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Alabama Teacher of the Year Resigns– The Backstory, Part V

December 26, 2015

On November 20, 2015, I traveled to Alabama to extensively interview 2014-15 Alabama Teacher of the Year, Ann Marie Corgill, who had resigned from her fifth grade teaching position with Birmingham City Schools on October 30, 2015.

ann marie corgill 8  Ann Marie Corgill

It is not as though Corgill decided one day, “I’m tired of this job,” and quit. The series of posts resulting from my four-hour interview with Corgill detail not only the events leading to her resignation, but also her intriguing experiences across two decades of teaching elementary and middle grades in both Alabama and New York.

My series on Corgill is comprised of five posts:

  • Part I: Corgill’s resignation hits the media;
  • Part II: Events leading to Corgill’s resignation;
  • Part III: Corgill becomes Alabama Teacher of the Year;
  • Part IV: Corgill’s years in New York.

This, my final post of the series, involves Corgill’s experiences with professional bullying. This excerpt from our interview is by far the longest, that of a book chapter. This post not only examines the virtually not-discussed issue of teacher and administrative bullying, but also offers readers the opportunity to become acquainted with Corgill in one last, generous, interview-based opportunity.

At some points, I purposely put her on the spot with my questions. As was true throughout our extensive interview, Corgill graciously provides responses to help me understand her position and experiences.

My opinion of her is that she is a gifted, unselfish, dedicated teacher.

ann marie corgill 7  Ann Marie Corgill, in her garage-converted-to-temp-classroom

As was true in other posts, in this post, Corgill’s words are indented, and my questions and responses are in quotation marks and not indented.

I also offer some commentary. In such cases, my words are not in quotes and not indented.

This is a very long post. You might want to grab a beverage and a snack before settling in.

coffee and biscotti

I begin where I left off in Part IV, with Corgill’s return to Alabama after teaching in New York from 2001-07:

I finished the year at [New York elementary school that was not the Manhattan New School] and then just made the decision not to return and move home at that point.

So, the friends that I knew at [Alabama elementary school], I respected them a lot; I knew that we thought very similarly about teaching and learning, and my friend, C–, was a respected literacy coach, and so I thought, “If C– is saying this is a good place, then I believe it is.”

I was hired to teach first grade, and I had a great team. I had a very interesting, diverse group of children, great parents. I taught first grade for two years there.

The second year– I was shocked at this– they chose me as Teacher of the Year for Hoover. So, I was Teacher of the Year for the district of Hoover and made it to the final four for Alabama Teacher of the Year that year. I didn’t win, but I was honored because I had not been in this school very long, and I appreciated my colleagues’ believing in the work that I did.

“You published the book in 2008?”

I started writing the book when I was at Manhattan New School, and I didn’t finish, so I came home, and that first year I was back from New York was when I finished it, and it came out in the fall of 2008.

“Do you think that could have contributed to your nomination?”

It could have. Yes, I think it could have…. I loved my time in New York; I would not trade it for the world, and if I had it to do over and was 20 years younger, I would go again. But I didn’t want people to say, “Oh, she’s the New York girl, she’s better than everyone else.” No. I’m just me. I did something that was in my heart, and I went for it, and that’s what I want people to know…. I went [to New York] because I wanted to contribute to the lives of those children in New York. But I also wanted to grow professionally….

I have always taken every opportunity to grow professionally because if I am not learning with those kids, with my colleagues, then I might as well give this up.

“Let me ask you about your change of schools in New York. It came down to a cost of living issue?”

Yes. It was definitely not the school’s setting, or environment. Nothing [was amiss] with what I had learned from [Manhattan New School].

“When you were at Manhattan New School, you felt like you were growing professionally?”

Totally.

“But when you moved to XX School, you had more money, but you said that you were “different.” If you could just touch on, where was the difference? What was different?”

