Ms. Campbell Brown, did you ever hear of Teacher Abuse?

I had all intention of writing about something else until I read the great blog by NYC Educator today. Here is Gotham Schools and Ms. Campbell Brown who feel that everyone should have the right to due process except us teachers. Listen, we live in a democracy and no system is perfect. What was it that Mr. Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Many believe there was a miscarriage of justice done in Florida, but no one is talking about ending all jury trials in cases that will be similar to that of Zimmerman vs. Trayvon Martin. It does not mean that because a jury may have made a wrong decision, we should do away with jury trials for all such cases. For someone to accept a judge’s decision in a bench trial, one must have complete faith in the honesty and integrity of such a judge. Unfortunately, our Department of Education reflected in the personage of Chancellor Dennis Walcott does not even come close to Solomon’s standard. Here is Bloomberg’s lackey—a man who has a symbiotic connection to our little corrupt dictator.

The Department of Education is made up of approximately 80,000 teachers and less than 200 cases have gone to a 3020a hearings about sexual misconduct. Of those who were found innocent, I am sure a few guilty ones may unfortunately have gotten away. That happens in our system and it is shameful. But it is no reason to completely end our right of due process because not only do teacher’s abuse children, but children abuse teacher and make false accusations. Just remember the famous play by Lillian Hellman—“The Children’s Hour” about the professional and emotional toll a teacher can go through when a child makes a false accusation. I have personal knowledge of two cases where teachers were falsely accused and were clearly innocent.

The first case involved a teacher in a Queens’s high school eight years ago. My son was a freshman in that high school and ended up in an English class taught by one of the best instructors he ever had. He was a first year teacher and to my amazement helped my son understand Shakespeare. No, he was not a TFA five week wonder but someone who came out a traditional teacher education program. I met him in November at the school’s first parent-teacher conference of the year. I was impressed by the hard work and dedication of this young teacher. A lot of planning went into his lessons that not only taught my son how to comprehend Shakespeare, but also, at the same time, taught him to understand many different types of literary elements. Unfortunately, about a week after the conference, my son told me that his favorite teacher was removed because he was accused by two students in his class (who were, by the way, failing) of exposing himself in a Mercedes that was parked near a bus stop by the school.

Anyone hearing this story would have the same reaction—the teacher must be fired. However, there was more to the story. When he was removed and assigned to a rubber room in another borough pending final disposition of the case (by the way, this untenured teacher could easily be fired even without cause), the pervert struck again at the same bus stop. This time, the pervert was caught and arrested. Now, one would think that this teacher would easily be cleared and returned to the school. By the way, this young teacher could not even afford a jalopy on his meager first year salary, yet alone a Mercedes Benz! Instead, he ended up in purgatory for the rest of the year. First, the DOE wanted him to resign because, even though he was clearly innocent, he was now “tainted.” In the DOE’s view, he would always now be viewed with suspicion even though the real perpetrator was caught. They could not fire someone who was innocent, so they put pressure on him to accept another assignment far away from his present school’s venue. It ended up that this teacher had to hire a personal lawyer to fight for his right to return to his school. Let me just say that after about a year, he was returned to the high school with a little settlement that reached into the six figures for pain and suffering.

The next case involved a school psychologist who was evaluating students in a New York State approved nonpublic school for emotionally disturbed students. In NYC, many school psychologists are assigned cases in nonpublic schools that receive funding by the state. He gave a psychological assessment which would be used to determine the educational needs of this student. This teenager, after the assessment, accused the psychologist of talking dirty to her. He ended up in the rubber room and could not even understand why this young woman would even make this accusation. But he was guilty until proven innocent. It did not matter that this teenager had a police record a mile long, was sexually acting out, and, by the way, had an out-of-wedlock baby at 15 years old with an unknown father. Nope, the word of this highly volatile emotionally disturbed student held more weight than this psychologist who had a perfect record for over 25 years. It went to a 3020a hearing. The DOE wanted the psychologist fired, but obviously, a fair arbitrator cleared him because it was obvious that the student was not credible. Yet again, the DOE viewed him as tainted and he was never assigned to a permanent position within the school system. He eventually retired bitter and angry. Wouldn’t anyone?

If Campbell Brown had her way, she would give Walcott the power to fire immediately these two educators. They would have never had the chance to clear their names. DOE has a simple philosophy—accusation equals guilt. And even if one is found innocent, one remains tainted with a Scarlett letter forever. Yes, arbitrators do make mistakes, but that is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Recently, I know of a case where a principal created a trumped up case against a teacher. The teacher was even arrested, but cleared by the police because the witnesses to this supposed incident all had different stories. Even though, there was a 3020a hearing and the teacher was fired because the arbitrator said he showed no remorse (against a crime he did not even commit). What is the alternative? Well, according to Mr. Brown even a single arbitration mistake warrants the doing away with the present system. We have to trust the wisdom of our leaders to do the right thing to protect us. I think Mr. Brown and Gotham schools need to reread the constitution and the Federalist Papers to see how much our founding fathers believed in trusting the wisdom of any single individual—they didn’t! Yes, we have to live with the Trayvon Marin verdict and that one teacher who may have gotten away in our imperfect system of justice. But, to paraphrase Mr. Churchill, the alternative is far worse. Ms. Brown, we are not trying to protect possible child molesters, we just want to be treated like anyone else in society—no more and no less!

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Casualties of Reform

There are no winners of war, only survivors . . .

