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Teacher – unfairly extended – fires back

May 13, 2011 pm31 10:09 pm

A middle school teacher was offered tenure by her principal – until the superintendent forced him to reverse the offer. The teacher absolutely refused to sign the extension of probation agreement (actually, I wish she would sign, as unfair as it is, so she could keep her job… but she feels strongly, and with some reason). This is part of something happening citywide – teachers are being denied tenure, having their probations extended, en masse.

The teacher wrote to her superintendent. Here is the letter:

(the teacher is ok with revealing school and name, but that will wait for the next post;  I’ve omitted identifying information – jd)

Dear [Superintendent],

We barely know each other. You visited my classroom last year and observed a lesson of mine. You actually wrote that visit up as one of the few positive things you said about our school in that year’s quality review. I saw you again this year for a brief moment as you walked into my classroom as I was rushing out for a meeting.

I really regretted that I wasn’t able to stay while you were visiting. If I had, I would have been able to show you the portfolio system that I created to track outcomes and re-cycle skills. I would have shown you how those outcomes translate into grades and informed you that students get as many chances as they need to try skills they are struggling with.  I would have encouraged you to stay for extended day and watch as striving readers and writers grab their portfolios and choose the outcome they want to work on that day. You would have watched as students chose a skill and after re-teaching the skill, we discussed how they might show evidence that they’ve learned it. You would have inferred that I will let kids show their learning in a variety of ways. I would have told you that it is my philosophy that the only grade that really matters is the grade that the student has at the end of the year.

You’ve given to [my DR]  an “attendance issue” as your reason for refusing to grant me tenure. The truth is, I do not have an “attendance issue” for several reasons. The first and most important reason is that any sick days I’ve missed are due to a serious medical condition that I have that was only diagnosed one year ago. Five of my six sick days were medically excused this year. All of the ones from the previous two years would have been except I wasn’t under a physician’s care. All of this can be confirmed by my doctors and clinicians. The second reason that I feel that the “attendance issue” excuse is misplaced is that, despite serious illness, I’ve managed to bank more than seven days in my CAR.

This is because I’m a fighter.

My doctors encouraged me to take a medical leave; that the stress of being at [my school] and working for [my principal] was too much, but the reason I chose not to was, first and foremost, I had a responsibility to my students, and secondly – tenure. I knew that if I took a medical leave of absence that that would be reason enough to deny me.

And so I soldiered on, it’s what I do.

You might be one of those people who are completely against tenure and think tenure is the problem with the school system – I can’t possibly know, but I do want you to understand why tenure is so important to me.

  1. The right to due process frees an innovative teacher like me up to try new and revolutionary things in the classroom without the fear of losing their job without just due process. That’s an important thing. People who work with children are the only people who work with a normal population of people where 4% lack a conscience and 100% have underdeveloped frontal lobes. These are a dangerous combination.
  2. Working on this tenure portfolio, in particular, has been life changing and solidified who I am as an educator and what I believe in for the future of education. It meant a lot to me and it went ignored.
  3. I’m an eight year teacher, and I have always excelled at my job, and to be told that the organization I work for isn’t sure that I’m the right fit for a lifetime career if I want it, feels like regression, not progress. And progress is important to me.
  4. As a non-tenured teacher there are certain important positions that I cannot hold. And since I cannot, I cannot influence change.
  5. This tenure decision comes at the end of one of the most difficult years of my life, but to say that I was the best teacher I have ever been is a complete understatement. I surprised myself again again with not only the progress of my students but with the confidence of my instruction.

I actually had this vision of you coming into my classroom to look over the portfolio with me. I really wanted you to read the letters that were written on my behalf because they were by no means your typical letters of recommendation. They were simply amazing.

I envisioned showing you the certificates for the almost 500 hours of professional development I’ve had since I started teaching (and let you read the things I had taken away from them), the best of my lesson plans, all of the observations and notes I’ve ever had from an administrator (including the descriptive rubrics from Texas).

I would have let you peruse the pages and pages of information that I sent to parents about the goings on in Language Arts. I would have wanted you to read my song parody (sung to the tune of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel) – that I sang in my most awful voice to show kids that they can show the information they research in Social Studies in really fun ways.

You would have realized how vital I was to the school because you would have seen that I ran the newspaper (now it’s a literary magazine (I still help run it)). You would have seen that I run the Chess Club, a.k.a. the place where the kids come that don’t really have any other clubs, and that I was a HUGE part of the reason that [my school] won $5,000 in the America’s School Spirit Challenge.

If you have visited during 703, I would have pointed out — because you know his dad. — is an interesting kid. He stutters and is a little chubby (I think he’s about to have a huge spurt upward), but the girls DIG him. They think he is like McDreamy or something. But — is really starting to figure out that he’s ambitious, and he just might want to go to great school someday.

I also would have pointed out — because — and — used to go out. — lives with her grandparents, and her grandfather has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t remember her most of the time. I would have pointed out —, who’s also had it tough, but is working so hard to excel at school (and it’s paying off).