You know how… and this is a pattern that I’ve felt, and I’m just going to say this because I believe it is important for teachers to start speaking about this. We talk a lot about helping children feel good in their own skin and the whole anti-bullying movement, how, standing up to those bullies or tough people, we need to be who we are.

Well, there is just as much if not more teacher bullying in our profession, I believe, than there is kid bullying. I’ve experienced that over and over and over again, whether it’s in my face, or passive-aggressively, or behind my back.

“A push to get you to conform?”

It’s a lot like, “Oh. Oh, we don’t do that this way”; “Oh. Well. Here’s how we’ve done it before”; “Oh. Um, maybe you should try it this way.” [It seems] a lot of that comes from fear of something that [others] have not tried before. I think a lot of it comes from, “Please don’t make me work this hard. I’ve got my routine.” Some of it comes from, “There’s this new person, and we don’t want her to do anything that makes us look bad.”

There are pockets of those kinds of experiences in different schools. I’m not saying the whole school is like that. But I, unfortunately, at certain times [have been subject to such pressure].

I believe that if we want children to grow up and be respectful, honest, trustworthy, kind, intelligent, resilient human beings, then we have to model that for them, and a lot of times, that’s very challenging with certain groups of colleagues.

I know that people don’t talk about this a lot, but this happens all of the time.

“So, when you were at XX School in New York, you felt like there was a certain pressure for you to be like them– and to not show them up.”

Right.

“Okay. And sometimes overtly that came out? Covertly that came out?”

Yes. Yes. It did. It didn’t stop me from doing what I felt was right for kids, what I felt comfortable doing and what I had learned from being at Manhattan New School and being at Brookwood Forest [in Mountain Brook, Alabama].

At this point in my career, I felt good about the work that I was doing and the success I was having with these kids. And I did have some wonderful colleagues who were supportive and a lot of [them] I still keep in touch with today. But there were those who were, maybe offended, and not thrilled with the way things were going [in working with me].

I’m not a worksheet girl. I’m not a spelling test girl. I’m not going to give spelling at the end of the week. I’m not into A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s and F’s. I’m into taking children from where they are and moving them forward– and giving them a joyful experience where they can leave that room believing in themselves– because if kids don’t believe in themselves, and they don’t believe that somebody wants to know them and respect them and build relationships, then, what’s the point?

So, I have to model for them what I know in my heart is the right thing to do.

“When you say you’re “not into A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s, and F’s”– tell me a little bit more about what you mean by that statement.”

There’s more to it than just letter grades. Our whole reward-punishment mentality…. There’s so many… [sighs] there’s so many experiences that I have witnessed in schools or in classrooms, either as a student or as a teacher, in which kids work for the A– or they work for the Skittle– or they work for the star….

“And you find that problematic?”

I do. I do because you’re… we are in control when we’re placing those rewards and punishments on children. Our job is to do… I believe our job is to develop independent, autonomous, thoughtful children who feel like they have a sense of agency and can make changes and shift from one way of being or one way of thinking about themselves to another, from negative to positive, rather than our [teachers] imposing that on them.

So, if you get all of the stars, you’re the good kid, or if you get all of the A’s, you’re the smart kid.

“So you– tell me if I am getting this right– so you believe that there’s more value in trying to instill intrinsic motivators than to apply extrinsic motivators.”

Yes. Yes. That’s a very appropriate way to say that. I don’t want children feeling like they’re coming to school having something done to them. I don’t want them to feel that we are in control of their success or their failure. The thought of [bringing] generations of children into the world [who] think that someone else is in control, then I don’t want to be, I’m afraid for our future because we’ve got to have children leaving classrooms believing that they can make a difference, that they can change future policy, that they can change thinking, that they can lead without somebody telling them step by step what to do and how to do it. I want them to be problem solvers– thinkers– and if we’re doing all of the thinking and the telling and the controlling, we’re in trouble.

“You’re telling me that you don’t believe that an A translates into a problem solver and a thinker, [Yes.] and that a B is a little less of a problem solver and a thinker, [laughs] and then a C, you know, is kind of middle of the road, and a D….

