by Mika Yamamoto
End-of-Year Teacher Survey for Sunshine Academy
The board would like to offer the faculty an opportunity to give feedback on what it was like to be a teacher at Sunshine Academy this school year. We appreciate any and all feedback.
I don’t know if there’s a maximum word count limit for this survey, but I’m warning you right now, this is going to be a motherfucking novel, because I have a lot to say. Also, I know this is supposed to be an anonymous survey, but there’s something I have to reveal right now about me so you understand the context of my complaint, and then you will know who wrote this, which is fine with me because I’m submitting a formal complaint as soon as I have time to scrub out all the swears from my story. Consider this a first draft.
I am the only Asian American teacher at the school. This is relevant because this year, I have been dealing nonstop with blatant racism at Sunshine Academy. It’s my second year here, and it feels like I was invited into a beautiful house, “a progressive social justice school,” only to find out I had walked into a haunted house.
Of course, in retrospect, I knew from the day I started that something wasn’t right. All the people were smiling and saying, “It’s wonderful here, isn’t it? Aren’t we so lucky? We have the best job! And aren’t we so lucky to have Mary as a boss? She’s pretty perfect, isn’t she? She’s so smart.” And this isn’t hyperbole; these are actual quotes. I’ve been around enough to know that when no one is talking shit, bad shit is going on, and everyone is scared shitless. I know this is especially true if the people of color at the school are quiet and smiling. There’s no work environment in this country where racism isn’t at least a little bit of a problem for people of color. It took me a long time before I heard any gossip at this school, which is saying something because I love gossip like nobody’s business; in fact, I consider everything my business. I’ll tell you this, when people finally did start to talk to me, it was not fun, petty shit, like who puts ketchup on their hot dog like a psycho. Or whose scalp smells bad and who is repulsed by that. It was serious as fuck, like who is a secret plantation-level racist and who is being abused. I can’t share what I heard here, but I did encourage everyone to submit honest surveys themselves.
A good friend of mine on staff told me yesterday that no matter what happens, when shit hits the fan, which it will, I will be blamed. We both know it’s true, and we both know there is nothing we can do about it. But it got me thinking, what exactly did I do? We can’t deny that I’m at the center of this drama that is unfolding, but what did I do? Could I have done something differently so it would be less dramatic? Am I actually a chaos entrepreneur?
All this started on January thirteenth when Kennedy, who is the only middle-aged, cis, white man on our staff, stormed into my room and berated me and my teaching partner in front of the students because I had asked him to send one of my students back to the classroom. Then he put his hand in my face and told me, “You need to get whatever is going on here,” (gestures a circle to cover my face), “under control.”
In the past, he had talked to me numerous times about his “crazy Asian ex-girlfriend” and had also said, “You’re all crazy.” I never reported this because this is just a run-of-the-mill microaggression I get as an Asian woman, and I wouldn’t have time to even pee if I reported every one of these incidents. However, in context with what he did, I think it’s relevant. That day, I was just standing there listening to his tirade in shock, which was already completely cuckoo bananas, yet he told me I needed to get my emotions under control. At a mediated meeting a week later about this incident, Kennedy defended his action by saying, “I know that was wrong, and upon reflection, I realized it was because I didn’t have the words to express what I was thinking.” Is he a toddler? And also, what feelings were so big?
Nothing was done about this incident. When I told Mary that what Kennedy did would be a punishable offense at any other organization, Mary laughed and said, “Well, I can definitely tell you that we are NOT a punishment-oriented institution!” I don’t think an incident report was generated.
However, it is most definitely NOT TRUE that we are “not a punishment-oriented institution.” What she meant was that the school does not punish the perpetrator but WILL punish the victim. Not long after this, Mary conducted an out-of-cycle evaluation of me. She said she had to observe me but did not tell me she was evaluating me. Then she wrote up a formal faculty evaluation on a form I’d never seen before, that, in fact, nobody had ever seen before, and the content had nothing to do with the observation. In this evaluation, she wrote, “Parents and colleagues are afraid to approach Masako with feedback because her communication style is so aggressive.” When I met with her to discuss the evaluation, I asked her to tell me what she was talking about. Mary said, “I can’t share that with you. It wouldn’t even be appropriate!” I told her I wanted this taken out of my evaluation since she could not validate her claim. To this, she responded, “Why? Who is even going to see this piece of paper?”
