2016 Year in Review

Now that we are firmly ensconced in 2017, I finally feel like I can write this post. I think we can all agree that 2016 was just a weird year. The negativity just seemed to get worse and worse and worse as the year went on, and there was a lot to be legitimately unhappy about in the year 2016. It’s interesting for me because in a year of so much hate and anger and sadness, I made one of the best decisions of my life, and personally speaking, I am the happiest I have ever been. So I promise, this post is going to end on a high note. But as Dolly Parton would say, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain. Let’s tackle the enigma (sadly not wrapped in a riddle or cash…high five if you got that reference) that was 2016.

I was bullied out of my job.

Honestly, I have been grappling with how to share this story for months, and I still don’t know that I can do it justice. I wanted to get to a point where I was emotional enough that the story made an impact, but not so emotional that it didn’t have perspective. I don’t know if I’m in that place yet, but I’m going to try. I might go into more details about this situation at a later date, or I might not, but some form of this needs to be out in the universe. Here’s the sitch: For those of you who don’t know, I spent the last eight years teaching both junior high and high school. In the beginning I was just teaching English, but for the last four years, I also got to teach theater, which was my dream job. The school I was teaching theater at is located in the kind of neighborhood where parents are overly involved in their children’s lives, and it happens to be in a suburb of LA semi-famous for shooting out teen and tween stars (like Ashley Tisdale and Taylor Lautner, to name a few). In my junior high theater program I had kids who were legit working actors, on both stage and screen. To say that the parents were challenging would be the understatement of the century. However, for the first two years I had an extremely supportive administration whose bottom line was basically smile and nod to their face and then do whatever the hell you want (you know, since I am the one with a degree and credential). When we got a new assistant principal and principal, that attitude changed. The motto became “If the parents complain about something, you change your program to make them happy.”

It sucked. And I was miserable. I was verbally abused and threatened by multiple parents, and the response of my administration was always, “Let it go”. My final year, things got pretty bad. My AP called myself and my theater teaching partner in to a meeting and accused me of going behind her back and deliberately disobeying a direct order from her. I had proof that I had not done that, because she did not give the order in the first place. When our principal was confronted with this information, he lied and said he was responsible for the miscommunication. I also had proof of his lie. When it came time for me to be evaluated by this AP–who despite the proof could not bring herself to, I don’t know, apologize for calling me a liar and placing restrictions on my program that were not in place for anyone else’s–I asked to be evaluated by someone else. My principal refused my request. I sat through multiple evaluations with the AP who had lied and accused me of something I didn’t do and listened to her tell me that my students had no direction and no purpose (even after they won multiple awards for their work). She observed me one day teaching a lesson that was mandatory for our elective department and then asked me why I would have her come in on that day since the lesson did not relate to my subject (so maybe then, don’t make me teach it?). Every one of her evaluations had comments in it that were in direct conflict with our contract and the stipulations of teacher evaluations. And she topped it off by telling me that after eight years of teaching, and four years of running the most successful junior high drama department our district had seen, that I did not meet the minimum standards of teaching.

As an added bonus on top of the bullying, I also got deal with some sexism, because why not?!?! When I told my principal I was resigning at the end of the year he said, “If that is the decision your husband and you have made then I understand.” Let’s just imagine a principal saying to a male teacher, “If that is the decision your wife and you have made, then I understand.” Right. In addition, the male performing arts teacher on campus did not have to comply with any of the rules that were enforced for my program.

I don’t like to use the bullying term lightly. As a former teacher, I have seen the effects of actual bullying, and I have dealt with both kids and parents inappropriately using the term. But I was bullied out of my job. I sent a file folder full of documents proving wrongdoing on the part of my administration to my union and never heard a word about it. In the end, I knew the only way I was going to be happy was the remove myself from the situation. So I did. I gave up my dream job because an assistant principal targeted me and didn’t relent. The sad thing is it’s only a matter of time before she’s promoted.

Okay, that was a little heavier and more detailed than I originally intended so let’s break this up with some positivity! I was bullied out of my job, but it turns out….it was the best thing that ever happened to me!

Some Highlights from my First Six Months as a Work at Home Mom:

I get to spend every day with my kid. We go to Disneyland once a week. I get to work with amazing couples on the happiest day of their lives. I have a job that allows me to be creative. I get to make my own schedule. I trained my toddler to sleep in until 9:30. I can go to Starbucks whenever I want. I don’t have to change out of my PJ’s if I don’t feel like it. During Squirt’s nap time I can lay in bed and read a book. Or take a nap. Or work on my blog. Or craft. Or watch crappy TV. I finally feel like writing again. I can stay up late. I don’t have a boss. I am not constantly worrying about pleasing other people. I get to see Squirt grow and learn and change and progress. When I have to pee, I go to the bathroom, like right then. I do what I want. Oh, and I am not completely fucking miserable every day.

The 2016 Election (aka Back to the Shitty Stuff).

