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.

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