a fight. Tears streamed down the face of one boy. the other still had his fists clinched and a scowl on his face. As we neared she looked up and said, “I’m so sorry, I’ll get them back into class soon.” I responded, “You need not apologize.”
The next morning, I gave my address. Afterward, several participants approached forming a line. Near the back of the line was the teacher who had been working the day before in the hallway with the young boys. When she finally approached, she said, “Dr. Golarz, may I please talk to you?”
We found a quiet spot outside near a fountain and some very lovely orange trees. She began, “Today in your presentation you said that besides caring for our students, we must also remember to take care of ourselves, the caregivers. I knew when you said this that I needed to talk to you.
“Yesterday in the hallway at my school, I knew I should have been in my classroom teaching, but they were fighting and I had to ... I had to...” She began to get choked up and was momentarily unable to continue.
I said to her, “Don’t ever apologize for the work that you do. Your job always includes assisting children to understand the meaning of civility. You were doing the right thing.” Then she blurted out, “But Dr. Golarz, it happens all the time ... all the time. I have 35 students in my classroom, seven of whom I cannot control. I’ve had lots of administrative help, and I have tried all the new instructional strategies. Several veteran teachers have confided in me that no one has ever been able to handle this group.
“They’ve told me to just try to make it through the school year. But I don’t know if I can. Last Tuesday, I was physically attacked and struck. An older teacher heard the noise and rushed to my aid. It’s only October, just October. I can’t sleep. I am losing weight, and I’m jittery all the time. On Friday, the principal and I had a conference with a parent who yelled and screamed at me the whole time. She told me I was picking on her son and that there were other children just as bad and that I was a racist.
“Dr. Golarz, I am from Iowa. It was my idea to go into teaching. My dad only agreed to my teaching if I kept my other major in business. Therefore, I graduated with a double major and a 3.7 GPA. At night, if I call my parents, I can hear my dad hollering in the background. He says that if things don’t change soon, he’s coming out on a plane, gonna punch some people out and take me home.
“Dr. Golarz, I so wanted to teach. It has been my dream since childhood.”
She took a deep breath, dropped her head, then turned and slowly walked away. She didn’t go far, just nearer the fountain in the center of the courtyard garden. I didn’t follow. She needed a moment alone. The orange trees in the courtyard didn’t look quite so lovely anymore.