I wound up attending the touchy-feely meeting simply because it was in the same building as I am, and I didn't feel like walking to the 700 building.

It was a. . . strange experience.

I went in completely intending to be a cynical, silent observer, but things got kinda weird.

So most of the department was there. We were missing like four male teachers and two female teachers, one of which was Ms. K herself.
The mediator had us all sit in a circle and she asked us a series of questions that we all went around answering. Questions like, "What brings you here today?" "How did the incident make you feel?" "What is the hardest part about processing what happened?" "What harm have you yourself caused?" "In what way can you help the situation mend?" etc.

I was genuinely surprised by some of the answers I heard.

A couple people were like me; we're new, we don't know the history of the players involved, we don't have the baggage that others do, and we've liked all the people we've met. Others, however, felt that there'd been a deep and growing toxicity in the department for a while now. Some of it was caused by staff members who are no longer there (and I know of at least one of them. A dude who had the classroom marina is in, who apparently argued with everyone and wrote the names of all the students who were failing his class on the whiteboard for everyone to see.)

Some of it was caused by administration not giving them the support they need (Apparently nobody came to a few teachers' BTSA completion ceremony, even though other schools in our district hosted celebration parties and had their principals and admins at the ceremonies to hand off the certification) or not taking them seriously (there's a teacher here who's been trained in Project Based Learning, but admin refuses to let him practice it, even though that was supposedly one of the reasons they hired him). Our union rep blamed herself for not standing up against the essay thing sooner-- I guess the essay mandate was just one more thing in a line of administration pushing the teachers past what we're contractually obligated to do. Even the meeting we were holding then with the mediator was apparently because Ms. M had to go to the district Human Resources people and the union. Both the union and the district itself supported the meeting and had to bop the principal on the head to make it happen.

One person was specifically upset with the leadership of the department (Ms. K) and a lot of folks there took her absence to mean that she didn't care about how upset people were. Surprisingly, it wasn't Ms. M who was upset with her, but another teacher. Others said that the main cause of all the problems, the "lack of empathy," was caused in part because we have regular small PLC groups, but not department meetings. My PLC leader, Daniella, confessed that she had no idea what she was doing the whole time she was leading the PLC, and that she, as a second year teacher, was expected to guide and help the first year teachers. Everyone was horrified, even the mediator.

Something that floored me was the revelation that the schedule change sheet Ms. K had printed out and shared had apparently been doctored by the administration intentionally to misrepresent Ms. M's schedules.

As in, they intentionally gave Ms.K bad information.
Ms. M had to go to the union and human resources and have them formally apologize and fix the record.
Several people felt that Ms.K was manipulated by admin, and that the incident during the potluck was not entirely her fault.

Several people cried at this meeting. They said they felt powerless. That the administration doesn't give a shit about them, about their students, or about how hard they work. They said they were afraid of speaking out-- Ms. M spoke out, and looks what happened to her! The admin literally altered documents to make her look bad. What would they do to anyone else?

This is worrying, but also falls in line with a lot of stuff I've heard? I didn't get the administration hate at the beginning, but the more I've been hearing, the more I'm seeing why so many teachers are leaving the school. This school has a high turnover rate. There are five new people in the department hired the same time I was, and next year there are going to be several more because of the people leaving. This isn't just in English, but all over, and I think people's frustration with the admin is trickling down to how the staff treats each other. Someone pointed out that this isn't limited to the English department either, and pointed out that day when the history teacher yelled at another English teacher who was presenting directions for the federal inspection. She was just presenting the instructions, and he shouted how this was bullshit, how the common core standards were useless, and how if anyone wanted to see real teaching, they should visit his class. Then he stormed out.

Union Rep pointed out that the past several meetings have been uncomfortable on varying levels.

