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.


11 thoughts on “Casualties of Reform

    • Thanks for reblogging my post. I would love to clarify an interesting point that some of your followers outside of New York may not understand. When the principal kept saying he was going to call “legal,” he meant that he was calling the central bureaucracy which is now totally made up of lawyers and not educators. Their purpose is to subvert our teacher’s contract. Before Mayor Bloomberg, if a grievance ended up at central, there was a fair hearing officer. If the grievance was a clear violation of the contract, the teacher would win. However, since 2001, all teachers lose at central–even if a violation is unambiguous. It has forced the union to determine which losing grievances should go to a fair state arbitrator. However, often the union will only take a case that will probably result in a clear win. Again, the grievance has to be unambiguous. If a case goes to arbitration and the union loses, it could set a negative precedent. An example of an unambiguous grievance would be the hiring of an uncertified teacher over a certified teacher for a per session job when the posting clearly stated that the teacher hired had to be certified. But even with these cases, the DOE forces the union to go to arbitration knowing that the case will take many years to be heard. The DOE then embarks on all types of legal maneuvers to wear the union and the teacher down in the hope he/she will just chuck it. Unfortunately, the DOE believes that justice delayed is justice denied.

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  2. Caught this on Tuttle. I experienced something similar out in San Francisco. Wasn’t so much a push to remove my high salary as to remove me as the building’s union representative. After three years of battling, I decided to retire early. My point is that this is happening everywhere, though it’s especially dispiriting that it happens in union strongholds like SF and NYC. Last I heard, our union had something like1i0 unresolved grievances outstanding, meaning we’re in the same position of figuring out what goes to arbitration. It’s difficult to explain to non-union members that contracts are agreements, not laws, and that agreements depend on both parties’ good will. Given the will of the current crop of corporate-driven central office admins and their site toadies, our contracts are only shields, not swords. I admire your willingness to hang in.

  3. So, before the current reform efforts, all New York City teachers — or all, but a tiny minority — were dedicated professionals doing a wonderful job? No problems with incompetent teachers who couldn’t be sacked? If that was the case, why is there any public support at all for reform efforts?

    • First, right now, a recent poll showed that only 22% of the public support Bloomberg’s reform effort. Where did you ever get an idea that teacher’s could not be fired? Even tenured teachers could be fired. First off, before a teacher gets tenure, such a teacher does not have to be renewed by a principal. That was always the case. The problem in the past were principal’s who were not effective administrators. If you see a new teacher is incompetent, it was the job of that principal to not renew the teacher and get them out of the system. However, once teachers had tenure, all it means is that there has to be a due process hearing. The principal has to prove before a state arbitrator his/her case. To tell the truth, in the past teachers were not fired because the principal did not have the evidence. The evidence was simple: Come up with a plan to help the teacher and show that the teacher did not improve.

      As for my story, I hope you do not even consider that this principal was acting in anything but an arbitrary manner and was engaged in nothing less than age discrimination. By the way, these events happened in the year 2009 and subsequently this principal was removed from the school because the number of complaints were enormous not only by his teaching staff but also by parents. In the 3 years he was principal, his school went from an A to an D because he demoralized everyone. You focus on supposedly incompetent teachers, but there are also incompetent administrators. Unfortunately, when you choose people who never taught to be principals, this is what you get. In every country that has a top notch education system, becoming an administrator has always been based on an apprenticeship system. It was this way in our country until the greedy privateers took over. You started as a teacher, became an assistant principal and then a principal through supervisory guidance.

      Here is the kicker! In those states that have adapted data driven evaluation systems along with the Danielson model of teacher effectiveness, only an average of seven percent of teachers have been found to be ineffective or developing. In one state, in which data represented 50% of the a teacher’s evaluation, the 7% average held. Therefore, now the legislature of that state wants to make an even more stringent evaluation system because these lawmakers felt that at least 50% of the teachers in the state should be fired. Obviously, this state government confirmed that the real purpose of the evaluation system was to fire a lot of teachers and not really to improve the skills and abilities of teachers.

      Interestingly, in states like Louisiana and Florida that now have the most stringent teacher evaluation systems, these states continue to have the least effective schools. New Orleans which is supposedly is charter school paradise and in which teachers no longer have an effective union had most of its charter schools received D and F school report card ratings. How come? I want to hear your reason for this? Maybe other factors besides teacher effectiveness impact academic achievement? In states that have strong teacher unions and less stringent evaluation systems, the graduation rates are much higher, i.e., Connecticut, Maryland, etc.

      Finally, lets look at Finland which the privateers often hold up as a model. Finland has a strong public education system. There are no charter schools. Also, all teachers belong to a very strong labor union and are paid decent wages based on experience and not test scores. I heard an interview with the Minister of Education last year in which he was asked what happens to teachers who are having difficulty? He answered that we try to help the teacher improve his/her skills. Then the interviewer asked him what happens if such a teacher still was having difficulty? His answer was that we help the teacher some more.

      if you had no empathy for the teacher in my story then I am sad you are a very amoral person.

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  5. Who speaks to people that way? And what I don’t even get is that these are horrible management practices – public, private, non-profit, anywhere. In the corporate world, that behavior would get you sued.

    Union or not, anyone who would treat another person that way should never manage people.


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