Reflections from “Tales from the Office” #3: The Demise of Ms. Lips
You cannot fully appreciate hearing about my experiences in #TalesFromTheOffice without knowing the story of Ms. Lips. No that’s not her real name. I don’t feel like getting sued, so I’ve changed names to protect my identity.
Let me begin by saying that what you are about to read of Ms. Lips didn’t always reflect how things were. There was a time where she was a teacher like any other, beloved by all who knew her. She was a competent instructor, and it was hard to see her fall.
The Early Days
It began around 2009. Ms. Lips had been experiencing some health issues and was diagnosed with breast cancer. At least, that’s what she says she had. To this day we aren’t exactly sure if that was the truth or not. She went out on medical leave for a while and came back, well, different. She still had the same Starbucks addiction, making at LEAST four trips during the workday. She still had the same cigarette addiction but did so away from campus so as not to influence young minds. She was just, different.
I’m going to take a second right now and tell you about one other thing. That combination of chain smoking and coffee did not bode well for her GI tract. You didn’t dare use the staff bathroom after Ms. Lips, for it was as if you had entered the bowels of a landfill. No amount of Axe, Febreze or candle lighting could mask that stench. It was terrible.
As time went on, Ms. Lips behavior kept going downhill. She was disheveled, her desk was messy and her behavior grew more and more odd. Then the calls started coming in. Parents and students alike would contact the office and ask that their teacher be changed. Reasons varied but the all centered around the fact that she was behaving strangely and people felt uncomfortable. Forget the parents, we had to work with the woman on a daily basis. I was beginning to feel uncomfortable. I’d go back to talk to the woman and her bra straps would be hanging out from under her shirt. Even worse, I’d go back and find her bent over on the ground trying to clean up yet another coffee mess while unintentionally giving other colleagues, students and parents a show.
Office Supplies Wanted
Here at the school, we like to keep our supplies cabinet fully stocked. Not having office supplies should be one of the last things to prevent a teacher from doing their job. Unlike many public schools, charter school funds are non-categorical , meaning we can use the money how and when we need to. Very little gets earmarked with no hope for shuffling things around. So where, you’re asking, does Ms. Lips enter this picture. I’ll tell you. We walked into the back work area one afternoon to see her filling up a box of supplies, more than any one individual should ever need for an entire school year. She quickly covered with some story about how she was putting items back that she had found, but we knew that was a lie. We had been bleeding supplies for over a year and couldn’t figure out how our pens, tape, staples and post-it notes had all disappeared. Was Ms. Lips selling this stuff on Craigslist? Did it just disappear into thin air? The world will never know.
The “Walking” Pharmacy
Remember how I told you that Ms. Lips had cancer? She also had a jaw surgery and some issues with her back. Needless to say, she was on plenty of medication for all of her ailments; a walking pharmacy of sorts. Pain pills, antidepressants, anxiety medication, more pain pills. It was almost as if she had a tackle box full of all of her pills, except the tackle box was her purse. Like I said before, we’re not quite sure how many of these ailments were real, but somehow she was able to shop doctors enough to where she had enough to supply a small nation.
I’ll never forget the time where she was administering a test to a group of students. There they were, heads down, concentrating on the exam when she decided to pour a bottle of pills all over the desk and begin counting them. Yep. You read that right. Who in their right mind would do such a thing? Oh wait, we’ve already established she wasn’t in her right mind.
I’ve put the word “walking” in quotes for a purpose. Ms. Lips was more in a constant trip/fall than a walk. Why a woman with back issues would choose to wear four inch stiletto heels every day is beyond me. Every time she got out of the car and tried to stand, I cringed. Her ankles looked as if they would snap at any second. Let’s not forget the time it was pouring rain and Ms. Lips shows up to work in those same heels. She took one step inside the door and seconds later was sprawled out on the ground. Or the time when it had just rained and she went to step up onto the sidewalk and instead ended up eating concrete after a faceplant. How this woman functioned will remain a mystery.
The Demise of Ms. Lips
For anybody not familiar with education, once a teacher has reached tenure, they are very difficult to remove. Their right to teach is based in the constitution, something unique amongst the professional world. Unions and threats of a lawsuit further complicate the process. Ms. Lips knew she was on her last leg, and fought tooth and nail to keep her position. Eventually, however, we were able to build enough of a case. About three weeks before the end of the school year, Ms. Lips was called in to have a meeting with Administration and a representative from the district. During the course of that meeting, Ms. Lips stood up, flung open the conference room door and went back to the staff restroom. Twenty minutes later her husband came through the office door explaining that his wife was in the back and needed assistance to leave. He helped her back up to the office where she addressed her review panel and said she had fallen ill and could not continue the process. The panel was very clear that their recommendation for dismissal would become final should she not continue. She repeated herself and then collapsed to the floor weeping.
Sack of Potatoes
After she had been sobbing for at least five minutes, Ms. Lips husband picked her up, and threw her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes in a fireman’s carry. I kid you not. There wasn’t any “Let’s go honey,” or “let me help you,” it was just up and over his shoulder. Taken aback, the only thing we could do was open the front door and let him walk past. My last memory of Ms. Lips was seeing her get huffed into the passenger seat of her blue Lexus and driving away.
Every so often I wonder what has become of Ms. Lips. We caught rumor a couple of years later that her husband left her, and that she had lost her house. For a while I thought I still saw her blue Lexus on the freeway. Ms. Lips, wherever you are, I hope that you’re okay.
#TalesFromTheOffice Recap Series