Chapter Nine / Teaching / Children / and "You're Fired"
'First Time" experiences can be exciting, but also filled with nervous expectation of predicted problems. It was my first day, first class, first" on my own" teaching experience at All Saints School. I fervently prayed the name of the school would perfectly reflect the personalities of my students. My great expectations were soon met with reality when the empty chairs received each unique member of this year's class of students.
The "shout outs" took over the room, and any control I thought I had was gone.
"Hey, sit over here," screamed a male voice from desk 3. I thought it would be a brilliant idea to put numbers on the front of the desks, since I didn't wish to diminish the atmosphere of creativity with a constraining seating chart.
"I'm number one," shouted another.
"In your dreams," Came the voice from desk 5.
"Welcome to sixth grade," I began.
A young"cool dude" still wearing his sunglasses clarified, "I've gone to this school for 3 years, so you're the one who needs the welcome."
Choosing to ignore his inappropriate, but truthful statement I said, "I'm Mr. Treague and this is my first year at All Saints. You are my very first class."
Bright desk number 2 offered,"All the teachers have their first class today. This is the first day of school."
"He means he has never taught before. He doesn't know what he's doing," came a voice from the back.
I was so thankful there were no observations on the first day of school. There was much improvement in the weeks to follow. Numbers were replaced with names. "Shout Outs" were traded in for the concept of lifting one's hand in the air. And learning took place.
The challenge in a private school is merging the expectations of the parents with reality. Parents choose to pay tuition for an improved education. However, while parents pay more, teachers are paid much less than what a public school would offer. This lower pay is met with higher expectations. Miracles are expected. Students who previously struggled academically in the public school, should become highly successful in a private school setting. Students with behavioral issues in the public school are to receive a magical personality transformation when enrolled in a private school.
Group instruction in math and reading was discouraged. Each student was to move forward at an independent pace. Sixteen daily lesson plans were needed for these two subjects, in addition to preparation of English, social studies, spelling, and penmanship. I spent many extra hours planning lessons, correcting papers, and inventing new, fun, and exciting strategies to maintain a high level of interest. I was good at it and I enjoyed it.
Christmas soon approached with all the excitement of decorating the room and the arriving thrill of several weeks of vacation. I can not deny the inner thrill and outward professional smile when a student arrived with the announcement, "Here's another gift for you, Mr. Treague." I have heard it is better to give than receive, but I have experienced both giving and receiving bring an equal amount of joy.
The classroom Christmas party included the final opening of gifts from the students. I made sure one in the class had a pen and paper ready to notate who gave what in preparation for my thank you poem. This token of appreciation was given to the students when they returned from vacation and went something like, "Thank you Mike for the thoughtful gift. Your bag of coffee sure gave me a lift. Sydney, the mug you offered was a lot of fun with the colorful letters saying, 'Teacher, you're number one.' Ben, your gift card for the movie was cool, Mrs. Treague and I saw Jaws 2 before our vacation was through."
But, before our vacation was through that year, Faith and I received the first of our greatest gifts and blessings after nine months of preparation and patience. Christy Joy Treague was born January 1, 1979. Being the first born in Sioux Falls brought the Welcome Wagon to our hospital room. These two ladies with their basket of gifts were accompanied by the local television news media and the Argus Leader. This was a lot of attention which we loved. "Christy Joy Treague, New Year's Baby 1979" came with free restaurant dinners, infant clothes and diapers, bottles, formula, silver gifts from a jeweler including a spoon and baby cup, plus flowers and cards of congratulations.
It was a "beyond belief" blessing to welcome Christy into our new home just purchased in 1978. Faith and I only saw half the house upon purchase. The modular home was not on a foundation and the only part we could get inside needed a ladder to get into the house and a ladder to get up into the split foyer living room.
It was a house. It was new. It was in the country. And it was exciting. Our 38,000 dollar purchase, was and still is to the time of this writing, our home.
