Finis

JMW Turner. Dido Building Carthage. Oil on Canvas. 1815.

On March 13th, 2020 I walked out of my classroom at The Woodstock Academy wondering when I would be back. How many books should I take with me? When would I see my students in person again? Everything was being shut down so rapidly because of COVID and no one knew how long it would take for things to go back to normal. I could not have imagined that the answer would be never. Never would I ever teach Latin again in that room, in that space.

My late husband established the structure, curriculum and tone of the Latin program at The Woodstock Academy when he began his teaching career there in 2000.  When he left The Academy in 2008 I took over and continued the program that he set up so it had been a personal labor of joy and pride for our family for the past 20+ years.  On May 4th I was removed not only from the Latin program, but also from my position as World Language Chair, via a “courtesy” phone call from my union representative and a letter in an email from administration. If I wanted to return to The Academy, I was informed, then I would have to accept a position as a social studies teacher. No more department chair. No more Latin program. Like so many other things this year, gone in an instant.

I had been on leave from teaching at the time because of my husband’s tragic death so to receive news of yet another loss for our family in this way felt shocking, disheartening and disrespectful.  A phone conversation from anyone in administration–an administration that claims to cherish and value its faculty–would have been more appropriate under the circumstances.

The official reason that was given for my removal from the Latin program (no reason for my demotion from chair was ever given) was the fact that the position in the Language Department, as I was aware, was not full-time.  The union contract required them to restore me as a full-time faculty member and they chose social studies. But this reasoning of part-time vs. full-time doesn’t quite give a complete and accurate picture of what my position was during my time at The Academy.  I agreed, over a decade ago now, to consolidate my six Latin classes into four—which meant teaching classes with over 30 students on some occasions, as well as having students at different levels combined into the same classes—in order to accept the position of World Language Department Chair which was offered to me. 

As Latin teacher I grew the program and added three UConn courses; my classes were oftentimes used as marketing tools for the school and the most common feedback I received from administration, staff and the community was how positive my rapport was with my students and their parents and that my program felt like a “supportive family” for them. Therefore, reassigning me to social studies and removing my leadership position would have drastically changed my role at The Academy. I saw no attempt whatsoever, as the contract also required, to restore me to my position prior to my leave.

I am wholly convinced that administration—and quite frankly anyone who has ever interacted with me on a professional or personal level at all— knew full well that I would not have considered coming back for anything less than full-time Latin and the World Language Department Chair position.  It is abundantly clear that they had already moved on from me when they half-heartedly offered me a Social Studies position. I’m not naive or ignorant— I’ve been in education for far too long not to understand that budgets need to be balanced, staffing decisions need to be made and contracts need to be followed.  Everyone is easily replaceable. And hiring younger, less experienced faculty members saves money and makes it much easier to balance budgets. But the poor and transparent excuses for my removal from the Latin program feel punitive for taking a leave in the midst of a devastating personal tragedy. It’s a shame that a teacher with a proven record of long-standing dedication, service and leadership couldn’t have been treated on a personal level with more respect or dignity. And so I officially declined the offer to teach social studies and resigned my position as faculty member at The Woodstock Academy.

Unfortunately this gap between faculty and administration is not unique to my former place of employment. Alan and I talked about this nearly every day before he died. All school administrators say what a noble profession teaching is and that their teachers and staff are the best and most dedicated. But the public praise and lip service appear hypocritical because at the same time these teachers are stressed out, sick, and overworked.; the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the rift that has always existed between leadership and faculty. It makes me sad to see the haggard looks on my former colleagues’ and other friends’ faces who teach elsewhere when I’ve spoken to them about going to work under such difficult conditions. It’s pretty clear that surveys and data which are routinely collected are never taken seriously or turned into real change for the better as far as morale and working conditions are concerned.

And so what now, for me? What now? I’ve learned in the past year that tragedy, loss, and change, can be catalysts for something bigger and better. I keep thinking about my dear friend Naveen’s beautiful words which he composed about “ruins in motion:”

Drop a bomb. Set off a device. Blow to smithereens. Unless you do. The image that springs to mind when you see a ruin is gentle. Floating into the mind. Sideways. Almost horizontal. A sense of having fallen into something slowly. Over time. Perhaps what you labeled love. Like leaves. The kind that autumn sheds. Those. Very. Leaves. I guess things fall into gentle ruin. They do. That is the phrase I seek. The familiarity of the tragic. The kind that is foretold in every gesture you create. For yes. It is creative. This ruination. How else would it ever have got to the stage it has. One of utter helplessness. Descending into an aesthetically designed. Even overwhelming. Futility.

