The Bathroom Situation
I’ve been meaning to write a blog about this school year since August, but every time I sat down to write, I felt so overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems in our education system that my mind goes blank. It turns to mush. And all I have to show for it is a long, jumbled list of complaints. Valid complaints. But complaints nonetheless
So today, I’m going to talk about just one of those complaints.
The Bathroom Situation
A bit of background on my teaching career. I began teaching at a large public school district in the Kansas City area, and I taught three years of middle school there. It was rough. I was a new teacher, and as a new teacher, I just didn’t have my methods down yet. And while my principal knew what he wanted from his teachers, he didn’t have the skills to communicate or teach his teachers to get there. Which meant people like me, who tried but never managed to get there were let go before they could earn tenure.
I’m not saying he was wrong to let me go. I wasn’t performing at the same level as other teachers in the building. But it might have been nice to have some help, seeing as I was inexperienced, new, and clearly struggling.
With a black mark like that on your record, it’s hard to find teaching work. I don’t often talk about this, because I feel like it paints me in such a bad light. But, the fact of the matter is, most teachers have experienced not having their contract renewed at some point in time. Principals and other admin hold a lot of power when it comes to contract decisions, and teachers are let go for insignificant reasons all the time.
I spent a summer applying for positions, and finally got hired at the end of July, mere weeks before the new school year began. At the time, I was so desperate for a job, I didn’t look into who was doing the hiring.
And that is how I started working at a Gulën school.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Gulën Movement, I suggest spending a half hour or so on Google. Basically, it’s a money laundering scheme that uses the education system, specifically the rise of charter schools in America, to take state funds and filter them into Turkish businesses, and ultimately into a religious movement.
If you are familiar, you get it.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the Gulën Movement. Mostly, because I’m not well-researched enough to be an expert. What I am an expert on are the things I’ve seen happening at the schools I’ve worked at. And a lot of those things are...
Not just illegal, but some of these issues actively put students at risk.
When people start to ask “What’s wrong with education in America?” – well, let’s be honest. No one asks. They assume the problem is the teachers. But if they did ask a teacher, if they asked me, for example, the sheer enormity of the list of problems would overwhelm me so much I’d be hard pressed to say just one.
But ultimately, it comes down to decision makers in education, at the building, district, and state levels have stopped asking themselves what’s best for the children. Or maybe they never asked themselves that.
Teachers ask themselves that every day. Multiple times a day. Multiple times a class period. Is this method working for my students? Do I need to make a change? What’s best for the children?
But principals? I’m not so sure. Some administrators only ever ask that question when they’re leading a staff meeting. They’re putting that question back on their teachers’ shoulders. Shoulders that are already bent near to breaking with all the other things that have been put on them.
And when the administrators at your school have little to no experience or credentials when it comes to running a school, and very few if any years teaching in the classroom?
Well, that’s just disaster. And also a fairly common characteristic of a Gulën school.
For my first attempt to write a blog about my experiences this school year, I was going to focus on The Bathroom Situation, as I came to call it over the first several weeks of school.
The Bathroom Situation was that half of the school’s bathrooms were shut down. The official reason was as a Covid precaution. Our custodian was supposedly only able to clean two bathrooms (one for boys, one for girls) a day. In spite of the fact that for years prior to Covid, she was perfectly capable of cleaning all the bathrooms in the building in a timely fashion.
As you can imagine, expecting a full school building to limit themselves to only six working toilets/urinals was… a disaster. And if you’re a building code expert, you might even say illegal. Public buildings, like schools, are expected to provide a certain number of toilets proportional to the number of people occupying the building, and we were well under that by closing down bathrooms. When we consider the additional requirements by IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to provide accommodating toileting facilities, we were definitely treading is some very shady waters.
Then the toilets started backing up.
Because, when you expect 400 people to use six toilets, as you can imagine, their systems get a little overwhelmed. How do I know? Well, I have the classroom right next to the student bathrooms. All day long, I’d see lines of ten or so students outside my classroom, waiting to use the bathrooms. Lines that were certainly not practicing good social distancing. Lines that sometimes took up to thirty or forty minutes to get through.
Imagine that, you send your child to school for an education, and instead, they spend a huge portion of their day waiting in line for a toilet.
And, if I’m completely honest, one big complaint of mine was the distractions for my own students who would see their friends waiting in line and wave or sometimes even go to the door to interact with their friends (more on our desperation for classroom management support later). Not to mention the smell. For weeks on end, my room smelled like sewage. All day, every day, sewage.
So I started researching building codes for bathrooms in schools. I enlisted the help of my lawyer friend, but by the time I had definitive legal mumbo jumbo to give my principal, to force him to open the other bathrooms in the building, they miraculously opened all on their own.
Or rather… they opened up because the building admin had finally installed smoke detectors in the bathrooms so they could catch students vaping between classes.
Yes, that’s correct. That explanation we were told at the beginning of the year, that bathrooms had to be closed because our custodian couldn’t clean them during the day? A lie. It had all been a lie. The real problem? They needed to install surveillance equipment in the bathrooms to catch students breaking rules.
Surveillance equipment. In. The. Bathrooms.
And this is just one of the many, many ways my school treats students like garbage.