Skip to content

The Song Remains the Same

May 7, 2016

As teachers, we shouldn’t comfort ourselves too much into thinking much has changed in  the LAUSD teacher purge department since Deasy’s drama-laden departure.   A substitute teacher told me a story yesterday that sounds all too familiar.   She subs a lot in the South Area of LAUSD and met a twenty -year veteran male teacher who had been displaced from his long time high  school and …wait for it…was placed at Muir Middle School in South LA in a co-teaching position in which he was not the lead teacher. Shortly thereafter, he was visited by an admin who of course found major flaws in his teaching.  He is fighting the observation but we know how this story ends- it’s how it has ended for countless of mostly male, veteran teachers displaced from usually a high school and then placed in a tough middle school in the South Area.

How does this happen with seniority in place? If a school goes into Small Learning Communities the school can use many different creative strategies to displace veteran teachers.  Once labeled “displaced” it can be difficult to find other employment through interviews in the district. Sometimes, displaced teachers are lucky and land one long -term sub job after another, keeping all their pay, benefits and seniority in place. But once the district human resources catches on, the teacher is “placed” in a permanent position, almost always in the South area at schools like Muir, Drew,  Carver, Obama Global Prep and  Audubon middle schools.   It’s somewhat ironic that at schools with the toughest to teach populations, the administrations of these schools are often the least supportive and most vigorous in ridding their schools of veteran teachers.  Is it any wonder these schools usually have the most openings for teachers?

This purging of veteran  male teachers occurs about  a year or two before they qualify for fully paid health benefits and before year 25 when their pensions would be a bit higher. These teachers in their prime are then forced into retirement at a low pension (2000 dollars a month or less) and unless they worked summer school most years or had other extra work will only have a small amount in their supplementary Cal Strs accounts. They are then forced to scramble for extra work subbing in public or private schools, or as one purged science teacher did, as a solar panel installer.    The science teacher was a textbook case.  He worked at a well -regarded high school and was displaced after twenty years, ended up at another high school where he was promptly given a below standard Stull.  Of course he panicked but remained level -headed.  He signed up for a retraining program to install solar panels and sure enough, despite doing everything his administrator asked of him, was given  a second below standard Stull.   He was out.

It’s tempting to relax after the Deasy era but this purging is ongoing.  But the district may be screwing itself in the long-term, even with declining enrollment.  As openings emerge in other districts with higher pay and a lower cost of living, LAUSD will find itself in the same quandry it has found itself in before- hiring “teachers” off the street with emergency credentials.   It seems clear that the district isn’t as concerned with quality teaching as it is with saving money and racial politics.  One thing most of the targeted teachers didn’t do was consider employment in other districts after their first bad informal evaluation.  One strategy a targeted female teacher used was to go out on stress leave before her Stull evaluation meeting. She had about 70 sick days and used them up and then retired.  This preserved her “meets standard” status in case she ever wanted to return to teaching in another capacity or in another state.    This continuing use of the South area as a stage for ridding the district of veteran teachers is something our union has been ignoring for years.  It’s important for teachers to protect themselves using the leave process or any means necessary to avoid a negative evaluation.   It is the reason why saving your sick days- something I have never done- is a vital tool in helping teachers protect themselves by at least giving themselves a cooling off period to decide what to do without losing pay.  Unfortunately in LAUSD, when it comes to the treatment of veteran teachers, the song still remains the same.

And the greatest of these is love. Go Bernie

May 3, 2016

Well it looks like Bernie won’t let the DNC and establishment Dems get on with their “regularly scheduled programming.”   He just won Indiana. I am in awe that the youngest people  in this country are supporting the oldest candidate in the race. I am heartened that they are turning a blind eye to the establishment media who keep trying to tell us that golly gee, his candidacy is “fading.”  That last comment was courtesy of the LA Times which published an article a few days ago saying that because Bernie only raised  26 million dollars last quarter, that his candidacy was over. Two days later, he wins Indiana.  Too bad that many teachers seem to be following the status quo and believing whatever the media tells them about Hillary, the “inevitable candidate.”