As I read Naveen’s provocation I kept thinking about Vergil’s Aeneid (once a Latin teacher, always a Latin teacher) the theme of which is that something bigger and better has the chance to emerge from ruins and tragedy. Vergil’s message not only applies to the ruins from which the grandeur of Rome came about, but also to the circumstances under which human life and fate operate. Something bigger and grander and stronger has the potential to emerge out of the devastating tragedies that befall us in life. We can’t control awful experiences that happen to us, but we can control how we deal with the aftermath., with the ruins. A “creative ruination.”

Stay tuned for bigger and better things from me….

53 Comments

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53 responses to “Finis

  1. Academics can be as cutthroat and wicked and nasty as anything in the business or corporate world. Sad but true. I wish you all the very best.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Dear Melissa, I’m so sorry to hear of this, yet another loss, in such a difficult time. I know how proud you were of your work, your students, but that loyalty was not returned. It does not matter what field one works in it seems. Stay strong. I am sending my very best wishes as you move forward.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is horrid and I’m so sorry. I want to say this is “unbelievable,” but we know it’s not. In this last year of upheaval, I’ve been strongly considering making changes of my own. Somehow, I think whatever comes next for you will be even better for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. John Galbraith Simmons

    Terrible to hear, so much so that “shocking, disheartening and disrespectful” hardly seems to cover it. Take good care of yourself. Don’t be posted, keep us posted.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Craig

    I am so sorry to hear this news Melissa. I want to say It’s not fair, and of course it isn’t. But a program your late husband built and you continued… this is dreadful treatment by the school’s administration. Saying that, I’m sure you’ll land on your feet. Please take care of yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Craig. I’m taking it as a learning opportunity to do something different and creative.

      Like

      • Melissa,
        my heart breaks for you, but I think you will find your path through creativity. When I burned out from the constant battle with my school’s administration, I turned to writing. I churned out four novels in three years: they weren’t much good as literature, but they helped me emotionally and allowed me to return to the classroom some years later. One of the novels I re-worked and published as “Personal Pronouns.” Others become short stories, several of which are on my website http://www.davidallenedmonds.com.

        Look, this isn’t about me, it’s about you. I’ve only shared my experience to show that, as I’m sure you really know, the anger and hurt will pass, and you will continue to grow.

        All the best!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. What a disgraceful way to treat you, and not even the courtesy of a personal phone call. ..
    I’m glad you’re not slinking off quietly but instead letting it be known. I would also suggest that you have the public farewell they should have offered you. Have a lunch or a dinner, with champagne and balloons, and ask a friend or colleague to give a valedictory speech that sums up your work and achievements. This is important for you, but also for your daughter, to see how you were respected and valued.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a shabby and cowardly way for an educational institution to treat anyone. I’m so sorry (and angry!) to hear this. It’s a great pity that the opportunity for students to encounter Latin and the classics has been removed. You have been sorely tested in recent times, and I wish you well in you new endeavours. I have always enjoyed your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is absolutely disgraceful and disrespectful and I’m so sorry you’ve been treated in this disgusting way at a time of immense heartbreak and trial. Well done for speaking your words on this, and I wish you every eventual happiness and success in whatever form that takes for you in your future endeavours.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Melissa I am sorry to read this. But, as always, you respond with grace and resilience. I have no doubt that you will do great things xx

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Vishy

    So sorry to know about this, Mel. It is really sad and heartbreaking. It makes me really angry. I can’t believe that an educational institution will do something like this. But as you have said, this change is the start of bigger and better things. Wish you all the very best! Sending you lots of love and hugs ❤️ Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This makes me very sad and angry, and I can imagine it won’t have been easy for you – suddenly, the past twenty years of work and commitment that your husband and yourself have given that school seem to have just gone up in smoke. I am afraid that when institutions say they are rethinking their priorities after Covid, it seems to be for the worse. At the same time though, individuals are also rethinking their priorities and questioning past loyalty, when there is little reciprocity. I wish you the very best, and have no doubts you will do very well.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. robertalancruse

    Best wishes to you.
    Have only recently started reading this blog, but am familiar enough with the modern workplace to find this all too familiar.
    Good luck with whatever you do next.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you for sharing a story about how you have been treated, the dehumanisation is very real in these situations. Please reach out via normal social media private channels if you need to, I’m a million miles away but not in my thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Oh Melissa, this is just appalling treatment – how dare they, actually! To behave towards someone like this at the best of times is bad enough, but after everything you’ve had to deal with. Unbelievably uncaring and disrespectful – and I have to say, the loss is all theirs and their establishment doesn’t deserve you. You’re strong and I know you will come through this, and I’ll send you virtual hugs and moral support and wait for you to grow into a new phase of your life. Sending love. x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gretchen Hertz

      I’m so sorry to hear of this. I was just thinking yesterday about how when you were dealing with Alan’s recent death, you didn’t have air-conditioning, and then not long after you hit a deer, which must have been a shocking incident. But you continue to move ahead, reminding us that all the annoyances of life are not important. That there are more important things in life, like family and love (and books!). This recent disappointment, I would think, is more than a minor annoyance, but you are moving ahead with grace and strength.

