And This Surprises Who???

The Connecticut Post (6/18, Ramunni) reports, “Seymour Middle School teachers are upset about the way they are treated by both Principal Bernadette Hamad and Supt. of Schools MaryAnne Mascolo, according to a complaint the Seymour Education Association filed with the state Labor Board.” The teachers, in a survey by the SEA, “accused Hamad of ‘poor communication, bullying and intimidation.'” CEA representative Jeffrey H. Mockler said that earlier attempts to address the situation failed “so Monday night he appealed to the Board of Education to intervene.” The union is also “asking the Labor Board for ‘an order to cease and desist from interfering, restraining, and coercing the SEA and members of the SEA in exercise of their rights.’ It also calls for a written apology to SMS teachers and the reimbursement of costs the union incurred in filing the action.”

I was  fascinated by this piece as I am due to be deposed on 7 July 2009 for a teacher colleague I had worked with in the past.  Unfortunately I had worked for a charter school which did not support unions so what myself, my colleague and others who have been afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation went through was conveniently swept under the rug by the very system which should protect all individuals.

Fair Employment and Equal Employment, during the Bushy years, created barriers for all but the most extreme egregious behaviors of employers.  Now that we have an administration which does not actively condone inappropriate behavior (no matter what it is called), it is likely the teachers above will be heard – but not before the school district spends thousands of dollars. Not before everyone’s name is dragged through the mud, the goose poop, the dog poop and quite possibly the chicken yard (metaphors for the legal process) and certainly along the way students and parents will be affected, never mind school/city coffers and education.

Teachers have the least protection for the most difficult job (I have been told teachers make more important decisions in a hour than traffic control, albeit usually not life or death decisions).  A recent example was the on-line debate between two people – a teacher who adamantly believed parents who leave children in cars should have some form of punishment, above and beyond the loss of the child and another debater who felt that losing a child was sincerely enough for any parent.  The debate ensued on line and it became clear that most of the public has no idea what it means to be responsible for 20-35 (this year the numbers should be higher) students at a clip and teachers are held to a higher standard than the childs own parents. The ensuing debate – I believe in SF Chronicle  (it was at least a bay area, CA newspaper that is on line) over a couple days, demonstrated that teachers are held more accountable to bad behavior than parents and offen pay (figuratively) a higher price for their behavior.

A case in point – a teacher can be stripped of their credentials and never be allowed to teach again for leaving a child on a bus or at a field trip site; A parent, in the case of the on line debate, just has to suffer the loss of the child and move on, in the case of one example, the parent had another child.  If you observe child abuse, molestation, etc. in the news, you will note that parents are in no way held to the same standards as teachers. Parents, after serving time, are generally allowed to have their children back. Teachers are sanctioned, stripped of credentials, never allowed to teach and in most cases almost treated as a sex offender, generally for not being able to  supervise an accident in say, the science lab or a student hurt during PE.   NB: Science and PE are the two subjects where the most dangerous activities occur and can garner the most in a court case for something gone terribly bad/wrong.

Sadly, teachers are always afraid to speak out for two distinct reasons (the dirty little secret of all schools – public, private, charter and other): (1) If you don’t have tenure, you won’t get it if you ask questions and don’t follow the ‘leader’, often self determined and self imposed upon teachers. (2) If you have tenure, you will be treated miserably and given all forms of awfulness from multiple preps (teaching three different subjects in high school), having to share a classroom, having to be the traveling teacher, given the rowdiest, worst bunch – even when it would be in everyones interest to split the group into multiple different classes, etc.

Should some one actually look at the DATA, one would find all the reasons they need to understand why teachers leave the profession in droves within five years, and it is not because of students.

I currently have two personal friends (both credentialed teachers in the maths and sciences), experienced, professional and well respected by students and parents. The administration at their schools have put them into some difficult positions about ‘navigating’ their way around, leaving both sad, dismayed and not quite ‘into teaching’ – one for the 7th year and one for the 6th year, both tenured.  The worst part is both of these teachers are minority, one with advanced degrees and both work diligently with underserved students.  One has all but given up and has decided to ‘ride it out’ and just not even bother as this person knows no matter what they do, their principal (from a prestigous Ivy) will find fault – they already did this year.  The other teacher has decided to try their hand at helping and giving back more power to teachers.

Over the years I have watched the ‘gamers’ (don’t ever ask questions, work to rule – contract language for hours per day, do the minimum amount required in terms of planning and grading, etc.) just keep on plugging along. The rest have been all but terrorized by administration.  Perhaps the bright spot is Michelle Rhee in Washington D.C. terminated 250 teachers, approximately 110 with the wrong credential as opposed to other deficiencies.  If it can be shown that Ms. Rhee and crew did due diligence, provided the frameworks and support for teachers to do their best work and still the teachers failed, great.  If it turns out that the 140 were fired not for poor work or unwillingness to change,  ‘intractable’ test scores of students who have not been served by D.C. schools since time immemorial , students behavior issues that were not dealt with quickly and efficiently by administration or any of hundreds of other lesser excuses, it will be the first time that the line was shined so brightly on dysfunctional administration.

I can only hope the validity of what teachers have to live through reaches the light of day; if it does not, we are doomed to have limited improvements in education save for test scores – the least diagnostic data of student success at completing college.