Criminalizing Teachers (UPDATED)
At the beginning of last year, I was still wrestling with the choice of whether or not to return to my school for another year. On the one hand, I really enjoy teaching, and looked forward to continuing to work with my colleagues, and working with a new class of fourth graders. On the other hand, the atmosphere in which I was working was downright toxic, and diminishing my overall quality of life.
I batted the decision back and forth until mid-March. At the time, one of my closest friends in the building (and, just two years prior, the school’s Mile High Teacher of the Year) was nearing the end of an incredibly stressful remediation plan. (For folks who don’t know, a remediation plan is one of the necessary steps to be taken before a non-probationary teacher can be terminated.) Despite the fact that we believed the plan was unjustified, and despite the fact that the plan required her to do an absurd amount of extra work and documentation, my friend did every last thing asked of her. She didn’t miss a single day of work, even though the job had gotten so tough on her and her health that she started losing weight.
Still, at the end of the process, our principal looked at all of her evidence and decided that she had failed. After that meeting, our Human Resources representative accompanied her back to her classroom to get her purse, where I and a few other colleagues were waiting for her in case she needed our support. As they arrived, Ms. HR informed us that she was not allowed to talk to us, and we were not allowed to talk to her. A security officer joined them, and then my friend was escorted out of the building as though she’d been accused of a crime.
(A judge later found the principal’s claims of her poor performance in the classroom completely baseless. His 40+ page decision explained in detail how virtually all of the evidence collected against her was either laughably flimsy, or supported her contention that she was, in fact, a very good teacher.)
I was disgusted by the display. Even if there had been merit in the attempted dismissal, she hadn’t been accused of breaking the law. She hadn’t behaved in a threatening or hostile manner. In truth, there was no evidence to suggest she’d done anything wrong. So why call security? What was the point of treating this woman– who had exclusively devoted over two decades of her life to teaching needy kids– like a suspect? What kind of organization would humiliate people like this, in front of their peers and community, for no good reason? I wrote my resignation letter as soon as I got home.
I was reminded of that this week, after reading about the Los Angeles Unified School District’s interrogation of librarians.
In a basement downtown, the librarians are being interrogated.
On most days, they work in middle schools and high schools operated by the Los Angeles Unified School District, fielding student queries about American history and Greek mythology, and retrieving copies of vampire novels.
But this week, you’ll find them in a makeshift LAUSD courtroom set up on the bare concrete floor of a building on East 9th Street. Several sit in plastic chairs, watching from an improvised gallery as their fellow librarians are questioned.
A court reporter takes down testimony. A judge grants or denies objections from attorneys. Armed police officers hover nearby. On the witness stand, one librarian at a time is summoned to explain why she — the vast majority are women — should be allowed to keep her job.
The librarians are guilty of nothing except earning salaries the district feels the need to cut. But as they’re cross-examined by determined LAUSD attorneys, they’re continually put on the defensive.
(Los Angeles seems surprisingly into the whole “educator-as-criminal” meme. For example, Leonard Isenberg, who was pushed out of LAUSD after voicing his objection to social promotion, was escorted from his classroom in handcuffs.)
How did we get here? When did educators become de facto suspects?
ETA: The educator-as-criminal meme was also popular in DC under our friend, Michelle Rhee. In this instance, the cuffed teachers and counselors were being led out as part of a layoff– not even under any kind of suspicion of poor teaching, but just as part of a budget-induced RIF. (Hat tip to friend of the blog & writer extraordinaire, Rachel Levy!)
From the Washington Informer, circa Fall 2009:
Tempers flared among D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) students last week when principals handed nearly 400 staff members, including 229 teachers, pink slips in the most drastic reduction in force (RIF) since December 2003. Students at McKinley Tech Senior High School in Northeast left their classrooms in droves to watch their favorite teachers and guidance counselors being escorted out of the building by Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Officers.
Over the weekend, seniors who attend McKinley Tech organized a nonviolent protest on Mon., Oct. 5 directed towards District Mayor Adrian Fenty and DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s decision to layoff DCPS teachers and personnel because of budget cuts imposed by the D.C. Council.
“We’re protesting the manner in which our teachers and professional school counselors were released on Friday. They were escorted out of the building with police like they were criminals,” said Lowell Howard, a 17-year-old senior at McKinley.