      I had a dream about Alan last night. For some reason Lori, Cari, and I were trying to remember a story he had told us about going to Mexico with Norm. It was something about the ocean. Not sure what it all means other than he is remembered and loved. As are you and Claire.

      Thinking of you at this time. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you so much, Gretchen. It does feel like one horrible thing after another. I’m trying to stay positive for Claire especially. Thanks so much for your kindness and support. ❤

        Like

    • Thank you so, so much, Karen! xx

      Liked by 1 person

  15. What a shabby way to treat you, Melissa. You’d expect an educational institution to show more sensitivity and respect. Unfortunately I’ve experienced something similar myself – twice. Not as nasty as your experience, but still upsetting, so I can only sympathise and wish you a happier future.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I was more than sorry to hear about this, I was just floored. After reading your fine and incomparable blog for years, I was just shocked to hear this. I’m glad you wrote about this, Melissa. I hope in the future once the dust settles and you have moved on, that you write even more about this experience. For one thing, the values of our culture are all screwed up – in terms of educational priorities and necessities, and in terms of how people are treated in the workplace….I don’t know how administrators and other such folk can live with themselves, and I wonder in what universe they think this treatment is OK. We all of us need to work toward transforming our culture, into one that is caring and humanitarian. And especially this practice of sending an email to inform an employee…..I wish all of us would begin calling out employers for doing this, because it is a norm. Employees are expected to suck it up and move on…..if enough of us called attention to this, perhaps that would begin to make a difference….I have every confidence your life holds many, many riches ahead, Melissa, and that your many gifts will continue to do good in the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. ottilie

    Oh my goodness, Melissa, I had no idea! What utterly disgraceful and shabby treatment by this Academy. Could they have gone any lower, I don’t think so.

    Like others, I am awed and overwhelmed by the grace and dignity with which you have navigated the devastating loss of the past year. I know you will emerge from this too, even better, even stronger. When one door closes, it means another will soon open. Sending you all my love and hugs from from many miles away, and as for this horrid Academy, $%FG$”@%%!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Sorry to hear all your sad news. Regarding education, I am reminded of James Hillman’s comment: ‘Civilisation is always at stake; barbarians are always at the gates, or in the high seats, cloaked in the robes of office.’ Or put another way, the Pharisees are always everywhere. But you are absolutely right: for every crisis, there is a corresponding opportunity and I look to see you thrive in the near future.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Thomas Bauch

    I have been reading your blog for a couple of years with interest and admiration. I was formerly the general counsel of a Fortune 500 company and an adjunct professor at one of the top law schools. For a figurative carpenter the world consist of hammers and nails. Not a surprise then that my first reaction (and second) is to find a very tough lawyer. On the face of it this is probably a decent case to obtain a reasonable transitional settlement and to get some reform at the school. You are want probably too nice and forward looking a person to do this, but you may find a legal assessment helpful for perspective.

    On a more pragmatic basis you might want to consider the model followed by THE GUARDIAN and offer a slightly upgraded blog with a little Latin instruction on a subscription basis or a voluntary subscription from your readers. If you are interested you should send me an email and we can sort through this a bit on the phone.

    Stoic acceptance of the inevitable vicissitudes of living in this sublunar world is admirable, but the Stoics would also advise us to oppose evil. Thanks for the column.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gretchen

      I had the same thought, but didn’t mention it as each has their own path in grief. I want to tread carefully in thinking I have any advice to give when really I should just listen and empathize. (No offense to Thomas, I think it is a good recommendation, and that’s why I second it.) It’s a tough choice on how to proceed. Thinking about this column this morning, I thought about how Alan took things so evenhandedly and stoically, but I think he’d be super pissed that the school treated you like this after his death. I think he’d say it was shitty. We’d all agree. I’ve been in tears today thinking about it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thomas I can’t thank you enough for your comment. I’m looking into some legal assistance now. It was so kind of you to reach out to me.

      I like the idea of a Guardian style site as well. I actually have a different website that was already set up for teaching. So that might be an appropriate place to set it up.