The NEA (National Education Association) is trying to shove Hillary in our faces as a full -page color spread in their latest teacher magazine issue nearly jumps off the page with Pravda -like comments from teachers around the country who support Hillary.   One particularly nauseating comment comes from a civics teacher in Hamilton, VA who stated,” As a civics teacher, I’m teaching kids what it means to live in a democracy. I want them to have their say and express their views, so they can make a better future for themselves. I think Hillary Clinton is part of that future.”  What he leaves out is that without a middle class, we can’t have a democracy.  We have an oligarchy.    It’s not enough for students to be able to “express their views.” They have to be able to effect change and with such concentrated wealth at the top, that is nearly impossible to do. None of the comments dealt with the root issues in society today- unaffordable college, rising rents and continued job losses.

This educator is not going along with the party line.  Hillary really doesn’t support unions. She sat on the board of Wal Mart for crying out loud. She gave speeches to bankers for hundreds of thousands of dollars. You don’t do that unless you have their interests at heart.  So I’ll vote for the candidate who has my interests at heart: Bernie Sanders.

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

April 30, 2016

hairspray

I attended the last showing of Verdugo Hills High’s wonderful production of Hairspray tonight,  and in attendance was Dr. Trimis, the VHHS former principal who was kicked to the curb about a month ago, much to the dismay of parents and students, but from what I hear, not to the dismay of teachers- but I am not defending the teachers in this case.  A union rep tried repeatedly to convince me that there were valid, but confidential reasons why Dr. Trimis was removed and banished to the Dark Tower at Beaudry to work in the Arts Education Branch.

But something just rings false about all the innuendo used to try to persuade me that Trimis was a horrible principal. That’s not the impression of the parents, students or some of the staff.  It’s also not what my gut is telling me.  VHHS is an ESBM school- School Based Management- something of a dying breed in the district   I think giving staff control of a school can be positive but I have also seen the less positive side of this type of governance.

After going through the reconstitution of Fremont and having to apply  at other LAUSD schools, I was subjected to condescending age discriminating comments like “We don’t use dittos here.”  “Oh, is there something about me that leads you to believe I would use dittos?”  The comment about “dittos” was from a twenty -something teacher.    I found that teachers want to hire other teachers who are most like themselves instead of hiring someone who might bring something different to the staff.  Younger teachers also tend to want to hire younger teachers but they often forget- they to will someday be veteran teachers.       I also witnessed top-notch teachers forced out during the dark years of the Deasy regime.   I’ve seen teachers not support other teachers and  others who behave like corporate lackeys, so I am less inclined to automatically believe everything I hear from other teachers or my union.  I’m far less gullible and more discerning than I was before Fremont’s reconstitution, restructuring – whatever R word is in vogue for destroying a school.

Principals don’t often have a clear understanding of all the issues teachers deal with in the classroom but that also is true in the reverse- teachers don’t often have an appreciation for the politics,  mandates, staffing and budgeting issues principals have to deal with.  I was glad to see Dr. Trimis in attendance even though he was supposedly banned. Below is part of the text of a letter sent to Michelle King by a parent dismayed at the banning of Dr. Trimis from school events.  I’ve blocked out any identifying parent or student information.

 

THIS FROM ____________(A VHHS parent):

I was informed today that Dr. Edward Trimis is being banned from attending any school events at Verdugo Hills High School such as musical, concerts, awards banquets, graduation. I sent the following letter to the Superintendent of the LAUSD: April 27, 2016

Michelle.King@LAUSD.Net

Dear Ms. King,

My name is ________. I have __________ enrolled at Verdugo Hills High School. They are both seniors and have attended Verdugo since their freshmen year. My daughter _________ is the Deputy Colonel for the LAUSD JROTC and also serves as an alternate student board member for the LAUSD. My daughter __________is highly involved with many of the arts programs at Verdugo.

For the past 4 years, we have enjoyed getting to know Dr. Edward Trimis as he was the principal at Verdugo when they enrolled and he has been integral to their positive experiences in academics, the arts and student leadership. We were very saddened and somewhat enraged when Dr. Trimis was removed from his position at Verdugo. Dr. Trimis had become like family to us, and the thought that we would be missing him and everything he did for Verdugo so close to the end of senior year was nearly unbearable.