“Did you find at XX School in New York that there was a mentality that they believed that things like A-B-C-D-F translated into what was desirable down to what was less desirable in a human being?”

I don’t want to make a blanket statement just about XX School. I believe that our [American education] system across the board believes that the A [or the good test grade] translates into [what is desirable in a human being], the good test grade versus the child who came to you not writing, who didn’t believe in himself as a writer and left you publishing books and is a writer today. Or as a child who came to you and had never spoken a word and who is now a lead singer in Nashville in a band and who writes you and says, “You gave me a notebook, and you said, ‘You’re no longer just Ben. but you’re Ben the Writer,” and I’ve been returning to my writing ever since.”

“Well, what you’re talking about can’t be measured in a school year; so, it can’t be used on a teacher evaluation, now can it?”

That is what I’m saying.

“What you just mentioned, those two examples, are successful, obviously successful, and would be valued as successful by most people. What do you think is successful?”

Well, I think about myself. I think about my high school career. I worked hard, but I worked for the A.

“Were you what you didn’t want in your kids?”

Exactly. I did it because I didn’t know, I had never been given the opportunity to believe that I could actually do this for myself and that the work that I did in school was going to make a difference outside of the classroom…. I never thought of it as leading to my development or my growth. I thought of it as, “I like school. I like my teachers. I’m going to do what they tell me to do.” But I don’t see it as an extension of the rest of my life and world.

And I remember, too, taking the ACT test when I had to apply for college. And on the first one I took, I made a 17. If you think about the scoring of that, think, what 36 is the top score? Ann Marie Corgill made 17. That translates into “not good,” not even qualifying to be admitted to a local state university. So I took it again, and I only made 21. I made the cutoff to be able to apply to attend the University of Alabama.

But that score– if you look at that score and you look at me– I think about the work that I did in school and the work that I’ve done since then– and the life that I’ve led since then in no way matches that 21. So, I have a really hard time believing that numbers matter more than children. And our world is so obsessed with numbers and certificates and people who “race to the top” and have gotten there, or have gotten the money because they filled out all of the correct paperwork and made themselves look good on paper.

We’ve missed the boat. It’s no longer about humans; it’s about things that can be [easily] measured. You can’t measure human relationships– and why do you want to?

“I think part of it is this illusion that the numbers tell it all, and because the numbers are there– we can see them– they’re easy to obtain, and so, they have to be true. And if they’re not true– then they have to be true.”

Yes. Yes. They have to be true because it’s high or low, right or wrong.

“If you’re going to challenge the numbers, then you’re going to acknowledge a complexity that defies measurement, and how, Ann Marie, how are we going to know that we’re going to be “globally competitive” if we don’t have the numbers?”

The numbers– that’s the biggest conversation I wish classroom teachers were allowed and asked to have with politicians and policy makers. We aren’t invited to the table to talk about what we’re going to do besides use the numbers. I don’t have all of the answers, but if you have children who are being taught in classrooms by teachers who have been teaching for 21 years and who want to be there and have had success year after year after year, I would hope that a politician, or a policy maker, or an education official in the state or federal government would want our voice in that conversation to figure out, “All right. What are we going to do?”

“Let’s go back to 2007 and your return to Hoover. Was that a comfortable return? Was there less teacher bullying, more collegial supporting?”

Yes. There was– it’s so interesting. This group of [classroom teaching] colleagues, this entire school, was supportive and caring and fun to be around, eager to learn from each other and the kids. What wasn’t the case was the administration was not like them. They (administration) were the bullies in this case. They instilled fear in many of the teachers.

“To conform? To be a certain way?”

Maybe, to micromanage, as far as signing off on lesson plans; surprise visits, not to learn or experience what the kids were doing in the class, but maybe to pass judgment or feel like, “Ha ha! I got you!” That’s what it felt like. And I had a lot of conversations with my colleagues about this, and they agreed.

