I had been floundering around as a substitute for about six months after quitting South Gate. A different school, a better student clientele, wealthier, middle-class seemed like a better approach.
Notwithstanding the fears that I was feeling at the time, I was convinced that there was a better school out there where I could make the difference I wanted to make, to step into a school culture which honored teachers instead of expecting them to do so much with so little.
In January 2008, I applied to two different schools. South Whittier Elementary School District, which had new buildings, and then Brea Olinda Unified School District, specifically at Brea Olinda High School.
I planned both interviews the same day, a unique plan which actually panned out perfectly. I was really proud of myself for what I did, and I look back still marvelling that I got as far as I did.
I liked the South Whittier professionals much more than the Brea crowd. Frankly, I would have preferred working in that school. I had the opportunity to visit the campus, talk with the janitor, they all seemed so happy to be working there. They also had a referral room for the unruly elements in the school. "Discipline is the biggest issue," one lady told me. "It seems to me that you have what it takes."
I did pride myself on discipline, but the administration in South Gate, not so much. The principal screamed bloody murder at me on my last, furious that there were, in his words, "a line of parents" at his door, which was bunkum. The two parents were firebrands of a terrible sort, the elite and arrogant type who prided themselves on harassing new teachers who had no tenure, no protection, and nothing but hope and prayer that an administrator would have pity on them.
I had pushed those terrible people out of my mind long enough so that I would never have to worry about them again, or at least so I thought.
The South Whittier interview had three people -- the principal, a kind-looking white woman with a business-like attire wrapped around her. The assistant principal was a tough guy, reminded me of the assistant principal in South Gate, expect that that guy would get jittery as soon as a union rep walked into his office. I also remember how he had to field one call after another while he was conducting a meeting with me, the last civil encounter in which I receive my evaluation forms for the year.
The third person in the interview was the English department chair, an older woman who seemed very impressed with what I had to share. There were a few marks against me, when I look back on the whole thing. I had never taught an English class full-time before, so I had no extensive experience grading essays. Even though I was credentialed for three subjects -- English, Social Science, and French -- I cannot say that I was an English teacher of any capacity.
I liked those three people, and I guess they liked me. That was my first interview that day. I was primed and ready for the next interview in Brea.
I had visited the campus briefly, on a Sunday just before the interview, at that. The basketball gym had some junior basketball games taking place. Then I ran into the band members who were clearing out for the day. The band director was a supportive type, told me that the community was very tight, like a Midwestern town where everyone knew everyone else.
At the time, I thought that was the way to go, that would be the type of place where I wanted to work. The Tuesday of the interview, I spoke with the principal, a squat, fat man with really curly hair. There was the wiry assistant principal, the French teacher who I was called to replace, and then the assistant superintendent. This was an interesting set-up, one in which the questions were posted in front of me on the table.
I felt really excited about the whole thing, at least when I walked into the room. Then the principal made fun of me when I finished my brief presentation of myself to the four people. That was a red flag right then and there. An administrator who did not respect his own prospective staff had no business being a leader in the first place, and very shortly afterward I discovered that he was a "hind-lick" administrator, one who kissed up and kicked down.
More on that later. At the time, I did not care. I was just glad to have another lease on life, so I thought, to step into a class again, make some money, get my life back on track. When I came home that afternoon, I noticed three phone messages. All three were from the principal at Brea Olinda High. He told me to call him in the morning, in the afternoon, then he even left me his home phone number. This guy wanted to hire me!
I called home, he said to me "Do you want the job?" I said "Yes", yet immediately I felt a sense of panic as I had not felt for a long time. Right away, I was now on the spot to keep a job, and I did not have the rosiest of track records at my previous school. I was bored and empty for much of the time, then, and the students were a very challenging group. Would the Brea students be any better?