Our second greatest blessing, equal to the first, was welcomed into our arms in December of 1981. Amanda Hope Treague completed our family of four. A visual celebration and legacy was the planting of four trees in the front yard. It was my understanding upon purchase, all four trees were the same. However, now fully grown along the front by the road are three trees which are the same, and an apple tree second in line. It has been concluded the three identical trees represent Faith, Christy, and Mandy. I'm the apple. Some years the apple tree is very generous, and others not so much. But the "ladies" are always majestic, strong, and impressive. The trees reflect how very proud I am of the three most important blessings in my life.
I enjoyed my experience at All Saints and our little family was growing. However, my $6,000.00 salary needed improvement and an opportunity surfaced. I was invited to serve as the principal of a new school within a church in Sioux Falls. There was a slight improvement in the salary. There was a tremendous boost in promotion to be the "leader of the gang." Faith was asked to be the kindergarten teacher, but she was very happy at Hayward, and in wisdom, didn't want to risk jumping on board with something new when she was well established.
I gathered my confidence and agreed to the position which included teaching one of the grades. The term "red flag" was not in my list of alarm alerts at the time, but I did get a sense of "eerie" after my first meeting with the teachers. The pastor attended this meeting where he observed my willingness to allow ideas to funnel into my office as teachers devised methods for improving our efforts in academics, scheduling, behavioral strategies, and fundraising. After the meeting he took me aside far from the possibility of anyone overhearing his advice. "Steve," he said with his hand on my shoulder. "Don't ask anyone anything. You're the boss. Go into your meetings and tell them what you want and what you expect out of them. Then leave."
Then he left to go to his office. I left to go to my office. My brain was stuck. I had never experienced, and certainly never contemplated this type of leader in my adult life. Technically, he was my boss, but I had no plans on a dictatorship.
The first several months sailed by smoothly. I enjoyed my class of students and the challenge of the administrative aspects of running a school. In preparation for our first fundraiser, the staff and I met to gather ideas for a school carnival. Traditional suggestions came forth with bottle toss, basketball shooting, bake sale, and prizes from Oriental Trading. Each teacher took a task from heading a game to decorating the gym. The carnival was a success and our $1,500.00 goal was achieved.
"Steve," the pastor said after the carnival. "Where's the money?"
"It's right here in this box," I said walking toward my office.
"Whoa, hold up there. I'll take that," he insisted while the box immediately left my hands into his.
"Well, I was going to meet with the teachers to decide what was needed the most, and then make the purchases."
"Not, necessary," he said. "I'll take care of it." And off he went.
A week later the pastor entered the church with his wife and a few of his friends. They had new pieces of equipment for the main office, a new lamp and chair for the pastor's office, and a small box was placed in my office. "Here ya go," said a friend of the pastor whom I had never met before.
"Oh, what do you have there?" I asked.
"This is your school stuff from the fundraiser," he explained.
"Wait a minute. This is $1,500.00 worth of school supplies? Did the teachers give suggestions for this?"
"We just went out and bought it. The pastor said this would be for the school, so here you go."
When this unknown buyer of school materials with money raised by my staff, parents, and children left, I opened the box. There were a few coloring books, pencils, and other non-essential items all worth a total of around fifty dollars. I should have waited for the lava to cool before going into the pastor's office, but this was clearly wrong on a very high level of injustice.
"Excuse me," I said entering the room to the visual of the pastor in his new leather executive chair. While he was taking off the final piece of protective plastic I asked, "Is the box I received all the school is getting from the money we raised?"
"First of all. You don't come into my office and ask a question like that," he demanded. "Secondly, that wasn't your money. All money brought in by the church is used by the church. You don't decide how that money is used."
"Wouldn't it have been helpful to have the teachers of the school give ideas for what is needed in the classrooms to make the best use of the funding raised by the carnival which was promoted as being money which was to purchase items for the school?" I had hoped my run on sentence would confuse him into giving an honest answer.
"I already told you not to take suggestions from anyone. Evidently, you haven't learned from that advice and so now you are struggling with the consequences of your actions." He sat smug in his brand new chair which could barely hold the 380 pounds of pastor.
