“Should we get started?” the principal suggests in a cheery, singsong voice, tapping on the microphone. “People? Please take your seats. Excuse me, people?” Her smile is brittle as she grips the microphone a little too hard. She stands alone on the Cafetorium stage, a space that doubles as both a lunchroom and a theater—and permanently smells of soured milk.
The throng of veteran teachers summarily ignores her, continuing to talk all the more loudly to one another, mainly about expected retirement dates. They help themselves to off brand cookies and lukewarm coffee, drinking copious amounts in cheap environmentally-unfriendly styrofoam cups. Next to the coffee table , a colorful sign—”Recycling Begins With Me!”— is posted over a trashcan full of used plastic bottles and crushed Red Bull cans. No amount of caffeine or sugar prepares anyone for the first 7:30 a.m. faculty meeting of the school year.
The new teachers sit in the front row on cold plastic chairs, dutifully prepared to take notes. Most have not brought a sweater or jacket and shiver in the subarctic chill of the school’s overactive air conditioning. They’ve already introduced themselves to each other, separate and apart from their colleagues. They wonder if they’ve chosen the wrong profession and are secretly horrified at the bovine creatures mooing behind them. How am I stuck with 9th grade remedial when these cows all have upper level honors classes?
“People? The sooner we start, the sooner you can work in your rooms,” the principal begs. The new teachers will unload a dozen boxes of supplies and room decorations from their two-door hatchbacks, invariably parked in the wrong car lot. The veteran teachers will staple faded, crumpled posters—“The Best Way To Predict Your Future Is To Create It!”—that they’ve stored in the back of their classroom closets for years.
Fifteen minutes after the alleged start time, the principal’s secretary enters the Cafetorium with an armful of handouts, still warm from the photocopier. As expected, the various papers are unstapled because no one has bothered to replace the photocopier’s staple cartridge, empty since the preceding June.
“Girl, hand me the duty roster. I am not supervising Hallway B after school. I’ll talk to my union rep about that.”
“Sixth period planning? That’s the worst. Why do I even have a planning period, then? I need to get this changed.”
“No one said they were moving my classroom. I’ve been there for four years! I’m not even in the same building. I have a bad back—maintenance is going to have to move all those boxes.”
“I never agreed to a third prep. I don’t even teach social studies.”
The new teachers look over their shoulders, hearing the hue and cry of their colleagues, now whispering to each other—in jest—that they’ve definitely chosen the wrong profession. Ha ha.
“People, there have been some changes this year with the new state standards. Please find page eight in the packets—if there were packets—well, just look at the top of the page that reads BEST Standards,” the principal says, clicking through a PowerPoint slideshow that has far too many words in an unreadable microfont.
“I don’t have page eight. I have three page nines . . .”
“What happened to the FIRST Standards or the COMMON CORE Standards or the SUNSHINE Standards—”
“Whenever a new governor gets into office, they suddenly know how to fix education.”
“Or his wife does.”
“Does this mean the FIRST Standards tests in March are out?”
“No, the state will still give the FIRST Standards tests, but they will use the BEST standards to score them holistically.”
“They’ll score them to show that the new governor’s standards are ‘highly effective’ in ‘educating the whole child’ and ‘preparing them for the 21st century workplace’—”
“I’m sure there will be a graph showing the ‘learning gains’ of ‘critical thinking skills’—”
The entire row behind the new teachers bursts out into cynical laughter.
“People? Please, people, there is a lot to go over. Please turn to the four-page list of drills this year. Understand what is required of you for fire, tornado, hurricane, chemical spill, and active shooter drills. We have added three week-long units on mental health awareness and social-emotional health issues. We will also have four bullying assemblies, one per quarter.”
“When do we get to teach—”
“At least there are no more nuclear bomb drills—”
“I don’t have a list of the drills—”
“Couldn’t this meeting have been an email?”
“Before we leave, I want to share something with you,” the principal wistfully sighs. “This is something very meaningful to me, and I hope you appreciate the spirit in which I share it with you.”
“Please, not the starfish story.”
“You know it is.”
“One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, ‘What are you doing?’”
“I literally can tell this story backwards.”
“The ocean threw the starfish up on the beach in the first place. What makes the boy think the ocean isn’t going to do it again?”
“The youth replied, ‘If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.’” The principal gives a dramatic pause. A few of the older teachers simply walk out.
“The man said, ‘Don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!’ After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf.” The principal takes a deep breath, rises to her full height of 5 feet, 6 inches, and squares her shoulders. “Then, smiling at the man, the boy said . . . ‘I made a difference for that one.’”
The new teachers wipe teary eyes, jotting down the words “Make A Difference” and drawing a starfish next to the principal’s directive. I knew this was the right field for me. I am here to transmit culture, to help the next generation achieve their dreams, to make a difference, and to stay out of the faculty lounge.
The remaining veteran teachers continue to scroll through their phones.
“Have a great year!” the principal calls out, as the new teachers remain seated, unsure of what to do next or who to follow.
Author’s Note: The following is taken verbatim from the State of Florida’s BEST English Language Arts Standards for the 2021-2022 school year. The quotation marks are not mine.
BEST is an acronym for “Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking,” which really should be BFEST, but that wouldn’t be as catchy.
Good luck with the starfish this year, fellow teachers, and get a load of this:
The implementation of these standards will encourage schools, districts, and educators to adopt and build a rich, deep, and meaningful curriculum that “uplifts the soul.”
The goal of these standards is to restore teachers to their true calling: educating the hearts, souls, and minds of their students, bringing them “into the glorious light of truth.”
(It looks like the Florida English teachers have their work cut out for them!)