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Leaving Bonnabel

written Friday, 12/03/2005

With every week that goes by, I wonder when I’ll run out of things to write. Someday I expect to settle into a routine, and have nothing worth adding to my journal entries. Someday, maybe, but not this week.

Last weekend

The nine-day Thanksgiving break was winding to a close, and strangely, I felt more nervous about returning to work than I did prior to the first day of school. I’d been bragging to everyone about wrestling control away from my rowdy classes during the previous week, and now was beginning to wonder if I could maintain this power. Would the dark forces of adolescent mischief resurge for another coup?


I arrived at work early to sort papers into the file crates where students pick up their graded work. At 6:50am, the principal, Mr. Ferrand, called all teachers to the library for a 7am meeting. At this impromptu session, he informed us that Bonnabel had been told to get rid of 15 teachers in regular education (as opposed to special education) out of 60-65 total teachers. Due to our enrollment being barely 60% of our original numbers from August, the “surplus” teachers would be reassigned to other schools with higher enrollments, or entered into the substitute teacher pool. Mr. Ferrand maintained that Bonnabel could not afford to lose that much of his faculty, and that the school might as well be shut down rather than suffer such a loss. He also indicated that the district had given him no direction in choosing who should go, and that the ultimate selection may not be based solely on seniority and certification. With this news, we were sent off to our classrooms to start the school week. Happy Return from Thanksgiving!

Tuesday and Wednesday

I started feeling more assured that the New Mr. White was firmly in charge. I was as strict as ever with the kids who forgot how to act, keeping five students in for lunch detention after my 3rd period class on Tuesday. However, I continued to offer praise to all who participated attentively. On Wednesday, I didn’t write any behavior reports or assign any detentions all day. During 5th period, one student noted the calm atmosphere and asked, “Is the nice Mr. White coming back?” I acknowledged that this class did seem to be settling down, and encouraged them to keep up the improved behavior so that I could always treat them pleasantly. Specifically, I asked the students who were willing to learn to remind the “clowns” how to behave during class.

On Wednesday evening I enjoyed a TGNO mini-reunion. Fellow math teachers Robert and Leslie were back in town to apply for teaching jobs with Orleans Parish. A handful of schools on the West Bank of the river will reopen in mid-December as charter schools. Robert is trying to reclaim his original position at Edna Karr High School after spending the last several anxious months in Houston. Leslie is hoping to grab a spot after losing her position in neighboring Plaquemines Parish and quitting an unsatisfactory job that she briefly held in the Tampa, FL, area.

Robert, Leslie, Michelle, Nihar, and I met for dinner to catch up on each other’s progress, and hope that someday soon we’ll all be working in the area again. Michelle and Nihar feel reasonably secure about their jobs since enrollment at their schools is relatively high. Michelle’s Principal at Marrero Middle School states that none of their teachers will be leaving. Despite some rumblings at Ehret High School, Nihar hasn’t been told that his job is in danger. However, we all know that nothing is very stable out here.


At Bonnabel, my second period went smoothly as usual. I suggested that rowdy 3rd period give me another day with no lunch detentions, but some ignored the advice. I kept four after class, and even called one parent to come in for a conference. My 5th period, on the other hand, continued to lure back the nice Old Mr. White with their improved behavior. This week I was beginning to feel more comfortable in my role as a teacher. By gaining control of the discipline problems, I could focus more attention on my lessons.

About thirty minutes before the end of the school day, I assigned classwork to my 5th period students. They were working quietly when one of them mentioned that someone was waiting at the door. I walked over to find Mr. Ferrand standing outside my classroom. His message was short: He regrettably had to deliver bad news, and he handed me an envelope. Inside was a letter from the Jefferson Parish Public School System, notifying me that I had been identified for “involuntary transfer” from my present position. The next morning at 8:30am, I was required to attend an “Involuntary Teacher Transfer Procedure.”

This was my last day at Bonnabel.

To lose my current job was not a huge surprise. However, I was shocked by the suddenness. How could they tell me I only have a half hour left in my employment at Bonnabel? How could they deny me the opportunity to say goodbye to the students in the earlier periods?

My reaction to the news also surprised me. As someone who doesn’t show much emotion, I found it extremely difficult to keep my composure as I struggled through an impromptu farewell. I hadn’t realized how attached I’d become to my students.

I called for their attention and broke the news. They appeared as stunned and confused as I was. I told them that I didn’t know what would happen to my classes, and I especially felt sorry for the students who had been transferred only three weeks ago from Mrs. McCullough’s class. I told them that I enjoyed being their teacher, and requested that they remain positive through all the upheaval.

I also revealed that this was my first year teaching. I commented that this is the toughest job I’ve ever had, and I hoped that I would eventually be able to share the fun of math with my future students. I knew I had not yet been able to achieve that objective with them as much as I wanted. However, I asked them to recognize that I cared very much about them, and I was always trying my best.

I had told all my classes that I would show them my Flash animation on Friday. Instead, I just showed it to my 5th period class during my last minutes at Bonnabel. As long as I was leaving, I went ahead and showed them the original version (with all the New Mr. White audio intact).

The dismissal bell rang, and my students filed out. Almost all offered warm goodbyes and thank yous, and several even gave me hugs. In recent days I had felt like I was battling my classes, but there were no hard feelings now. Many were clearly saddened by the news.

