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The Purge

October 20, 2013

It’s October 20th, there’s an extra day in the month and payday isn’t until the 5th of November.  I work three jobs to keep me and my seven pets (5 canines and 2 felines) afloat and we are just barely making it. Barely.  It may have something to do with the fact that the new house I am renting lacks secure fencing so I must shell out 500  to 600 dollars  a month or so for a dog walker who is very wonderful, sweet and trustworthy but still expensive.  The rent is 200 bucks less than my last place and utilities are about 50 bucks less a month but that still leaves an increase of 250 greenbacks monthly.  My seven year- old car needed 538 dollars of work- 3 motor mounts and 2 tires.  And yet……. at least I haven’t received a bad Stull or been run out of the district on trumped up charges- fates suffered by two LAUSD teachers I know.  One is a science teacher  only 1 1/2 years away from qualifying for fully paid health benefits when he suddenly received a negative Stull out of the blue. But more on that later.

I did, however,  receive an email from the “Talent Management Division” of the district sternly reminding me  of the deadline to complete the new pre -evaluation form that my union rep reminded those of us unlucky recipients  was designed to trick us into listing qualities we are weak in.  He also mentioned that our principal is under enormous pressure to hand out some below standard Stulls- deserved or not. Our chapter chair also reminded our principal that the new evaluation system has not been voted on or agreed to by the membership of UTLA.

At a meeting three weeks ago, our administrator told the staff that the five of us that are being stulled with the new evaluation method would be her “guinea pigs”.  She is being supportive in the process, but as I sat in a separate meeting with the group of us to be stulled, I couldn’t help but notice that four out of five of us are the oldest teachers on the staff.  And during last year’s stull several teachers reported attempts by the administration to place “needs improvements” in bizarre areas never mentioned to us in the pre-stull meetings.  Most of us were able to successfully argue that these should never have been given.  For example, they tried to to saddle me with a “needs improvement” for “not having my standard posted.”  Yes it was- on the Smart Board but it was temporarily covered by the PowerPoint presentation on the Twenties.  I was able to successfully argue that away.  When the staff compared notes, we discovered it had happened to all teachers being stulled and a few months later I found out why. There are “criteria” which determine who will get evaluated by the new system that include three needs improvements and absences over a certain number of days so we had to be “fit” into the criteria.  With as hard as I work and as much money as I spend on my classroom, this is more than disheartening.

But all of that is child’s play compared to what happened to my National Board Certified colleague from a large comprehensive high school in the South Bay who had an unblemished twenty year teaching record but who one year later has no job, no credential and is adrift.     He’ll have to appeal, then sue the district for his job back. Sure he can teach with just his NBCT license but what does he tell any future school that asks the dreaded question, “Have you ever been dismissed or asked to resign from any position?”

About 1 1/2 years ago he was teaching his after school college prep class with 93 kids in it. YES.  93 kids packed into one room.    His principal claimed an allegation had been made against him, but did not investigate it.  He just ended up in teacher jail.    Now remember, he had nothing, nothing in his file or any complaint in twenty years of teaching.   There were no witnesses and none came forward.  There was no police investigation.  Yet he was removed and not allowed to know anything about the district “investigation.”    He took two child care leaves because he had a newborn and his wife works out of state.  The new principal who had evaluated  him and who had received her administrative credential from a “pray away the gay” Christian university that later lost its accreditation, did not favor his progressive methods or curriculum. I became familiar with them after taking a fabulous professional development class from him on creating a film and philosophy class that counted as media arts. It was truly the most beneficial district PD I had ever attended and in fact I used many of the films he showed us in my own classes -films such as Tsotsi and Innocent Voices.

About 300 former students and staff of the high school wrote letters of support and when he had his Skelly hearing one of the board members dropped the huge packet of letters in front of him saying, “We’ve never had this happen before.” But it didn’t matter. Weeks later,  the district faked him out.  They told him his case would be heard at a particular Tuesday board meeting.  He flew back from the east coast but then….they never brought his case up.  Then two weeks later he was dismissed without warning with no chance to be present.   If you still don’t feel sickened about what is happening to fellow educators,  maybe now you should.

My colleague had taken several family leaves over  his twenty years with the district,  so his retirement would be only about a quarter of his salary, which is one reason while I have been tempted, I would never take a leave.   He has occasionally sold a low budget screenplay and is working on a book but it can’t replace a regular paycheck.

My science teacher colleague who I will call David taught at a well -regarded LAUSD mid -city high school for twenty years but then was displaced somehow after all of those years.   He ended up at a decent high school on the Eastside.  I knew him from my tutoring job with the district and we stayed in touch.  I emailed David recently and he wrote back frantic, saying he had received a below -standard Stull for the first time in his career and that he could no longer tutor because he had to concentrate on jumping through hoops to get a decent Stull this year.   I queried him about when he would qualify for lifetime health benefits.  He qualifies in February of 2015.  Hmmm. He gets his first negative Stull ever in May of 2013.   If he gets another in May of 2014 the district can dismiss him about six months before he qualifies for health benefits.   But unlike my other colleague who was in a state of shock over his treatment by the district, David is being proactive.   He is retraining to learn how to build and install solar panels and receiving his training, somewhat ironically at an LAUSD Skills Center.

This highly skilled educator is a la Rodney Dangerfield, going “Back to School” alongside high school students but unlike the Dangerfield movie, there is no humor in his situation.   I see humiliation and horror perpetrated on educators in a country that has become as political scientist Sheldon Wolin declares ” an inverted totalitarian state.”  What does that mean? It means that on the outside, our country has democratic structures: elections, representative bodies and so forth. But on the inside it is more and more totalitarian and is stifling true structures of freedom: education, social mobility and so forth.

Many Americans are falling out of the middle class but many are being pushed and teachers seem to be at the top of the list of those being forced off the cliff.  The question no one wants to answer is why? Why high school teachers especially? What do they bring to the table that is so threatening to our corporatized security and surveillance state?  It might be what Minnesota teacher of the year, Megan Hall articulated: “Teachers are the last line of defense against the tyranny of the 1 percent.” 

My now dismissed colleague had gotten several grants for the school, taken years of classes to New York City and also taught his after school college prep class that was standing room only. In other words he exposed his students to what they would need to become thinking, self -confident adults who would not settle for less than their best.   I know I will never reach his heights as an educator.  Yet he is gone, and I will rise tomorrow and head to work. Maybe I’ll see a former Fremont teacher at my school as I did Friday, a former coach with a bad leg who had trouble walking before but now whose every step is excruciatingly painful and who was forced to work an auxillary after school with no extra pay. We hugged.  He had never gotten his credential while at Fremont,  and was only on an emergency one as a coach and now was forced to sub.  Problem is he is competing with displaced teachers.    I headed to the parking lot to go home while he asked someone to open the door to the classroom and, doubled over in pain, lurched into the room.

Teachers, it’s not enough to take care of students. Take care of yourselves. Watch out for yourselves. No one else will.

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