Potluck -- emotional explosion.
That previous Wednesday-- emotional explosion
Dept meeting last month-- A vice principal sat in the entire time observing, so nobody talked.
Dept meeting previous month -- principal had us meet with him to talk about the essay thing. he got mad at a teacher and yelled at her, and she cried. He stayed after to talk to her an apologize, but it was still uncomfortable.

Like, when you say it like that, we haven't had a healthy and useful department meeting since January. Even then, several people were missing, so maybe even more like December before winter break.

When the mediator asked the first question, "Why are you here?" I answered her, "I'm here because I saw two people get their feelings hurt over the course of those two incidents, and I want to know what this department will do about it."

I guess I've got an answer.

I might get a more developed answer later; the mediator says she's going to do her best to petition for a meeting with everyone in the department, especially Ms. K, because she knows that a meeting like this with just half the major players doesn't do anyone much good.

I don't know. When I was there, I appreciated everyone's honesty, but I also thought they were being overly sensitive. However, now that I'm reflecting on it, I think they have a point. But I also need more information. Maybe next year I'll know more.

* * * * *

Well this is awkward.

Our union rep is holding a meeting today during collaboration so we as a department can figure out how to proceed working with eachother. She even got the school social worker to come in as a mediator. A lot of people were replying to her email saying how this is a healthy thing and how they are going to go to her meeting, but our department head (Ms. K) responded that we also still have to have the "regular" department meeting about academic schoolly stuff, and that she'd be hosting that meeting in her classroom as per usual. She also said that she finds both meetings to be equally valuable, and that we should stop responding to the email chain with which meeting we're going to, because that would be divisive.

This leaves me with two major "um"s.
The first of which is "heeey, wasn't this mediated meeting called specifically because you and another teacher couldn't get along? Shouldn't you be there, Ms. K? If you're not there, Ms. M is just gonna shit all over you."

The second Um is, of course, which one I'm going to. I wanna be in on the mediated meeting (reasons being: I wanna foster a sense of camaraderie with my department, because Marina and Daniella are going to that one, and because I gotta know the gossip), but I also want to show solidarity with Ms. K as well as learn the summer exit procedures that we're supposed to be covering. This is the last meeting we're officially having, and I would like to know how to close up my class for the summer.

So. . . .

Anyone have any advice before 1:15 rolls around?

* * *

Also, I guess while I'm here, I formally petition that the SciFi Quest be extended by a month or two and redubbed the "Summer of SciFi."

"Troll Bridge:" A note from the writer

I wrote "Troll Bridge" a few years back, after reading news about online skullduggery and seeing Michael Brutsch interviewed on television. Brutsch ran various controversial and now deleted subreddits, and saw his life fall apart when his identity was exposed. In the interview, he seemed incapable of understanding how vile and inappropriate his actions were. It was November-- National Novel Writing Month. I wasn't up to writing an entire novel, but I figured I could do a story.

That wasn't the only source for the story, of course. Patti materialized in a dream many years ago, but I would never have had that dream if not for Debbie, whom I knew and dated in high school, and with whom I remain in sporadic contact. Patti is her shadow side. Chelsea developed from my long-term, implausible friendship with Singularity Girl; I used to call her my "teen sidekick." Debbie's a grandmother now, and SG, a young mother. And then there's that murder in my home town when my parents were fifteen, which was not solved until they were retirees. A church with which my wife has been affiliated. The few weeks I stayed with a friend in Sarnia, Ontario, in the Spring of '90. As with any story, many times and places and people have shaped the fiction.

I have sold a couple of other stories since that time, and reused some of the characters from "Troll Bridge." I have had no luck selling the story itself, however. Time has passed; a tale originally set in 2013 and connected to the 'Net grows a trifle dated by 2017. Never mind. I think it holds up, and will be posting it this week, in sections. It may yet form a piece of a longer collection, or it may not.

And I really can't claim it for SciFi Quest, though I note it would have been science-fiction, had I written it in 2000.

All rights reserved. Feedback welcome.


Troll Bridge (1-3)

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