Story Time with Mr. Newman: Fighting for Justice or Getting Into Drama?

Media provided by Fiona Miller ‘26 

Mr. Newman is one of Grace’s mathematics instructors and the director of the Math & Science Center. He opened up about a teaching job early in his career that he still frets about nearly two decades later. 

In this story, he shares his regrets about the job and what he would have done differently. In the years since the incident, he has not only gained maturity but also learned important life lessons. Lucky for us, we will not have to learn these lessons the hard way. By listening to his story, we might discover some insight into how members of our community, like Mr. Newman, have become such positive role models. 

Mr. Newman. Image courtesy of Media provided by Zoe Zaroff ‘26.

We prompted him to tell this story by asking the question: “When was a challenging time when you wished you could have told your younger self what to do?” 

Fiona M. ‘26: So if you could tell your younger self something, what would you tell them, like looking back on the past? 

Mr. Newman: So right after college, I had a math teaching job. But you know, right after college, you’re pretty young. I was in my 20s. I was only like six or so years older than the oldest students in the high school. 

I really enjoyed teaching, but they switched out the principal of the school at one point. We got a new principal, and she had a really different style. She was kind of a little bit aggressive and scary. And I was fine, but some of my fellow teachers were really intimidated by her. And … there were rumors that spread around that she was …  threatening to fire people. 

Media provided by Zoe Zaroff ‘26

And it just all seemed really unfair to me. There were teachers at the school that I cared about who were having bad experiences with her. And, so at that time, I kind of had a sense of justice in mind that …  this isn’t fair and I should …  stand up for my friends, for my fellow teachers. And …  I was pretty confrontational with her. Or at least … I was very open with her. I didn’t hold back. I told her this is what I’m hearing people say. And it just, it went really badly. 

And I mean, I should have seen that coming if this is kind of like a bully who’s, you know, mean to people. She’s not going to love it if some 24-year-old kid is telling her how to do her job and … I mean, we became enemies, … so she sort of like, not in quite so many words, but she basically threatened to fire me too. Or sort of implied that she should, like if you don’t do what I want …  we’ll go find someone else who will. And like … that sort of talk. And she even,… she was belittling me like I don’t know [what] she said to me. She’s like you think you’re the Lorax, like you speak like I speak for the trees but you don’t speak for anyone but yourself like, so stop trying to … speak for these other teachers. 

And so I mean I hated her and it was ugly and I wasn’t … really proud of the way that I acted in the end because it was high drama. I’m not really that way these days and …  I think what I would tell myself is that if you’re not happy with how a school is being run, it’s not necessarily something you have a whole lot of control over. 

I should have found a way, maybe very gently to feel her out, to see if she wanted my feedback. And then if she didn’t, just to be like, “you know what? I’m just gonna like do my thing. Maybe she’ll be gone in a year or two, you know?” 

But by making it a big fight with her, it meant that the rest of my time there was really stressful. And I think that even though I thought I was  fighting for justice, the reality is everything that I believed was second hand, like what my friends told me she had said to them. 

And …  even though it was really mean, the way she said it, I think she a little bit had a point that my job isn’t necessarily to try and speak up for these other teachers because the thing is if they really have a problem, they could have gone to her directly. 

And maybe they were afraid to, maybe not. But like, I’m not, I mean, that’s not my role as a math teacher at a school. So like if you really don’t agree, I think I would tell myself: if you really don’t agree with the way the school is being run and you can’t handle it, then just leave and do something else. 

But if you get really into the mud, and like fighting these ugly fights, …  it’s just not gonna be good. But I think my younger self might not really have listened. Actually, he probably would have, would have just stuck to saying like, no, she’s horrible, you know, she needs to be called out. 

Fiona M. ‘26: Would you say to her face, what’s an example of like what you do…?

Mr. Newman: I mean I would say … “this is what people are saying.” I would disclose anonymously what I’m hearing from other people, like what they are saying: that she threatens to fire people and that she’s a bully and stuff like that. 

And I think I sort of thought at the beginning, … that maybe she and I would still be fine because all that she needs is just to hear what’s happening. And then of course she’ll want to change or something like that. So I mean, I didn’t come out and say:  “I think you’re a bully. I think you’re bad.” 