Over the course of two years, I think I had one of the best experiences with my colleagues and children at this school, as I did at Manhattan New School, but I struggled.

“Because of the administration?”

Yes. And I will never forget the last day of school, the second year. Because I was a new teacher [at this school], did not have tenure, and had just come back from being one of the final four for Alabama Teacher of the Year. The last day of school, I was called into the office because we were losing a first grade unit, and I was going to move to kindergarten, and I was told that I would be a negative influence on the kindergarten team and the school. That devastated me.

“In saying that, were they letting you go?”

They didn’t let me go. They pushed me as far as they needed to so that I would resign. That was really hard. That was surprising and devastating, and my colleagues were just as devastated.

So, this was a blow, and I questioned why things like this happened when I wanted to do what was right for children. I wanted to help them; I wanted to learn. I wanted to grow. I worked really hard. And I’ll never know what the decisions are, why people say what they do or decide they’re going to make teachers feel the way they feel (devalued). I truly believe that every experience I’ve had, God’s hand is in it all. Some of the times have been more joyful and exciting, and other times have been challenging and devastating. And I have to believe that those changes and those hard times have pushed me into places that I would have never had the opportunity to go [otherwise].

“In the administration coming in and telling you that you would be a negative influence on your kindergarten team, did you have the sense that that was the administration only or that teachers had contributed to that? [Corgill shakes head.] No teachers?”

Those teachers were close friends. Right before that conversation, we (the kindergarten team) had been talking about our summer book club: What were we going to read? What were we going to do? When were we going to have lunch?

“And you could have stayed?”

I could have, yes.

“But you felt the oppression of the administration?”

I felt, what I felt was, I want to be in a place that wants me to be a contributing member and values what I bring to the table, and if I’m ever in a place that I don’t feel that, I need to find another place. So, I immediately knew what I needed to do: Go find another place.

And I said for many years, and this is true, this is totally God’s way of saying, “All right, Ann Marie. You’ve been talking about this work you do in elementary school for years and years and years, and you’ve been talking to teachers about it; you’ve been writing about it. I’m going to give you a middle school opportunity. Go see what that’s like.”

And I had a friend who said, “By the way, this is not in your comfort zone. You’re not going to like this, but there’s a sixth-grade language arts job at Trussville Middle School. Trust me. Come go with me and just interview.”

Corgill did get the job teaching sixth grade. We discussed the fact that the state had on file her K-3 Alabama certification, and also her New York license for K-6 and her National Board certification and that no one brought up an issue with her Alabama K-3 state certification.

Corgill taught sixth grade for a year and then left the classroom for one year for issues related to her personal life. However, it is clear that she considers her place (and her calling) as being in the elementary classroom.

“There are those who would say that a teacher who wants to stay in the classroom lacks ambition. What do you think of that?”

I’ve heard that a lot. I think it’s stupid. [We both laugh.] If you are a teacher, and you’re working to get out of the classroom, then you shouldn’t have been a teacher in the first place, in my opinion. Now, I understand people’s reasons for getting out of the classroom, and the people that I know and who have left the classroom have not done it because they don’t love the classroom. It’s because they need to pay the bills. …

[Also, it frustrates me that] people who talk about education, and reform education, and create nonprofits… none of those people live in classrooms all day, every day, with children.

“There’s a quandary here… it sounds like you think if someone’s going to be in a supervisory position, an administrative position, that person needs to know what it’s like to be in a classroom. So, how do you reconcile that with saying, ‘People who are in administration probably shouldn’t have been in a classroom’? Or is that what you’re saying?”

No. What I’m saying is that if they’re in administration, then they [should have the career goal to become] an administrator [and not that being an administrator should be a classroom escape]. … You can’t be an effective instructional leader if you’ve never instructed.

How in the world are you going to support, and train, and evaluate, and grow teachers if you’ve never lived that yourself?

“Well, what if I’ve lived that for two years, through Teach for America?”

