Another Teaching Rant

There’s been a lot of talk again about teaching and teachers.  I’ve completely, of course, given up on the slight chance that someone in the United States admires those of us who have undertaken this as a profession.  Perhaps, now that I think about it, it’s one of the reasons it’s so nice working with immigrant Hispanic families.  Maestra is revered and respected and given little tokens of appreciation (or even, in my case, a free lunch of enchiladas in red sauce. YUM.).  Maestra is someone with whom the child gets his or her picture because look how much they’ve helped.  Even on your darkest days of teaching, there are hugs and thanks, and invitations to first communions and Quinceaneras. If you were really willing, you’d be a part of the family.  I digress.

Once again there is an outcry about “tenure” in the public school system.  I don’t know about anyone’s contract but my own, but I don’t have tenure.  I can (and have) been removed from a teaching position.  In fact, the reason I was removed from my position was that I objected quite vehemently to HOW the administration was handling issues at the school.  There was a blind eye being turned to gang apparel among our “athletes” (I was told I wasn’t being “culturally sensitive”), and an even blinder eye against the actions of the school’s PE teachers.

Let’s just say that cell phones have a place.  That place, however, is not one where the teachers are using them during class to socialize while the students decide to play “Smear the Queer.”  THAT, my friends, was the nail in the coffin.  I objected to the game being played.  I was told that I was “too sensitive” and that there were “no gay kids being beat up.” I was told I should “get over it because it’s just a game.”  Really?  So I confronted the administration in a very angry (but quiet) manner.  I sent a tersely worded email about the lack of supervision and the choice of game.  Again, what does it matter?  Well, what about lawsuits?  You cannot sexually harass someone.  The game’s title is… divisive.  So I asked, what if the game was “Nail the Nig*er?”  or “Slap the Sp*c?” or “Wipe-out the Wetb*ck?”  Would any of those be accepted?  OF COURSE NOT.  It’s just disrespectful, rude and hurtful.

I was told, instead, to mind my own business and retract the email.  No, I said.  At that point, for standing up against an administrative decision that I — to this day and to my core — believe was harmful, I was “let go.” I wasn’t tenured.  The principal didn’t have to keep “uppity” staff who argued with him or disagreed with how he wanted to run the school.  It was easy.  It was already done.  The office staff, who kept telling me of open jobs that morning, knew before I did.  There you go.

Yet, I would do it again.  It’s not appropriate to teach students to play a game in which one “type” of person gets labeled and tackled.  It’s weirdly indoctrinating.  It’s wrong.

The union could do nothing about it — even if I had thought to go to them.  I wasn’t an employee with permanent status.  I was, at best, still temporary or probation.  First two years is a don’t ask, don’t tell policy.  The principal can get rid of you for ANY reason –there’s no conversation so there’s no chance of lawsuit.  Both sides agree.

I don’t have tenure.  I have permanent status.  This means there has to be just cause to fire me.  It also means that I need to be given the chance to improve my teaching before I’m let go if I’m considered ineffective in my TEACHING.  It means that an evaluator, other than my principal, gets to make the decision. It means that circumstances such as death in the family or illness get taken into consideration.  It also means that the ONLY parameter being evaluated, really, is the teaching.

Now is this a frustrating system?  Yes, I think so.  I believe that effective teachers affect more than what is in their classroom.   I think more goes into making a good employee than just what happens “at their job.”  Showing up late, not returning parent calls, being disrespectful to fellow teachers, and not participating in other school “rituals” indicates a lack of interest in the profession.  Should these issues be taken into consideration when examining teaching, yes.  Should you fire for it…  What do you think?

On the other side, though,  I’ve seen a principal get a “hard-on” for a teacher.  I’ve seen principals start to scrutinize a particular teacher with the idea of removing him or her from the school.  Often that teacher is reprimanded for what everyone else is doing.  The students get a whiff of it and become informants.  I remember one incident at another school where the class was on a field trip.  I DO NOT KNOW why I wasn’t there.  I think I had a district office meeting.  However, the students had been told WAY AHEAD OF TIME and on the permission slip was the information NO GUM ALLOWED AND NO FOOD WILL BE TAKEN INTO THE PERFORMANCE.  LUNCHES ARE TO STAY AT SCHOOL.  Needless to say, two of mine decided to violate the rule.  One had had a rocky relationship with my teaching partner so I wonder if this wasn’t by plan.

My teaching partners, Mrs. X and Ms. Y, made the kids throw away gum, and left these two girls’ lunches where they were instructed.  Surprise, surprise that upon exiting the lunches were missing.  Long story short, the girls told the office that Mrs. X threw away their lunches and REFUSED to allow them to eat.  Mrs. X is NOT like this.  Nor was Ms. Y.  Both Mrs. X and Ms. Y offered them bagged school lunch and said they would pay for them if that was needed.  The girls REFUSED.  Why?  Power.  They KNEW they could get Mrs. X in “trouble” by telling on her.

Needless to say, it didn’t happen.  I was called and told.  I laughed hysterically when the principal and school secretary relayed the story of how Mrs. X threw away their lunches.  I asked why my sub didn’t REMIND them NOT to take it.  The principal and secretary went to my room.  It was all over the place (boards, more than once) to leave their lunches at school.  It was on the permission slip.  It was in the sub plans.  They were told what might happen.

I told the principal and secretary they had been played.  I also made it clear that whatever was going on with Mrs. X, I wasn’t going to be a party to it.  She wasn’t a bad teacher.  She wasn’t a bad person.  And allowing children to run the show was hurting the school.

Can you really imagine sacking an effective teacher in a PI school because the kids feel she’s “mean”?  Who’s running the show?

Teacher’s unions are not perfect; however, they are here to keep us from being fired when we are merely DOING OUR JOBS.  We do have to tell kids what to do, how to behave, what’s allowed, and how to act in public.  We have to push them to work.  Sometimes, you have to tell kids “the truth” from your perspective.  You also have an obligation to speak up against an administration when you feel they aren’t running the show in the best interest of the kids.  We’re not in the principal’s way; although, it’s often perceived that way.  It’s our social and moral duty.

We are not the enemy.  However, if you really think we are, I suggest that EVERY person with a BA/BS who can get a substitute credential do so.  Get your employer to allow you to take one day each week to sub in a school.  Make it your goal to get in EVERY class K-12, in every type of school, without “choosing” a preference (such as only teaching 4th grade at a high-functioning school).  Do that for two years and then write me back and tell me how it went.  Can you make it two years?  ‘Cause here’s the thing — if you can sub, you can teach.  If you can’t …. Well, then you need to shut up because you’ve just learned that the job is bigger than you think.

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