                A war has been declared on public education and the quote above sums it up.  Nothing reveals an effect more than the lives of real people who have been hurt by the misguided ideas of an elite who has used their wealth and power to force their views upon parents, educators, and children.  To Broad, Gates, Rhee, Duncan, and the Walton family, we are viewed as sheep that can be easily controlled and manipulated.  However, we sheep are real people and many individuals have been hurt.  It is time to talk about what happens to real people because of this misguided reform.

                A good friend of mine who was a master teacher in midtown Manhattan was a year away from retirement when her principal retired.  Under this principal, she became a coach and mentor to many teachers.  She was a published author, won awards, and when she was in the classroom, countless parents requested her as a teacher.  In the 29 years she was in this school, many of her former students ended up achieving at very high levels.  Over the years, her former students would visit her.  She told me that a student she taught a quarter century ago came to the school just to see her.  When this boy was in her sixth grade class in 1980, he had great difficulty reading.  She discovered that he loved science fiction and whenever she had a free period, she would read with him short stories from Ray Bradbury.  This was just the spark to help this children read on his own.  And what did this former student bring to this teacher, but a copy of a science fiction novel that he authored and was just published along with a donation to the school.

                However, the following September a new principal came to the school from what we in New York calls the principal’s academy.  This academy trains people who have little or no educational experience to run schools based on a corporate model.   I know of one graduate from this so-called academy who went from paraprofessional to principal without passing GO.  One of the tenets of this academy is that schools should become more cost effective and efficient.  The best way to get the most bang for your buck is to dispose of those “tired, old, worn and burned out teachers.”

                As usual, this teacher/coach came in early to set up her office and plan for the year.  Instead, the new academy principal (who was never even a teacher) called her in to tell her that he decided to make a change.  He told her that the school no longer had money for a coaching position.  She would have to go into the classroom.  By the way, the building she was in had been built in the early 1930s and was five stories high without an elevator.  So obviously, the principal assigned her to a classroom on the fifth floor.    By the way, her office was on the first floor and she spent two days lugging a library of books and reference materials up the stairs to the classroom.  She also bought hundreds of dollars in supplies to set up a beautiful, attractive classroom for her new students. She completely set up a classroom when, at the end of the day, the day before the students were to arrive, the principal came to her room.  He told her that he was moving her room to a classroom on the second floor and that he expected her to be ready to teach when the students came in the next day.  When she asked why, he said it was in the best interest of the school.  When she asked him what that meant, he, without turning around as he walked out the door, and said that if she asked one more question, it would result in a disciplinary letter of insubordination.  She cried all the way home.

                Obviously, she could not get her new classroom ready the next day.  Although, she came an hour early and did the best she could moving necessary material, the class was not at all set up.  At 8:45, this monster, came into the classroom and said to her that it was obvious that she was not ready to teach and, in front of the class, said that she was expected to come to his office when she has a prep period for a disciplinary hearing, which could result in her termination.  She felt humiliated that he said this in front of her class on the first day of school.  This profligate principal set her up.  At this point, she said that this is not the way disciplinary meetings are handled and that she has right to union representation.  He said that the union is garbage and he is doing it his way.  She said she would only come to a meeting with the chapter leader of the school after a written request.  He left the room saying, “I have to consult legal.”

                Instead of consulting legal, he came back to her room during the prep period and said that he would not write her up if she put in her retirement papers tomorrow.  My friend told this administrator that he was acting in an illegal manner and had no business saying this to her.  She knew that she could not ever engage this principal in a civil conversation.  By the way, no discipline hearing was held over her classroom not being ready because he put nothing in writing. However, each day he would come into her classroom, observe informally for about ten to twenty minutes, and walk out without saying a word.  After two weeks, he stopped coming into her classroom and all seemed quiet. About a month later, she received a letter from him requesting a formal observation.  She came to his office for a pre-observation conference.  She decided to do one of her coaching lessons.  He looked it over for about a minute and said it was garbage.  She then asked for constructive criticism so she could make any improvements.  He said nothing and so she walked out (in tears).  By the way, she kept an anecdotal record of every interaction she had with this principal at this point. Yes, as she expected, she received an unsatisfactory observation during the post conference.  She asked him if he could go over this lesson point by point so she can understand what was wrong with it. He refused and said that he was assigning her to observe another teacher (one who only started last year) so she could learn how a decent lesson is done.

                When she got home, she told all this to her husband (who happened to be a lawyer).  He immediately said that she has to go to the union to file harassment charges against this principal.  However, her husband added that he would try something a little unorthodox.  What he did was wait for the principal after school the following day.  He knew from his wife that this principal often stayed late.  The next day, her husband parked across the street from the school and waited for the principal to leave the school. When he was sure no one was around, he walked over to the principal and introduced himself.  This young, arrogant man ignored him.  The teacher’s husband then said that he was a lawyer, his wife will file harassment charges through normal channels, but if she wins, he guaranteed there would be a personal lawsuit that would be outside the protection of the Department of Education.  He continued walking and said nothing.  However, all harassment suddenly ended the next day.  Not only did the principal never write up the observation, but neither looked at nor spoke to my friend for the rest of the year.  At the end of the year, she received a rating of satisfactory.  That June, she reached her 30th year, and at the age of 56 years old, she put in her papers.  Sadly, the following year, no one from the school even contacted her to honor her years of service in any way.  A great teacher was lost and no one cared.  Yes, this principal, with the full weight of a miscreant school system, declared war on a teacher and she survived, just like the quote.  She told me that when she put in her papers on the last day of school, she felt nothing.  She was numb and demoralized.  What was once a great school now had teachers that lived in constant fear and intimidation from an authoritarian principal.  This is the real face of reform in New York and the face is ugly.