"What am I supposed to tell the teachers? What do you want me to tell the parents?"
"You don't get it. Don't tell anyone anything. You are in charge of the school. They do what they're told and you do what you want."
"I do get it. And this isn't right. The money was raised for the school," I said with boldness, yet filled with a fear and uneasiness which was very uncomfortable.
"Get out. You don't tell me what is right and what is not right," he yelled with a sound above the level of anger.
When I entered the office, just after closing his door, the pastor's wife, who also served as the secretary and financial officer, kept her head down to look busy. I went into my office. When teachers asked about the new supplies I simply said it was all handled by the main office. Those who attended this church positively acknowledged the arrangement without question. The few who did not attend the church, myself included, agreed there was "mischief in the mansion."
Several months later I was questioned by a board member about another piece of "mischief" I was aware of. He asked, privately in my office, if I knew of a situation between the pastor and a lady who was not from the church. I informed I was aware. This bit of information was shared with me, but I didn't know where to go with it.
I shared, "Supposedly someone has a tape of a lady who recorded a conversation with the pastor. The pastor didn't know about the recording. She did this in secret. There was a dialog of a relationship, and taking care of rent, and other needs. It had the suggestion of an affair."
"Exactly," he said. "The board wants me to ask him about it. "I've been the pastor's best friend for 15 years. I really hate to do this. But, the board has the recording and the situation seems like it might be all very truthful. Pray for me. I'm going in there right now."
"I certainly will," I said. Pray for him and have the police ready. I remember how his temper can explode to a dangerous level. It didn't take long and I heard the same thing the pastor once said to me.
"Get out!" a scream came from the pastor's office. "And don't ever come into this church again!"
I could hear another voice trying to reason with the pastor. Then a sound which I assumed was a chair pushed against the wall. I could only envision the pastor getting out of his chair and moving toward his now exiled friend. The man left the pastor's office and further out the building. The pastor then came toward me.
"I am done with you," he shouted coming in my direction.
I went into my office and sat in my chair behind the desk. Somehow I felt my desk would provide a means of protection.
"You're done. Get out," he screamed at me.
"What? I have a class in 30 minutes," I responded as calm as possible. I wondered if the board member mentioned I knew about the recording.
"You are out of here in less than 30 minutes!" was his final answer.
It was not real. I felt numb. I had done nothing other than share the little I knew with a board member who was seeking the truth. This was my job. This was my income. My students meant something to me beyond just a class of children. Who would tell them what happened? Was this really happening? Wouldn't the teachers wonder why I just walked out?
I found myself asking these questions while putting together a box of my personal items. "I'll have to come back and get this box. I don't have the car," I remembered. Faith and I just had one vehicle and she drove me in each day. I was so glad Faith decided not to teach here. We could both have been out of work on this day.
I left the box in the office and knew I'd return at some time to finish packing and retrieve the items that belonged to me from the classroom. The church, next to Roosevelt High School, was about a seven mile walk home. That long walk was a journey of reflection. Could I have done something different? What is Faith going to say? How am I going to find another job? And yet, there was a peace. "God's got this," I said over and over in my mind with absolute knowing.
I didn't want to leave a message with the secretary where Faith worked. Faith picked up the girls at the daycare close to Hayward School. When Faith got home she already knew something had happened, since I wasn't at the church when she came to pick me up.
"What happened?" she asked.
The unbelievable course of events was presented while Faith remained very supportive. She again confirmed what I had thought earlier, "I am so glad I did not decide to teach there. Then we'd both be out of a job."
Later that week, I went to the church with a board member present, to get the remaining personal items. It was very difficult to juggle the unfairness of my loss with the victory of the pastor still sitting in the leather chair purchased with money raised by the children of the school. Yet, a peace was there. "God's got this." I knew it. I trusted it. And a short time later the pastor was no longer sitting in that leather chair. He was also asked to leave, yet, I'm sure, more politeness than I was offered on the day of my long journey home. I never received an apology from the church. It was all "just forgotten."