She went to the board to complain about my insubordination regarding this evaluation. She complained that I was “weaponizing DEI to prevent her being evaluated.” She even hired a DEI consultant in hopes of having her convince me that I was wrong. This, of course, did not go as she planned, and things got messier.
Now we get to The Meeting Where All Hell Broke Loose. Present at the meeting were: Kennedy, Morrigan, Lilith, Desdemona, and me. This was the hiring committee to find a replacement for Desdemona, who was our social worker and was officially leaving for personal reasons.
Everyone at this meeting was white, except me. Our first and only interview was scheduled for the next day. Mary had already told me she wanted to hire the candidate she had walked through the building a month ago, John, a cis, white, middle-aged man with no license. A nice enough guy, I have no problem with him, but is he really the most qualified person? A board member had asked why we were not requiring our school social worker to be licensed, and Mary answered, “For equity and inclusion reasons.” Let’s take a minute to shake our heads at this.
Anyway, she told me, and only me, that she wanted to speed up John’s hiring process because he already had another offer. In retrospect, was this a trap? If it wasn’t a trap, is she really that stupid? Did she think I would not question this process? Or was she counting on me to question this process and walk into hot water?
Back to the question of whether there was anything I could have done to prevent the chaos. I could have taken myself off the hiring committee. I could have stayed silent on the committee. I could have let John get hired. Instead, I emailed the committee and asked if we had a robust DEI hiring process. I asked if we could meet before the interview to get on the same page. I asked our DEI advisor for recommended questions for the committee to consider. I had apparently stoked the fire with my poking because they all walked into the meeting hot. Who was I to ask questions? Who was I to want to give input?
They yelled at me for half an hour about how I didn’t know anything. I finally said, “I don’t understand why you are arguing with me. What I am suggesting is not my opinion. They are the best practices and questions recommended to us by our DEI advisor. We can choose to follow them or not, but I would think that as a social justice school, we should be aligned with recommended best practices.”
Morrigan slammed the desk and got up. She said, “I can’t even be in this meeting anymore!” She walked out.
At some point, she walked back in and sat down. She then proceeded to put me in my place. She said to me, “It is like in the classroom. If five kids are playing and four of them say one of them stole the ball, then that one can’t play anymore. That kid has to sit down. Right now, you’re that kid. You are so aggressive and hostile, you make me not even want to be in this room, and I certainly don’t want to pass that on to the interviewee.”
The group nodded assent.
I wish there had been a camera in the room because the optics of that was so beautiful. Four nodding heads and one head of jet-black hair, still.
Then Kennedy added, “I know you think you know a lot about DEI because you talked to our DEI advisor, but we’ve had thousands of hours of training and have done interviews for years, so we know what we are doing.”
When people complain about my “aggression,” I don’t think they understand the amount of self-control it takes to sit there and let Kennedy, of all people, say he knows a lot about DEI. Did I spit in his face? No. Did I claw his eyes out? No. Did I contemplate slashing his stupid bike tires? Maybe. But did I slash them? No. Did I even give him a withering stare? No. Instead, I said, “Okay, what do you need?”
“We need to decide on the questions. We like all of Desdemona’s.”
Then I volunteered to create the document with the questions they wanted. Morrigan walked out again, huffing, “I can’t be here anymore!” Kennedy played on his phone. Desdemona smiled her deranged smile. End of meeting.
It should be noted that Lilith, The Most Beloved Teacher in the School, said nothing in the meeting to reveal where she stood. I thought we were friends, and she was an ally, so I reached out to her several times to talk to her about it. She ignored the two texts I sent her and didn’t respond to my in-person request to talk. I began to think that maybe she was not an ally.
This Thursday, more than two weeks after the blow-up, she finally asked to meet with me. As soon as we sat down, she said, “I have feedback you aren’t going to like.” Then she proceeded to tell me that I am ruining the school, and everyone is unhappy because of me. Well, this isn’t technically true. She never came out and said anything directly, even when I tried to get her to say something clearly. Instead, she said, “It hurts me so much because I know Kennedy and Morrigan have been instrumental to all the DEI work at the school.” To which I asked, “So what is hurting you?” and she replied, “I know they have done this work with great integrity.” And I said, “So what’s in tension with this?” and she said, “Neither of us would be sitting in this room if it weren’t for Mary.” Finally, at some point, she said, “You’re just so angry. I’ve never seen anyone carrying so much anger. It scares me because I don’t know how someone lives with so much anger in them. And what I want to know is, how do you plan to move forward?”