That’s not good enough.

“[Assume that] I was a teacher for two years, Ann Marie, so I was in the classroom. And now, I want to take my talent into opening my own school, or being a principal or superintendent.”

“Well, I’m a two-year-old, and I’ve just now learned to talk, so I’m going to go off and teach you how to do public speaking.” That’s how I feel about that. …

“How does one know that one is an expert teacher? If we’re not going to go by VAM… and there are those who say, ‘Experience doesn’t matter. So, you can’t say you’re an expert teacher at ten years, or twenty years.’ What are your thoughts on that?”

I think what makes an expert teacher is someone who’s not stagnant. Someone who is constantly reading professionally, attending those conferences that are nationally known and draw the largest crowds of [professionally acknowledged] experts in the fields of math, and reading, and writing, and social studies, and science [to name a few]….

If you’re not learning like that… here’s my test: I always say, if I sit with you, and we have dinner, and you’re a reading and writing teacher, and we start talking, and you don’t know Don Graves, and Don Murray, and Shelley Harwayne, and Sharon Taberski, and Katie Wood Ray, and Ralph Fletcher, and Georgia Heard, then I worry because those are some of the most influential minds in the literacy field right now or have been in the last 20 years.

If you’re not reading; if you’re not studying; if you’re not thinking [and consulting] with other colleagues, and you use the same lesson plan book year after year after year….

“And you see that as stagnation?”

I do….  You can’t be an expert unless you’re willing to be a learner, too. …

corgill student work 3

“Are you saying that teachers need to recognize their needs to continue to learn and grow and be creative, and that if they are creative and find an outlet for their creativity, that that contributes to the classroom?”

Absolutely. I think that living a balanced life contributes to being [a vibrant, non-stagnant] teacher. My friend Sharon [Taberski] would say to me, “If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of the children in your classroom?” There’s got to be self-care in there, as well, but you’ve also got to make time to develop your craft. …

corgill student work 4

“Whose responsibility is it to police the teaching profession?”

It’s ours. It’s our responsibility to police ourselves.

“Well, I mean, that sounds like a real cop-out: ‘Don’t worry about me. I’ve got myself [policed].'”

It worries me that we’re in a place where people feel the need to police us. And I understand that because I’ve been in schools where next door… we’re very different… I wouldn’t want a child….

“You’re saying that there are some teachers who perhaps have fallen victim to becoming stagnant?”

Yes, I do [believe that]. I do, and… I don’t blame them completely for that because we’re not valued as a profession, really, if you think about it. You’ve got to really want– intrinsically– to be in this profession.

“So, not extrinsically– ‘for the money’?”

Right. And I think that the people who become stagnant, maybe it’s because over the years, there’s no, they haven’t seen any growth in their salary….

“But that’s extrinsic.”

It is extrinsic. What I am saying is that I haven’t become stagnant over that, but I can see where some people would because they’re depending on that salary as something that motivates them.

“So, they don’t feel valued. So, you’re saying that you do not agree that the extrinsic motivators should be more important than the intrinsic, but you understand that some people are motivated… I think their might even be a dynamic there, when people might be motivated initially extrinsically and then….”

I think so. I think the intrinsic sometimes feeds from the extrinsic, like if somebody valued you and said, “Hey, I want to give you a five percent raise,” intrinsically, I would want to do hard work because I’m feeling valued. … There’s so much more to [not stagnating].

“Let’s take your situation going to XX School in New York. Your motivation [for leaving Manhattan New School for XX School] was out of need, you made more money, and it didn’t work.”

No.

“Because…”

Money was not more important than what I had worked hard to become as a teacher, and I felt like I was losing myself.

“I’m going to jump now: We’re at 2011-12. Back to sixth grade?”

I interviewed four times that summer, looking for a teaching job. I couldn’t get a job. Jobs were scarce.

I had written a book. I had certification. I had taught for 18-plus years. Couldn’t get a job. That was a blow. I needed to have work.