Considering this close relationship with Dr. Trimis, our family of course has extended invitations to Dr. Trimis to attend the school events that my daughters are part of and have always enjoyed the presence of Dr. Trimis at in the past. For example, _______ has the stage production and spring musical of “Hairspray” this Saturday. Dr. Trimis has attended all her performances in the past. _________ has the Awards Banquet/Ceremony for the JROTC coming up on May 3. Dr. Ttimis has always attended these ceremonies and had kind words to say to my daughter and the JROTC program at Verdugo. _______ has Spring Concert coming up. Trimis has always been there to encourage, support and praise her and the entire team. Senior Awards and Graduation is coming up. The thought of Dr. Trimis not being there is extremely unfortunate and quite frankly a travesty.

Dr. Trimis’ indefatigable efforts to attend all Verdugo Hills events and to document them on social media to share with the entire student body has been a mainstay in developing school spirit, pride and success. We are all missing him and his uniquely remarkable dedication to students and the school. Make no mistake, my girls are not the only ones feeling this devastating loss. Hundreds of students and parents are beside themselves with grief and angst.

The reason I am addressing these issues with you today is that upon the extension of invitation to Dr. Trimis for these events, I have been informed that the “local superintendent” has blocked Dr. Trimis from attending any events at Verdugo Hills High School.

I will not inquire or pry into the reasons the local superintendent has taken this stance, but I can tell you from a legal standpoint that it is certainly challengeable and a violation of Dr. Trimis basic human rights as a citizen of the United States.

Constitutional provisions provide protection to teachers and school staff at public schools that are generally not available to teachers at private schools. Since public schools are state entities, constitutional restrictions on state action limit some actions that public schools may take with respect to teachers or other employees. One of those rights, that is constitutional in nature, is the freedom of expression and association provided by the First Amendment.

If Dr. Trimis were a family member to me and I invited him to my daughter’s school events, what authority does the LAUSD have to prevent Dr. Trimis from attending the events or to alienate him from the family?

Similarly, if Dr. Trimis is a close family friend, what authority does the LAUSD have to deprive all of us from having his company and association at these momentous occasions?

I implore you to think heavily on these issues which not only violate Dr. Trimis’ rights, but they violate the rights of my family and other families who are a part of Verdugo Hills High School. Any barring of Dr. Trimis from freely associating with us at school events should be rescinded immediately or LAUSD could face a barrage of litigation within the next 10 days.

I hope you will consider this plea and set right this errant course the “local superintendent” and the LAUSD find themselves on.

Sincerely,

________________________________________________________________

Generally speaking, both the city and the LAUSD constantly underestimate Sunland-Tujunga.  We are one of the most persistent and active communities when it comes to civic and school affairs.  I guess this parent got through to Superintendent King because Dr. Trimis was in attendance tonight in the front row and surrounded by students and parents.  It was as it should be.

UPDATE: Apparently the letter worked.  I saw on a community website that Dr. Trimis would be allowed to attend VHHS events.   This means that obviously whatever the reasons for his removal, they could not have been as dire as what the UTLA union rep led me to believe, otherwise Dr. Trimis would not have been allowed back on campus.

 

 

Perspectives

April 29, 2016

It’s great to have someone in your corner when you are a teacher.  Today, that turned out to be a great resource specialist, Mr. Dixon, who comes once a week to our school to service the special ed population and he does a wonderful job. On the surface he seems like a cool hipster but he is oh so much sharper than the personnel the district usually put in the resource positions.   He usually observes one of my classes a week to see how his student are doing.  He taught math last year during summer school and so knows many of our students.   Today, it was Expo Comp and the topic was juvenile justice.  We were creating semantic maps for the topics Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice with categories like “causes” and “felonies” for the Juvenile Crime map.