But I was saying, this is what I’m hearing other people saying, but of course that’s not so fun for her to hear either. So, I don’t know. …   

Cassie B. ‘26: Do you think … there was any positive change at all in that situation after you spoke with her, or no? 

Mr Newman: I think … I don’t know, I think it just, it probably made her life less pleasant, which isn’t great, but it might, it might have made her a little bit slower to use some of the same tactics the next time.

But actually, I mean, I didn’t mean to say this part, the part I really feel worse about is that there were two assistant principals, and I ended up talking to them a bunch too, and the assistant principals were good people. They weren’t bullies, but I really leaned hard on them and was talking to them about how they need to do something, and I made their lives hard.

And so … I think I really wish I had that back again. And it was actually really sad, like at the end, when you leave a job, sometimes you have like an exit interview where you talk about how things went. And so I scheduled my exit interview with the principal and the two assistant principals, and they declined.

I got an email, just like a form email that just said …  they will not be meeting with you. And I really, with the assistant principals, I just wanted a chance to actually even just say, I’m sorry, like, I’m sorry if I made their lives hard, or I’m sorry that I know that I did make their lives hard, and that, you know, that they didn’t do anything wrong, and that I’m sorry I made their lives hard.

But then, on the very last day, the one assistant principal who I was closest to, she always had her door open to her office, like every single day, always the door open. But on the last day, when I was gonna come by and talk to her, she was in there working with the door closed. And I could tell that she was doing it on purpose because she didn’t want to have to face me.

And I think probably it’s because she was expecting that on my way out, I was probably gonna complain some more. Maybe she thought that, when really I just wanted to try to … make peace and say I’m sorry. And so I actually still think about that, like almost two decades later. It’s a really tough decision, but I’m wondering if one day I could still get in touch with her and apologize.

But the reason it’s a hard choice is that, would I really be doing that just for me? Would that actually help her? Because if I actually get in touch with her and apologize, it’s gonna bring back all those memories for her. And, I don’t know if she’ll be more at peace not having to think about me because she went through some tough times with my complaining.

So I don’t know. And I don’t even know how to get in touch with her, but like every year, Jewish people often around Yom Kippur, you’re thinking about like, are there specific people I want to apologize to? And, I’m always thinking about her and the question is: would it do more good or more harm for me to reach out to her and apologize? 

So yeah, I wish I could tell my younger self at the very least to go easy on the assistant principals, that they really were just doing their best and not to make people’s lives miserable and complain too much. But I mean, part of what I can do now as an older person is I can avoid making those mistakes again, or … when I’m mentoring a younger teacher, I can help steer them in a good direction.

And I’m not saying that you should just always keep your mouth shut about problems, but there’s a different way to do it. You can keep it about yourself, and say, “this is the problem I’m having.”  And, you know, those other teachers who had the problems, I could have said to them, you know, maybe I could have encouraged them to go to her directly.

And maybe they were just blowing off steam. Sometimes people just like to complain. Maybe I was interpreting their complaining as a lot more serious than it was, or they were exaggerating. I don’t know, but I guess, I really, these days try not to be in a situation where I’m so sure that I’m right. That I need to somehow fight for justice in a way that’s gonna, that’s gonna just get ugly. I mean, there’s real fights for justice, you know, about, like, real mistreatment in the world. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do those fights for justice, but this is, it was, you know, it was drama. It was like I was picking a side in a drama that was happening.

And that really wasn’t quite a matter of right and wrong in that way. And I think I was a little too sure of myself. Yeah, I mean, hearing that story as a high schooler, obviously there’s a lot of drama and people always get into those situations. Social dynamics. 

Yeah, and when you’re in that moment, especially because some of the teachers who were complaining to me, they were older than me, and I looked up to them.

I just was, I was too quick to think I need to pick a side, and I know that my friends are right. And it might not have really been that simple.  

Fiona M. ‘26: Thank you for sharing that with us.

Mr. Newman: Yeah, thanks for coming by. This was really interesting. 

The authors, Cassie Ball ‘26 and Fiona Miller ‘26, are staff writers for The Grace Gazette and were students in Mr. Newman’s Geometry class last year. transcribed this article.