Fortunately, there was a long-term maternity leave sub [position] that happened to be in sixth grade [at the same school where I had already taught sixth grade], on another team, not the one that I had taught on but a different team, and the girl who was taking maternity leave was a language arts teacher, and she was going to be out until October.

I said, “I’ll take it.”

So. I was a long-term sub until October, and then I had a call from the principal saying, “She’s (the teacher) decided not to come back this year. Can you do the rest of the year?” I didn’t have any other offers, so I did [sub for the rest of the year].

I worked on sub pay, and I had to buy my own insurance. That was a really, really, really, really tough year because I worked like a full time teacher but was paid $70 a day….

“So, even though you had already taught in this system as a full time teacher, because you came on as a sub, they didn’t hire you as a teacher.”

Right.

“Did you ask if you could be hired as a teacher?”

 I did ask, and I now that they would have if they could have, but I could not come on as a teacher because the teacher had not technically resigned. She was only on leave. If she had resigned, they could have hired me as a teacher. But because she was still on staff, taking leave, I could only be a full time substitute.

So that was the reason for [my] not being [a full time] teacher. I lost that year of retirement, but I was willing because I wanted to teach, and I believed in these kids and [in] the principal, who is wonderful. But it was another year of that teacher bullying, and it was pretty tough.

“Where was it coming from? The other teachers– the team you were on?”

Yes.

“Did they think less of you because you were a full time sub?”

I don’t know. I taught just like I would have taught if I had been a full time teacher. When I had learned that the girl was not coming back for the rest of the year, I remember moving furniture and books in and getting the classroom set like I knew I would want it to be if I was going to be their teacher for the rest of the year.

They needed books to read. They needed spaces that were comfortable to work in. They needed access to technology. They needed tools for writing. So, I was, not until October, was not able to transform the room into this place that I knew I would want to learn [in] and that I had hoped the kids would like.

That could have been part of it (the teacher bullying) because I took her space.

A lot of the people grew up in that community or lived in that community and had children there. I was not from [there]. I was from outside of the community.

“Were you a weird middle school teacher?”

[Laughs.] I brought a big, blue rug in so we could sit and have conversation in a circle. I brought in pillows. I brought in lamps. I brought in art supplies. You know, middle school people don’t paint, or relax, or do things that aren’t only in a textbook. And I did a lot of different things.

corgill student work

“When you were at [this school teaching sixth grade] your first year, did you feel that teacher bullying, or was it a different situation?”

I had a colleague across the hall who was like-minded, and when you have one person who you can communicate with, it makes all of the difference in the world.  We were similar in lots of ways. We read, and we talked about books. She was a science teacher, and I was an English teacher, but it was fine. She was on my team, and there was a girl down the hall, she was a new teacher but was full of life and energy and wanted to learn. So, I tried to look to those people.

I did feel [from other teachers] that sense of, “Oh. She likes her job.” We would have to meet as a whole grade a lot of times [to] have professional learning around [various topics], and I was always eager. I always wanted to do it (meet). I got lots of funny looks, lots of eye rolls, lots of sighs….

“Because you wanted a professional meeting?”

Yes. Because I liked learning and it didn’t “waste my time.” I didn’t need to be grading papers. I wanted to learn.

“So, [in that first year teaching sixth grade], you [did experience teacher bullying], but you had a pal.”

Yes. It helps.

“The year that you came back [as a full time sub], you didn’t have a pal.”

That pal was on a different team, so I didn’t see her.  … We had 12 [teachers] on a grade level, so there were four on three different teams.

“You stuck it out for a year on substitute pay [which was less than half of full time teacher pay].”

Fortunately, because the principal was understanding and realized that I was [in need of money], she would allow me to go do consulting when I was asked. So, they (the school) would hire another sub to come in for me when I would go and speak so that I could make ends meet.

And that might have been another issue with the teachers: I’m this person, author, who goes [on speaking engagements]– special privilege.

