I have a confession to make: I am one of the nearly one million viewers tuning in for HBO’s Vice Principals. The show’s been criticized by notable publications like Slate and The Guardian, and justly so—dozens of cringe-worthy comments and scenes, especially surrounding the racially-charged issue of the new black, female principal, have made me turn away from the television.
But something draws me back. It’s the way I see my school and my colleagues in the show. Sure, it’s distorted and exaggerated for the viewers’ amusement, but when the goings on at the fictional North Jackson High School are familiar. The poorly-run restorative practices room, the gossip in the teachers lounge, and Mr. Gamby – many think, “That happens at my school, but it’s not that bad.” That’s the draw. That’s the dark comedic escape.
Before I became a teacher I genuinely believed in the ludicrous notion that all teachers across the world were associates of a secret society. One in which they only befriended one another and shopped at “teachers only” grocery stores. If such a society exists, then I have not yet received my membership invitation. I did, however, receive a reality check – hitting me hard about seven years ago, on my first day working as a teaching assistant.
It was lunchtime on that fateful day and my 18-year-old brain was channeling my inner-voice fueled by Lindsey Pollak’s From College to Career. I thought (with far too much enthusiasm), I’ll go sit in the teachers’ lounge and network!” I entered the motivational poster-laden door only to find three empty chairs and a forgotten-worksheet covered table. I walked the halls of this seemingly empty school and despondently realized that every one of the staff members was eating lunch alone. Some were on their cellphones, complaining about their work, while others sat in the dark listening to calming music.