If you had come in during 702, we definitely would have talked about —. She has a severe reading disability, but this year she got her voice. She’s so meek mild usually, but you should have seen her as she translated my and [a colleague]’s English into Spanish in order to explain to her parents that she wanted to get tested to find out why she has such reading problems. This is a kid who’s finding a voice and advocating for herself. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

We also would have talked about —. I call him Prince — —. — transfered to [my school] from another school, and when he got here, I think he though he was on another planet. He had such trouble catching onto the workshop model, and he was so cynical of every word coming out of my mouth. It turns out, that — really thinks Michael Moore is the best thing ever, and he’ll talk all about corporate fat cats and how landlocked states effect the economy all day long. But the strangest thing happened just before the test, we gave the kids frequently tested vocabulary words to present to the class in a way to truly make them memorable. — mimed, and — rapped. And it was so cool.

If you had visited during 701, we would have had to talk about —. — makes us talk about him. He’s 18 feet tall, but he has the heart and mind of an 8 year old boy. Once I truly thought about it, and after he emptied his pockets to show me his dum-dum wrapper collection, I started buying him legos. Now he earns legos, and time to play with them. Things have generally really calmed down for this kid, and he has the worst ADHD I’ve ever seen in my life.

I also would have wanted to talk about —. When school started, I would estimate for the first two months of school, — was the social butterfly. She wouldn’t stop talking during independent reading.  So during a reading conference, I talked to her about a student that I had last year. I noticed that when she came to class with her glasses on, she was really serious and worked really hard, but when she forgot them, she was a lot like —. So — and I started to agree that she would wear invisible glasses to school. And now — is one of the most focused and hard-working students in the class. And when she’s not, I tell her, “Put on your glasses.” And she flies right.

I want you to know that I can write one of these paragraphs for every student that I teach, but I’m sure you’ve had enough.

I probably would have made time to ask if we could sit down and talk about technology someday. [My principal] had told me that you had been talking about the use of technology in the classroom, and so I would have wanted to share with you my vision of a digital reading and writing workshop with online portfolios for parents to look at that mimic the ones we kept in class this year. I would have told you about the grants I’ve already applied for, the fundraising project that I’ve got up and running, and the possibility that we could be selected to put the project up for voting for the Pepsi Refresh Grant (it’s $50,000, and we were selected in the preliminary round). I would have told you how Language Arts was going to be a game next year. The kids would have thrived.

I envisioned that this could be the start of something great.

But then Friday happened, and [my principal] put a piece of paper in my hand to sign even though, he said, he didn’t believe in it. He explained that you forced him to do it. I got the feeling that his job was on the line, so he didn’t have much choice.

I can’t sign a paper that says I haven’t proven myself worthy of tenure – that’s certainly not true. I have. Over and over again. I try to follow my conscience, and something is telling me that that is not what this is really about. If this is a blanket extension and no one in the district is getting tenure, then I’m fine with not signing it because this system is about to get really ugly, and I don’t want to be a part of it.

If some teachers in this district are getting tenure, then I really hope that you read this letter with an open-mind and you’ll reconsider your decision. I am a mission oriented teacher. I believe not only in education, but the power of education to change lives. I’m afraid that if you deny my tenure, there will be an important voice missing as whoever is in charge of [my school] next year tries to fix the school that Joe broke (understanding that that person could very well be [my principal]).

Signing away my right to complain or have access to courts over this process that has been so disastrous and torturous for me is to much to ask a person to do.  Agreeing that I need another year before I can be tenured is also against my conscience.

I sincerely hope you’ll look at the big picture, listen to the parents, listen to the kids, listen to [my principal], listen to this letter (my soul is in here if you look for it), but mostly, I hope you listen to you. Several of my biggest supporters say they have a good relationship with you, so I am giving you the benefit of the doubt. What does your gut tell you? If you truly believe that I am a wild card, then go ahead and deny me, at least you’d be following your conscience and doing what is right for kids.

But if any part of you is starting to think I might be the real deal (I am) or is concerned about who will replace me next year, please consider changing your mind. I am going to be really honest with you, at this point, this process/system has left me jaded, and I am going to need a while before I know for sure that I want to come back next year. But if your don’t approve my tenure, you’ll remove that possibility for [my school] and for the students. And, believe it or not, they need me. They really do.

Please reconsider.


7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2011 pm31 10:27 pm 10:27 pm

    Freaking phenomenal letter, and such a great primary document for anyone interested in studying corporate reform. Thank you SO MUCH for posting this. I will share this everywhere I can!

  2. cheesemonkeysf permalink
    May 13, 2011 pm31 11:17 pm 11:17 pm

    WOW. The courage of this letter is breathtaking. Thank you for posting it.

  3. John G permalink
    May 14, 2011 pm31 8:12 pm 8:12 pm

    Awesome awesome letter. Sign that extension and stay and fight next year!! What they hate the most is when a thorn doesn’t go away (like they expect it to).

    • May 15, 2011 pm31 4:03 pm 4:03 pm

      At a certain point it can be safe to say that this teacher knows the options, and chooses
      1) not to sign a document that includes untruths
      2) is aware of the risks
      3) is concerned with all of us, and is willing to put our common interests first

      And while advising otherwise, it should be possible to respect this difficult and rational choice.

    • May 21, 2011 pm31 9:16 pm 9:16 pm

      She signed.

  4. Bill permalink
    May 25, 2011 pm31 1:35 pm 1:35 pm

    Good for her, I am a jaded teacher as well. I think I have taught my last year, they are just not offering ANY common decency anymore.


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