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Letting God and Half-Truths

Dear Rabbi Taleet,

I am uncertain as to why the school has not renewed my contract after three years of service and dedication to your school. Let’s reflect on the possibilities.

I came to work for this school after I had left a charter school I considered unsafe to work for and which was shut down after I had left it. A year went by and I had worked for Tutor Center, collected unemployment as Tutor Center pays little compared to my salary, and embarked on studying math. I left for an inexpensive Costa Rica trip with my husband, but before leaving had applied to work at schools as I wanted to earn my keep and continue working in a school as it is what I do and is good for my resume.

As it happened, I found this job on craigslist and the school had a part time option, which was perfect and allowed me to invest my energies into my math alongside teaching. I taught six girls the third grade curriculum for the first two years I was at this school, and felt that the 16K I made was adequate for the number of students I taught. Last year you asked me to work many jobs for this coming year, and I did.

The school asks us to wear clothes that make us look like we are nuns, covering every bone. This I did. This year I taught the same as I did previously, but middle school. It seemed that you Rabbis all tell us teachers to do one thing, but when push comes to shove look the other way on novels we read, and are never available if we have students who have serious issues in our classes. Rabbi Mustache said that I was the reason Elijah thrived this year, because I had dealt with her angry-emotional issues and no one had done that before. How you could not deal with a student who had multiple yelling-screaming-crying outbursts in a day? But I did the best I could with her and the others each year.

This year I asked if I could read Hatchet with the students, as it is a classic story the 6th graders typically read. I made the mistake of asking, and had purchased a class set I piece-mealed together from used book stores. A few students got their own at libraries. I thought since Mustache approved The Westing Game, he would Hatchet too. This did not happen. Some of the 8th grade boys wanted to read it anyways. I have seen students read everything from the Harry Potter series for book reports for other teachers to The Hunger Games. It seems if they read these on their own, that this gets overlooked.

I was absent from work for ten days because I had a bipolar episode, something I should have kept to myself. Some stupid doctors told me to be honest with my employers. As I work with students I was, but really, I would have resumed work and you would have just known I was ill. I could have had my G.P. sign a doctor’s note saying I had been sick. Mustache told me that he knew I wasn’t dangerous, and they just wanted to do what was right for my health. Once nineteen years ago I had an episode. Too much stress combined with a flu seems to be the trigger.

I came back to work and asked to get rid of teaching all grades the computer class, and continued teaching three sections of literature and two math. I read with the classes Across Five Aprils, which was approved but not in stock in our school book room. Mustache told me to find one we carried. We carried A Wrinkle in Time. I asked the person in charge to get me the books from the room where they are kept. Your wife put in her copy of A Wrinkle in Time, a book the 5th grade teacher had read with her class the year before, a festoon of one hundred or so Post-its of ideas she disapproved of, and so it was banned. I asked if we could read Sahara Special, which would have helped the 6th grade girls with their social issues. Mustache said no. Fed up, I purchased online many copies of The Schwa Was Here and read it and assigned a book report on it before I got sick. The students enjoyed that story so much and related to it they were literally calling each other at night to discuss the literature.

When I got sick, you were altered to the fact that we had read it. Mustache came into the class and discussed what a great book it was with the students, although behind closed doors he had told me previously that there are many books on his shelf at home we simply can’t read at this school, because the parents fear these books. My students are by and large on facebook, see popular movies, and are constantly alerting me to new songs like Thrift Store and other viral videos they wish me to see on youtube.

The girl students come in constantly with nail polish from their weekends, and the school makes them remove it. Out of school they all wear it. I brought in my polishes I had purchased as I get a cosmetologists discount and had used these once. When students would be the only one to complete a report on time or do something unique, I would let them choose one. One Rabbi’s daughter and daughter of the Hebrew studies department took one, and held it like a crystal ball in her hands. She whispered in awed tones that this was the first polish she had ever owned.

Oh, and I called OSHA on your school because you had some cheap, probably not-sanctioned- by-government-officials construction people redo some rooms and vents where they connected the vent to the sewage pipes. For years we have been sick on and off, and smelled this terrible smell which you try to cover up with scented plug-ins. Why would you put all of the students’ and staffs’ health at risk, just to save a few dollars? Isn’t this a school founded on religion and your belief in God? God wants you to injure our health?

You two Rabbis let me finish out this year, and then didn’t renew my contract. I come to work at least a half hour early each day and am always prepared. I have a wonderful relationship with my students and their parents. I have seen countless teachers come and go in the three years I have been here, many let go, many ran screaming to the hills because of your zealous religious bullshit. It is one thing to have pride in being Jewish and teach the knowledge our ancestors knew of and rules they practiced. It is another to ostracize all other Jews for not being as pious as you feel you are, and teach intolerance of all other cultures in America, the country that you choose to live in now. Go live in Israel or go back to Iran, or any other country on the planet and see how they treat you and how easily you find employment and educational opportunities. Your head Rabbi preaches intolerance to the children constantly. Some of the lessons I have heard of being taught to the kids are questionable as well.

From my vantage point, I appreciate how deeply these kids know their culture and the ancient stories. Later in life they will have a deep reservoir to call upon to make important life decisions. Can’t these decisions be reached and taught while teaching tolerance and kindness to the rest of the human race?

And so you let go a hard working teacher who has done her best. Your own school’s self-purported educational therapist says I am the glue that held the 6th grade girls together this year, and have a very calming effect on my classes. Mr. Toro who completed his observations in my classes, classes we share, told me time and again how amazed he was at how politely and rapt the students paid attention and responded to the lessons I taught. He, a man who spent this year two to three hours planning each grades' lessons.

Everyone says God must have other plans for me and it is for the best. Lord knows I do nothing small and have applied for several jobs now, and just maybe these baby-boomers holding steadfastly to their public school well-paying jobs are in fact finally retiring. I have this MFA program I was accepted to, which God willing I can pay for. And I still have this cosmetology license I use from time to time, summer to summer.

It is with extremely mixed emotions I go in each morning this week, my last week, and prepare students for their finals, work on grading last papers and essays, fill out countless pages of paper work, and ready myself for a road trip to greener parts of the country next Monday. I wish to stay in one steady place, but God keeps floating me into the current that is the stream of this life. Like a fallen rusted-red leaf upon a moving body of water, I must let go of the edge and ride the current where I am being taken to next. The Mary Poppins of teaching, on I go, to what I know not. But I hope it is to something good.