“You were there for a year. We’re at 2012-13.”

After that [long term sub year], I needed a new job. I had to find full time work, and I knew at that point, I wanted to be back in elementary school. … I had lost my confidence by the end of that year. All the self-talk you do: “You’re just a substitute teacher, and you’re in middle school and people think you’re crazy.” I was having a lot of self-doubt. …

I started interviewing and got a job back in Mountain Brook, at a different school. … I was back to teaching second grade….

I was on a team of four, and there was this one colleague who was so much fun. She loved her job; she wanted to learn, but she also wanted to have fun. She was balanced and helped me to be balanced and do life other than school. But back again [to] teacher bullying. We had a tough time with some colleagues….

I’m oblivious. I just want to teach and do good work, and I’ve never in my life seen anything like it (teacher bullying). …

“Do you think this bullying is more in a situation where one is required to team teach? [I ask] because I’ve not ever had to team teach, and I don’t have this [teacher bullying experience].”

I think it happens when there has to be group collaboration, team meetings where everyone is supposed to be, not on the same page, but teaching the same standards…. We all were self-contained. All four of us [on each team] had the same work to accomplish, but we were accomplishing it in different ways based on our personalities… and some people wanted to try new things, be different, be creative. I was one of those.

“Help me understand this: Consistently, all of this teacher bullying, you’re saying, is a pressure to conform; don’t ‘rock the boat’; ‘this is the way we’ve always done it. We don’t need you making us look bad…’.”

“Please don’t do anything better than we’ve already done it. Please don’t.”

My intention has never been to “one-up” anyone. My intention has been to give kids the best possible year that I could give them as their teacher and co-learner.

Corgill and I then spoke about how professional bullying is not unique to teaching and might be a symptom of the need for better social and emotional learning and development in some adults.

Corgill found the teacher bullying so stressful that she asked to be moved to another grade for the following year:

I left the grade I loved to go to a place where I could feel that I could be the teacher that I was and not feel pressured or bullied or [treated as if I were] trying to “one-up” someone. That’s not my intent, ever.

Corgill was moved to fourth grade, and she said she still experienced teacher bullying. So, I asked a pointed question:

“Let me ask you this. I’m going to play the devil’s advocate, okay?”

Please [feel free to].

“Well, Ann Marie, all of this friction– maybe it-s just you.”

Right. Let me just tell you: That was a weight on my head and in my heart for years: “What is wrong with me?”

[Still devil’s advocate] “What is wrong with you?”

[Thoughtful] What is wrong with me.

“Now, that’s a loaded question, okay?”

I know that. I’ll tell you. Here are the things at 44 that I know are wrong with me.

I refuse to accept the status quo.

“That’s a word that is tossed around a lot. So, what does it mean?”

I refuse to accept just halfway. I’m going to work as hard as I possibly can to continue to be a learner.

I also am not afraid to speak up when I disagree. I don’t want to cause fights. I want to have dialogue. That’s when you learn– when there’s dissonance and there’s struggle. I tell the kids that. It’s all about developing a growth mindset. Until we struggle, we’re really not learning.

But we live in the South, where everybody has to be nice to everyone. And we pretend a whole lot. A lot of times, it’s very hard for me to pretend when something I believe so deeply in my soul is wrong or right. If something is happening that I believe is wrong or right in my soul, I will take a stand. And that’s not always fine [with others]. And you are not always going to be liked.

Corgill is no pretender. She is the genuine article. What I find remarkable is that even as she dealt with issues of non-acceptance from some peers, she made the top four for Alabama Teacher of the Year in 2008 then became Alabama Teacher of the Year and made the top four for National Teacher of the Year in 2015.

And, interesting still, she barely made the cutoff to attend the University of Alabama based on her ACT composite.

More than a score, indeed.

I asked Corgill to consider what I have written in these five posts and to write a reflection on their contents. She has agreed to do so. I have also asked that she consider responding to one more question: “Where to from here?”