At first,  everything went smoothly until a student mentioned “teachers” and “teachers who don’t care” as a cause of juvenile crime.  The kids all started piling on.  Mr. Dixon came to the rescue reminding one student, Henry, that he came late every day to his summer school class and didn’t complete work.   He laid into the students about how they behave in class and called them out for being rude and using their cell phones.   I think Mr. Dixon has a film career ahead of him as an actual real hero teacher as opposed to the faux ones portrayed in Stand and Deliver and The Freedom Writers.    I have a vivid memory of a university credential teacher with a stick up her ass who admonished us teachers-in -training to never watch the movie Teachers with Nick Nolte because it showed teachers in an unfavorable light.  It actually showed teachers in a realistic light and I had already seen it and loved it.    My favorite scene was when Alex Jurel, played by Nolte took one of  his students  to get an abortion.  She had gotten pregnant by the gym teacher.   If you haven’t seen it,  it’s a must see film.

My perspective was also altered when I found out my sister received an eviction notice. Although she finally found employment, it is a low -wage job.   Her field is rife with age discrimination, something this unionized teacher doesn’t have to deal with as much, although I did suffer a brush with it after the reconstitution of Fremont.   It is tough for anyone over 50 to get reemployed in art directing, production or graphic design. She does all three.  I suspect she also needs some serious career coaching but it is painful to see her fall so far. The recession isn’t over for everyone. What makes it worse was that her apartment rent is reasonable and her place is located in a safe area.    I realized that despite minor issues at work,  I am incredibly lucky to be a public school teacher in California.    If I was unlucky enough to be teaching in Wisconsin, Chicago or North Carolina, I might be suffering a similar fate.

I realized after today’s encounter with my students who were so ready to blame teachers for all of their problems, that they have probably internalized much of the anti-teacher messaging of the last twenty years. None were ready to look at their own habits, which include ditching, disrespect and not completing work as the source of their issues.  An inability to reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses will be harmful to their futures but I also believe their reactions are due to immaturity and the sense of entitlement they get from failing every class in middle school and still being able to move on to high school where they finally hit the wall at the end of 9th grade. Then, they come to us.  Most are honestly great kids who come for a variety of reasons, not necessarily poor grades. But my 3rd period is full of immature boys who think they should be able to play on their cell phones and talk over the teacher and their classmates.  The main perpetrators are those who didn’t complete the last major writing assignment. These were the ones who complained the most about “teachers who don’t care.”   I suspect their perspectives won’t change much when they get their grades. “Miss, why’d  you fail me?”  “I didn’t fail you. You earned that grade.”

Update: I worked Saturday school today and a chronically disruptive student came into my classroom with the principal  to complain about his grade.  He hadn’t completed the major writing assignment in Expo Comp and tried to lay the blame on me.  “How could I complete it when you were always moving me?” Absent but implicit in his question was why he had to be moved constantly which was due to chronic off -task and disruptive behavior.   I pointed out that many students who had low English skills worked their tails off to complete the work and struggled but ultimately prevailed.   The principal then turned to him and asked if he had enough time to compete the work. “Yes,” he replied.  That was the end of the conversation.   The Deasy legacy and the War on Teachers has done much to create this sense of entitlement among students.   The student’s first thought was to blame me and not his absences  and laziness.   If I was at a regular school the administrators would  likely  try to blame me which is why areas like Options, Magnet and Home School are really the secret to success if you want to survive as a teacher in LAUSD.

 

Good Vibrations

April 26, 2016

My students are fantastic and have kept me focused on my real priorities.   Now that my coworkers have figured out I have disengaged from any interaction with them and I have posted the  LAUSD anti-bullying memo on my door, they are leaving me alone.  These past two days have been magical teaching days.  The students are calm and into the lessons. maybe because they see land- June 10th- on the horizon.