I don’t think I have anything poignant to say on this topic that hasn’t already been said by people much more eloquent than I am. But here goes. I never imagined I would sit on my couch and cry watching the results of an election. It wasn’t even just November 8th that I cried. I cried multiple times in the following days, not just because Trump won, but because people in my family, that I know and love actually voted for him. That was the hardest thing to come to terms with. How can people who I know are good people put aside the rights of others, the rights of people in our own family, for a tax break? Because that’s how the moderate Trump supporters justify themselves. Trump is going to do wonders for the economy. We’re all going to have so much more money after he cuts taxes. Even if I’m a millionaire by 2020, it wouldn’t be worth sacrificing basic human rights (and tax cuts don’t turn anyone into millionaires). It is really, really hard for me to talk about these issues with my family because they just don’t get it.

I was raised in a very well off suburb of LA (see description of where I taught, above). In comparison to my classmates, we were poor. My mom was a single mom with three kids. She didn’t make a lot of money, and I had less than almost every person I went to school with. But we also weren’t actually poor. We always had a place to live, clothes to wear, and food to eat. We were definitely different from most of our friends, and I’m not taking anything away from my mom’s struggles, she worked her ass off to support us. But that doesn’t change the fact that we still grew up in a white, middle class neighborhood. In the entire 6th grade of my elementary school, I was one of two kids with divorced parents. There was one African American girl in my grade in elementary school and no Hispanics. I grew up in the epitome of the bubble. My extended family all traces back to Oklahoma and the south. I had ancestors on the second boat from England to America. I had ancestors who were slave owners. I remember my great grandfather using racial slurs liberally. My family members told racist jokes at holidays and we all laughed.

These were all things that I knew, they were just my life.I would never have dreamed of calling anyone a racist name. I would not have let an initial racially based judgment form my entire opinion of a person. But I would be a big fat liar if I said I didn’t make those judgments–I did. Mothers on welfare? Lazy. Hispanic kid falling asleep in class? Doesn’t care about his education. If a cop shot a black guy, then he obviously did something to provoke the action. I had always been liberal when it came to gay rights, probably stemming from my background in theater and the fact that I had several gay friends in high school and in my theater career in college. But I would not have been someone to stand up for immigrants or for the poor or for women who need access to Planned Parenthood. Teaching completely changed my perspective on politics. I saw and heard more heartbreaking stories than I could even begin to express here. Basically, teaching allowed me to see the perspectives of hundreds of people who were not like me. I had been making judgments based off of my American experience, and it didn’t really occur to me that others had a different story to tell. The problem with America right now is there’s a whole lot of talking and hardly any listening. Think about it: When was the last time you sat down with someone with a completely different background and upbringing and asked them what it was like? When was the last time you listened to someone’s struggles and put yourself in their shoes? Listening to and acknowledging someone else’s struggles does not diminish your own, but I feel like that is the most common defense. “Well, I didn’t have to use food stamps so why should she?” Maybe because she is not you. How about you ask her why, hear her story, instead of judging her.

I am TERRIFIED of what Trump might be able to do in his presidency. But I’m even more scared of the power of the people who voted for Trump. Are they all terrible, horrible people who are going to go out and commit hate crimes? Of course not. But by voting for Trump, you made it okay for others to do just that, and plenty of people already have and will continue to do so.

Positive Things That Came Out of the 2016 Election:

Okay, there aren’t that many. But there’s always a good side to look at. Thousands of people have spoken out in support of those who now feel unsafe in our country. People have rallied around their friends and neighbors. The majority of voters in our country voted for a female President. People like me, who may have stood quietly by in the past, have found their voice. Millenials–God bless ’em!–proved to be exceedingly in support of Hillary both in the polls (as this map shows) and on election day. So there is hope for the future.

The Death of Carrie Fisher.

I did not expect to be so affected by Carrie’s death. My love for Star Wars is a new thing, so I did not grow up idolizing Princess Leia like so many others did. My brother was a SW fan so I saw the movies often enough in passing, but it wasn’t until recently that I developed my own love for the films. I was sad to hear about Carrie because I know for many girls she was their first example of a strong, intelligent, brave, headstrong, kickass female role model. And I wish I had had that. Maybe if I had idolized Carrie Fisher I would have been more likely to stand up for myself on the countless occasions I have been sexually harassed throughout my life. Maybe I would be able to put myself out there more without fearing judgment from others, or try new things more often, or I wouldn’t just let people walk over me. Obviously, I don’t know if anything in my life would have changed if I had grown up with Carrie Fisher in my life, but the impact she made on the world in terms of feminism and mental health issues cannot be denied. RIP Carrie.

Photo courtesy of Disney

The Only Good Thing (So Far) That I Know of to Come Out of Carrie’s Passing:

A whole new audience is going to watch her movies and hopefully be inspired by her message both on and off screen. Her books are going to reach a new market of people (I ordered The Princess Diarist on Amazon about a week ago and it was the top selling book, and on back order) and they will hopefully look at mental health issues in a new light.

Are you depressed now? If so, I’m sorry. But I would like to end on this final (positive) note: Despite the shittiness that is going on in the world–not just in America, but everywhere–there is always good to be found. Mister Rogers used to talk about how his mom always told him to look for the helpers when there was a scary situation. The new incarnation of Mister Rogers, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, dedicated an episode to this statement with a song reminding kids (and adults) to “Look for the Helpers”. Remember that there are always helpers. Look for those people. Surround yourself with those people. And when you can, be those people. 2017, don’t let us down.

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