I look forward to her response.

I also thank my readers for persevering in this, the longest post I have written to date.

empty coffee cup and plate

________________________________________________________________

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published in June 2015.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

7 Comments
  1. Thank you Mercedes. This was very interesting.

  2. This particular post is a reminder of education’s dirty little secret—one that is bad press, terrible media optics, and a HR nightmare: that teachers are being bullied while at work at school. It is scandalous, and becoming known throughout the country. No one wants to admit it even exists. Trauma and injury from workplace bullying is a real thing, which further victimizes the victim. Feelings of inadequacy, shame, doubts, isolation, helplessness, aloneness, and loss of confidence are tormenting millions of teachers each year. It is not uncommon for teachers to take a “mental health day” off here and there throughout the school year due to the anxiety from bullying. After a while, a victim emotionally detaches as a form of defense and self protection, just to get through the work day. Not only does the victim suffer while at work, but the effects overflow into their personal life, compounding the damage.

    For anyone who has suffered bullying, it is painful to think about it, let alone discuss it with another, as Ann Marie Corgill so bravely has in this interview. An individual feels like they are reliving terrible, joyless experiences. Guilt about not being able to give your all is a cloud that pervasively hangs over the abused. Bullying experiences have become all too familiar. Most go into teaching because it is their passion, a matter of where their heart is at. One cannot comprehend what it is like to work with a team of colleagues who harbor ill will, suspicion, fear, and even contempt towards you. The guard is always up, there is no relaxing– there is no trust that someone has your back.

    Teachers want to believe: We all are, after all, on the same side, working towards the same goal, doing our very best to give the very best to our classroom of learners.

    Bullying is never justified. Attacks from those whom you initially trusted only deepen the wounds, leaving battle scars that never quite disappear long after time passes. The current educational system is woefully inadequate in addressing workplace bullying. The impact is so great that few are entering the teaching profession and many are leaving (which includes retiring early and disability claims) due to unaddressed workplace bullying: all of which places vulnerable students at risk in not having full time teachers for the school year in their classrooms and inconsistent instruction of standards. The economic impact is felt as well when the community serviced sees for themselves their children not performing well, to their potential, schools dropping in performance scores, real estate and businesses are no longer favorable because of the area school’s reputation. It has a snowball effect that no one anticipated.

    Getting help is hard, ask anyone who has reported bullying (if they are willing to admit it). Fear of retaliation, unintended consequences of the victim reaching out to the employer’s Employee Assistance Program and inconvenient doctor appointments seeking mental health care are further barriers in getting the critical emotional support and care so badly needed towards gaining coping strategies, healing, and recovery. Education and pressure needs to be placed upon state and federal lawmakers in calling attention to workplace bullying, and commonsense remedies need to be legislated, properly funded, and put into place to insure a work environment that free from intimidation, emotional stress, and is a safe place to work. When those conditions exists, it clears the way to unfettered instruction, learning, and joy of being present.

    Thank you for persevering reading my long post. Hopefully it provides some insight into the insidious issue of teacher bullying at the workplace. Bullying teachers in the press and news media is yet another post, which is lengthy as well. 🙂 Star

  3. This was a big effort by you and a wonderful result. I am always amazed at you energy and commitment.

  4. Fascinating read! We have a little bit more to raise if we want an index for Mercedes’ next book on Charter Schools. We funded her blog for next year for Christmas, let’s give Mercedes a nice New Years gift of a paid for index!
    https://www.gofundme.com/8jd7rwxs

  5. Christine Langhoff permalink

    Thank you, Mercedes, for going behind the usual soundbite and telling Ann Marie’s full story. Thanks to you, Ann Marie, for being the kind of teacher I would wish for as a colleague and as a teacher for my own kids. I kept nodding my head as I read along; I think your experiences are familiar to strong, professional teachers everywhere.

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  1. Alabama Teacher of the Year, Ann Marie Corgill: Reflecting and Dreaming | deutsch29

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