My juvenile justice unit has promoted much discussion in class and a lesson on Hitler’s mass murders hit home in an uncomfortable way.  My 4th period, which is reading The Man in the High Castle and watching the Amazon Prime series read an intro to our lesson yesterday.  It discussed the publication of a 1920 book by two German “intellectuals” titled The Release of the Destruction of Life Devoid of Human Value.   I then posed the question,”What kind of life has no human value?”  One student replied that there was no life that didn’t have any value but within  5 seconds, someone else spoke up. “Murderers.”  Another student chimed in: “Rapists.”  Soon they were falling all over each other to add to the list.  Within 60 seconds the list had grown to about 10.  At first, it included the type of people that most people think should be locked away but then the discussion took an odd turn.  “Corrupt journalists” was mentioned by a student  whose family are French Jews  and who had ancestors who were victims of Hitler.  I pointed out that one man’s corrupt journalist was another man’s investigative reporter.    Another student mentioned gang members and more students participated: “Murderous parents.” “Extreme racists.” “Dictators.” “Crooked politicians.”

I asked them if they now understood how the Holocaust happened and whether they would be willing to protect any of the above groups.  I also pointed out that the book by the so-called “intellectuals” was published a full 13 years before Hitler took power and that many Germans in the targeted groups had a false sense of security. After all, Berlin was a liberal and cosmopolitan city.  Who could imagine what would become of it just  a few short years later.   I impressed upon them that when someone says what they will do to a targeted group. you best believe them and that includes Donald Trump, who some write off as a buffoon.  Yet, he has endorsed everything from wall building to murder.  He’s stating it- out loud.  I warned my students that anyone willing to say it out loud is willing to carry it out.

My 2nd period is reading A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of  a Boy Solder by Ishmael Beah who survived several years as a child soldier in Sierra Leone.    We are at the part where Beah and some fellow child soldiers are rescued by UNICEF and have to try to readjust to lives as civilians.   I posed the question for my students’ journals,”Describe a time in your life when you felt like you had no control.”    It is for their notebook checks but one student insisted I read his immediately.  In his journal, he stated he had  a stepfather when he was little who was cruel and never let him go outside or play.    One of my coworkers says she doesn’t do “feelings” or “feelings lessons,” yet they are an integral outlet for students to make connections and let out their emotions in a safe way.   I know it’s not the LAUSD way which is to ask students to compare text structure and language and other such detached modes of analysis.  I’m really glad I don’t have to do such lessons. I’m feeling the good vibrations today.  This is the best teaching I’ve done since Fremont.

 

 

Cold Comfort

April 14, 2016

The Vergara decision was overturned today, which was not unexpected.  Virtually every legal expert said it would be.  Here is a letter I wrote to the LA School Report, the biased blog of the corporate reformers.

 

 

Cowards One and All

October 14, 2015

I arrived home from a spirited Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council meeting (STNC for short) just in time to find an article posted on the LA Times website about the spineless Board of Education voting to fire accomplished teacher Rafe Esquith famous for the Hobart Shakespeareans.  The Board is just as weak as  our LA City Councilman Felipe Fuentes,  who garnered the wrath of Sunland-Tujunga when he evicted the STNC from the local city hall and handed it over to two non-profits for $1 a year [corrected thanks to Liliana Sanchez below].  That’s right- our neighborhood council which is an elected city board will have to find private space and pay rent.

Fuentes didn’t have the spine to show up at the STNC monthly meeting tonight, just as the LA School Board voted to fire Esquith “unanimously behind closed doors.”  That includes Zimmer and Ratliff.  Should we really trust those two to protect us from Eli Broad’s school privatization plan?  I think not.   It’s impossible for Esquith to fight back against all of this, but not so for our neighborhood council which thoroughly embarrassed Fuentes’  minions sent in his place- minions who were texting and rolling their eyes at us “local yokels” who took turns at the public comments time to excoriate King Fuentes.   I noted when it was my turn at the mic that Fuentes was trying to weaken the STNC because he has seen the history of this small but mighty community fighting back against big box stores and mansionization.   He wants to stop that so he gave our neighborhood council two weeks to leave the home it has occupied for 11 years and he had the locks changed.  He thinks he and the Gang of Five, as the Valley’s five Democratic political machine members are known, can weaken the Neighborhood Council system but alas for them, some of the most powerful neighborhood councils showed up tonight to support us.  Felipe was no where to be found.   I’m confident we’ll win this thing but not confident that teachers will save public education. We’re up against a much more powerful machine and Rafe Esquith- the most famous teacher in America -was brought down by it.