Before leaving that afternoon, I posted a hand-written letter on the door:

To my former students

I wish I had been given the opportunity to say goodbye.
I am very disappointed that I will not be allowed to finish the school year with you.
I enjoyed my job here at Bonnabel, and I definitely enjoyed being your teacher (believe it or not!)
Whether I praised you, yelled at you, gave you an A, or gave you a D, I hope you realize that I cared about ALL of you.
Whether you were happy to be in my class or not, I wanted to see you ALL succeed.
Please stay positive through all the changes, and keep working towards your goals. Your education will give you options to do whatever you want to do in life.

Mr. White

As I exited the Bonnabel campus, right on cue, it started to rain.

Friday Morning

I arrived at the “Involuntary Teacher Transfer Procedure” Friday morning to find that I’m one of thirteen high school teachers being transferred to another school. Seven are from Bonnabel (significantly down from the original threat of 15). Dozens of elementary and middle school teachers were also present.

We secondary level teachers were seated at a row of tables in order of seniority and certification. I was number 11 out of the 13. I believe there were two other math teachers ahead of me. We were given a list of vacancies at four high schools that desperately need more teachers. When it came to my turn to choose, I wavered between Riverdale and West Jefferson. Riverdale is closer, on the East Bank of the river, and has an excellent reputation. However, I would have had to teach three different classes: Algebra I/Financial Math/ Algebra I Part I. Besides having to prepare for three subjects, I don’t care to teach Financial Math. The two openings at West Jefferson, on the other hand, were for Geometry/Algebra II, and just Geometry. I preferred these subject choices, and liked the idea of teaching 10th & 11th graders. I hear discipline problems are drastically reduced for the older students. The main downside is that West Jefferson is further away (20 miles) than Riverdale (10 miles). West Jefferson doesn’t have the academic reputation of Riverdale, but almost every teacher I’ve met who’s worked there enjoyed it.

I signed up to teach Geometry at West Jefferson.

Mr. Jagade, a science teacher from Bonnabel, also transferred to West Jeff. We drove over there to meet our new colleagues and hopefully see our classrooms. The principal and assistant principal of curriculum recognized me from the job fair back in the summer. Apparently they tried to hire me, but Bonnabel had gotten to me first. That’s a good sign!

I met five of the teachers in the math wing, most of whom had too many students crammed in their rooms. Reportedly the class sizes had reached up to the high 40s! My class sizes would be at least in the 30s. Also, I was informed that I would be assigned at least one Algebra II class, even though I had signed up for just Geometry. That’s okay. Perhaps I’d learn to appreciate the variety, even if it did require an extra preparation. I was given a textbook for each subject and told to report on Monday morning to hit the ground running.

This would undoubtedly be a huge challenge, but I was starting to accept and warm up to the idea of working at West Jeff. My Louisiana adventure continues, right?

Friday Afternoon

I drove back to Bonnabel with less than an hour left in the school day. I needed to clean out my classroom, but first I wanted to say some more goodbyes. I stopped by the English as a Second Language class, where I knew many of my 2nd period students would be. Upon walking through the door, they all shouted out “Mr. White!” with their various accents. A tissue box sat on the table between two girls who had been crying throughout the afternoon. The tears continued flowing as they asked why I had to leave. Only one day earlier I had spent most of my planning period tutoring them in Spanish for a quiz that I intended to give Friday. These students, more than any, knew how much I cared about them. Again, it was hard for me to stay composed while I knew I was probably seeing them for the last time. I passed around a piece of paper and requested that they write something to me. Eventually they passed it back to me, giving me a treasured reminder that some of my students appreciate me!

I walked down the hallway to exit the building, and once again heard my name yelled out by a group of kids. Seated in Mrs. Erwin’s rooom was my entire 5th period class. Mrs. Erwin stepped outside to greet me. My students had told her that she has big shoes to fill. I guess the previous day’s goodbyes were sincere, and there truly were no hard feelings. Despite the recent emergence of the meaner New Mr. White, they also knew I cared.

I reached a few more teachers before they left, and word had already traveled quickly that I was heading to West Jefferson. They all commented how sad they were to see me leave. Some had overheard their students express disappointment over my departure, and the abrupt way that it was handled. I felt very well appreciated at Bonnabel by the staff, and now by the students.

I cleaned out my classroom with simultaneous sorrow for having to leave Bonnabel and anticipation of new experiences at West Jefferson. I feel so bad for the poor kids at Bonnabel who have been jerked around enough, and now have to go through another classroom shuffle. I can only try to look at the bright side, and be thankful that the students in the overcrowded classrooms at West Jeff and elsewhere will finally get some smaller classes.

Friday Evening

I drove home to find a phone message from a Human Resources administrator for Jefferson Parish Schools. The rollercoaster ride was not over.

“I need you to not report Monday morning to West Jefferson High School. In the process, when we were looking at ranking people, somehow you got a step ahead of a certified math teacher, so she has more rights than you to that position.”

The only other math position available to me is at Fisher High School, which is about a one-hour drive away in Lafitte. Alternately, they could assign me to special education. I’m extremely upset, as neither of these options is viable for me. If a more experienced certified teacher just bumped me, then what about those other options I had that morning? There were two math vacancies listed for West Jefferson and I had signed up for the first one, so why can’t I take the second slot? Why weren’t they offering me the Riverdale position, at least?

I tried to call back the woman who had left the message, but didn’t bother to leave a voicemail when she didn’t answer. Now I’m just trying to figure out what to do. Should I keep trying to reach her? Should I just show up at West Jefferson anyway on Monday and see if they’ll try to hold on to me? I’m confused.

The adventure continues. Crap.