Me and my angry ass kept my angry mouth shut. I did not give her a lecture about how not to tell me what I’m feeling and that my feelings were none of her concern. Nor did I tell her to name the behavior that was problematic, nor did I ask her if she thought it might be valid for me to be so angry. At that moment, I was, indeed, very angry, but here is how I looked: :) I know I’m not going to educate a white woman when she’s trying to put me in my place, and I knew that was what was happening with how she opened up the conversation. So I just kept mental notes of all the crazy-ass shit that was coming out of her mouth so I could write it down here in this survey, and potentially in the Official Complaint. “I’m so scared! I’m scared!” she kept saying. I asked, “Lilith, what are you scared of?” She replied, literally wringing her hands, “I don’t know! I’m worried all this could. . . !”
I swear to God, for Christmas, I’m going to buy this woman some pearls to clutch.
Here’s a little side-rant. I am so sick of grown-ass white women using the word “icky.” When I talk about racism, I have to be on my A-game. I have to be articulate, calm, clear, and empathetic. But when Lilith talks about racism, she thinks she can use the word “icky.” Use your fucking words, okay? You’re an adult and I am an adult. Icky is a word you use with kids when something sticky is on the table that you don’t want them to smear all over the place, or there is a pile of poop you don’t want them to eat. Icky is not the word you use to describe how angry you are because someone is calling out racism. You really need to investigate the feeling more and not become a literal baby.
Just the day before, Emilia, The Second Most Beloved Teacher at the school, also used “icky” to describe how it felt to hear her friends being called out for racism. It was during this conversation that she turned, pointed to me, and said unprompted, “I’ll be honest. I’m scared of you because you are so aggressive.”
I have literally never had any personal interaction with Emilia where I wasn’t smiling, because, just like everyone else, I adored her. Before all this race stuff happened, Emilia and Lilith used to compliment me all the time on how positive my energy was. Yet, now, I’m aggressive.
This is when I realized, there is a concerted effort to create the narrative that I am aggressive. Kennedy started the narrative. Then, Mary gave institutional credibility to this claim by naming it in a formal evaluation. Morrigan, who is the faculty bully, gave her endorsement to bully me this way. Lilith and Emilia, as the most respected teachers at the school, gave the story their spiritual blessings. Now it is sacred.
All this hurts my feelings, but that’s not what I’m worried about. I heard that after The Meeting Where All Hell Broke Loose, Morrigan went to Mary crying. I don’t know what she said, but Mary then went to the board and said, “I’m worried that we are going to lose teachers because of Masako.” This is not the first time she has consulted with the board about me, nor will it be the last. What she is seeking is permission from the board to fire me.
Lilith may not know what she is scared of, but I know what I am scared of. I am scared of losing my job. I worry about this a lot, even though the board has assured me I won’t lose my job, and I trust them. I worry that eventually, Mary will wear them down. I worry that when the board changes, they will not be as protective of my rights. I worry that I will make a critical mistake because I am so exhausted. I find myself unable to stop worrying about it obsessively. I worry about this nonstop, every day. Even now, when school is out. I worry that I won’t be offered a position for next year. I worry because I love working at Sunshine Academy despite all this nonsense, I love my students, I love their parents, and I love most of my colleagues. I also worry about getting fired because I know that getting fired in our industry makes it nearly impossible to get hired anywhere else, and I may not be able to teach again. This will break my heart because I love teaching so much.
In the last few days, I’ve started to also feel slightly concerned about my physical safety because I’m alarmed at how unhinged my colleagues have been acting. I know this is paranoid, but I worry because I don’t know where their boundaries are. I know that Kennedy hunts, and he has guns. I find myself thinking too much about his guns. Is it paranoid of me to think about this? It’s paranoid. I know it is. It is, right?
Mika Yamamoto is a Chicago-based writer. Her work has appeared in Noon, Nelle, Writer’s Chronicle, and Vagabond City, amongst others. She teaches writing at The Art Institute of Chicago.