      Like

  20. Like many others here, I am mortified to hear of your treatment by the Academy, Melissa. It’s inexcusable, cruel and highly disrespectful on their part – and yet, you are dealing with it with your customary combination of resilience and dignity. My very best wishes to you for the future – I have no doubt whatsoever that you will move on to bigger and better things. X

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Joyce Zonana

    This is such a terrible story about the lack of loyalty in academia. I’ve seen many similar cases, experienced something similar myself, but that does not make it any better . . . Clearly, you will indeed forge for yourself an even better path.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Melissa, you deserve — and will receive — so much better than this!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I’m so sorry to hear this, Melissa. Such insensitive treatment, and an appalling lack of appreciation for what you achieved. Good luck with what you choose to do next. I’m sure we’ll all be interested to see which direction you take.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Tony

    So sad to hear about this, Melissa. Here’s hoping you find something you’re passionate about to move on with 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  25. lilicole

    Melissa, I feel like I know you through your blog-posts, and I am so terribly sad about these events. It seemed like your work was going to be one constant for you after this terrible year. I am also very disturbed, and have been wondering what you think about it, about the attack in general on the classics, and I wonder whether this is also somehow behind the decision to let a great, experienced teacher and intellectual resource go. The stupidity and indifference of workplaces and management can never be underestimated. Again, so sorry about all of this, I had just been thinking we had not had a post from you for quite a while and was hoping it wasn’t for bad reasons. Warm thoughts for you and your daughter!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so nice of you to wrote such a comment! I think the attack on classics is due to money and budgets. Like in my case, younger, less experienced teachers are significantly cheaper and administrators can’t resist saving money.

      I don’t think my way of teaching Latin is the only way. However, I do think my teaching style filled a real need there and I was a good fit for the program. But administrators chose to ignore what’s best for students and save money instead. I predict enrollment will decline (it already has) and the program will be canceled within a year or two. It’s really sad.

      Thanks for the well wishes! Something new and different for me ahead. Stay tuned!

      Like

  26. Melissa, I’ve been thinking of you in the runup to Alan’s anniversary. I’m so sorry to hear this news. I know you were both excellent, committed teachers, and the Academy has been foolish, at the very least, to let you go. How wonderful, though, that you are already contemplating “bigger and better things”! All the best to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. buriedinprint

    You’ve received so many loving and kind comments here; even though most of us are at quite a vast geographic distance from you, hopefully it helps you and your loved ones feel a little less alone in your many shades of grief. If things had to end with this position, then best it happen now (however cowardly and unprofessionally on their part) because your gifts are needed elsewhere and otherwise. Keep on, keeping on. x

    Like

  28. Best of luck with whatever comes next, Melissa.

    Like

  29. Barney McCullagh

    Hi Melissa
    I too was shafted in the same way. An utimatum, expressed superficially in sentences such as ‘You will have to teach lower school Geography and Computer Science next year’ … ‘The new National Curriculum has to be delivered. Latin is not a core subject’… ‘Some Latin lessons will have to be scheduled during the lunch hour’ … could be subtextually reinterpreted as ‘Latin’s a luxury we can’t afford’ … ‘you’ve been painted into a corner’ … ‘perhaps you should fall on your sword?’. I too resigned. I too walked. I got lucky. I got a grant to do an M.Phil for a year. For the next 3 months I spent my lunch-hours listening to uncomprehending colleagues (‘surely you’ve negotiated to resume your post at the school after you get your M.Phil? ‘No’ … ‘No?’… ‘No’ … ‘Oh’).

    Life, the one ship we can guarantee will one day be taken out to sea by an ebb tide and scuttled by its own leaking hull, is treated as though it can be rendered a permanent fixture in a horseshoe harbour. It is moored with many-stranded ropes and anchored with lead-like stones. Yet life is not art. It cannot stand still for all our efforts to ‘fix it’. And even as our ship floats motionless just offshore, all unseen its timbers rot and its limpets cling.

    To others Life is like the empty terrain behind a castellum on the Antonine Wall. There an advanced bastion, picketed in emergencies by a detachment of Balearic stone-slingers, merely symbolises safety. For around and about the Picts, like time itself, stream over the curtain wall and disappear south into the same mists from which they had emerged. Life for some is something huddled to the rear of the Maginot Line, a line which pretended to unbreechability. not knowing that it was always death that stalked the dank corridors of Forts Vaux and Douamont. ‘Ils ne passeront pas’ is still the motto of Verdun. ‘They shall not pass’. But everything must pass.

    Liked by 1 person

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