Should new teachers be afraid to speak up?

sboylan2.jpgSiobhan Boylan, a novice teacher who just broke the month-long silence on the My First Year blog, wants to know what you think. In October, she caused a bit of a stir when she reported her dismay at her school’s reaction to a sewage leak.

(Be honest with her — but please, just don’t tell her to stop blogging!)

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • John

    Because many of these new teachers weren’t born when I started teaching in Oakland I want to nurture them with the often unspoken wisdom of age and experience gleaned from 25 years in the OUSD. Randy Ward, OUSD’s first state administrator, came to Oakland from Compton where he just finished a tenure as state administrator there. In his wake he left a bunch of young inexperienced inexpensive teachers and administrators in charge of that district. He got rid of the “dead wood” EXPENSIVE teachers and administrators to save bucks. His history is repeating itself in the OUSD with experienced “expensive” teachers being pushed out the door. In 2004 principals were attending seminars on how to terminate tenured teachers. It’s now a trend in the OUSD. Here’s my advice young teacher. Work five years in Oakland then, when you start to become a lttle more expensive to keep around, DUMP the OUSD and transfer to another school district where experience and ability is appreciated. Many, if not most, districts will credit you with at least five years of experience in a previous district. I would particularly recommend taking such action if you are lacking a certain ethnic standing that offers a degree of job security in the OUSD. In the mean time don’t be too concerned about expressing your opinion in this Blog. Being a cheap commodity for the OUSD is currently your greatest protection and means of job security. I’m sorry this advice is merely correct and not politically correct but quite frankly I don’t give a…

  • hope4theBest

    Here’s to hoping our OEA president, Board president, distinguished V Chancellor @ Peralta, Board member unofficially running for City Council, MySpace Board Director, BAYCES do-gooders, Broadie “educators” and other well-heeled ed wannabees, as well as our “fast-acting” supreme educator and governor candidate are able to shift some of the CASH around and relieve a couple of the way too many financial burdens these people face everyday while trying their damndest to teach Oakland’s kids in those little, too cold or too hot, rooms to read, and count. Thank you, Ms. Murphy — I feel better now!

  • Concerned Oakland Parent

    Siobhan: Thank you for speaking up. It’s something we all need to hear. I know that almost all of the teachers at my daughter’s school have been teaching for at least 14 years, with the exception of our newest Kindergarten teacher. We need your courage; we need the “new” view and most of all we need to be reminded daily that we have a lot of work to do.

    I know there are many in the OUSD who will have a fit at the openness, but as discussed in this forum many times, without openness there is not trust and there is no change.

    Siobhan: thank you for keeping us honest.

  • concerned parent

    My child’s elementary school has a new teacher who unfortunately does not appear to be speaking up for the need to academically challenge advanced students. She has fallen into following the “we have done it this way for 20 years” mentality of the other grade level teachers. I cannot blame her, when administration has the same philosophy.

    I commend Ms. Boylan for speaking her mind. These are the teachers that we need in our schools, but will undoubtedly lose to our more progressive neighboring schools.

  • Marijke Conklin

    I applaud Siobhan’s decision to raise questions about safety and health conditions at her school. If you are committed to high expectations and student achievement, you must become an advocate when your students do not have books or a safe, clean environment. Advocacy contributes to better learning conditions. Now, you can file confidential complaints through the Williams Settlement.

    New teachers do not want to advocate constantly. We don’t have time. Some of us still attend credential classes for hours at night. All of us have professional duties that keep us busy. Beyond teaching whole-class, small-group and 1:1, there is making copies (of books we don’t have for each student), lesson planning, case management, recess duty, school committees, cleaning our rooms, assessing students, meeting with parents, making home calls and completing paperwork. So if we are raising concerns, it means things are really intense. It means we need help.

    This year, new teachers report their students do not have sufficient books or instructional materials. They report there are no instructional assistants in their Special Education classes. They report minimal custodial services in their schools’ bathrooms. Many of those new teachers are Interns, or probationary. They are frustrated and want the best for their students. But, they are nervous about being fired. Many were hired by the district just to receive a letter a few months later saying they were not qualified to be hired.

    My question is: will we be dismissed or targeted for raising legitimate concerns that affect student achievement?

  • http://ibabuzz.com?education Steve Weinberg

    Marijke, the sad truth is that in California first and second year teachers have virtually no job protection, so it is very possible for someone not to be selected to be rehired for next year based on anything that might upset their site administrator. Some administrators would welcome a teacher who stands up for what his or her students need, and some would not. You have to judge your own situation and act accordingly. Once you are tenured (usually at the start of your third year) you have substantial job protection and are much safer. In the meantime you will have to read your administrator carefully.
    From time to time I hear people suggesting that tenure laws be loosened or abolished to make it easier to dismiss underperforming teachers. It has been my experience that when teachers do not have tenure it is most often the dedicated professionals who object to conditions that are unfair to their students who are often the first ones to suffer.
    My advice is make your needs known through the appropriate channels, but in interactions with administrators make sure that you emphasize the positive things you are doing with your students, and not your complaints. Hopefully there are tenured teachers at your site who will take the lead in calling for improvements.
    I hate to tell anyone to be quiet in the face of unfairness, but we need dedicated third year teachers even more than dedicated first year teachers, and staying employed is necessary to becoming one.

  • http://www.publicadvocates.org Tara Kini


    We agree. Poor kids DO deserve safe, healthy schools. And textbooks. And qualified teachers. As co-lead counsel on the Williams v. California case, Public Advocates (a non-profit civil rights advocacy organization) is working to ensure that districts like OUSD faithfully implement the terms of the Williams settlement, so that all kids in California have access to the basic resources necessary to learn.

    Thank you for speaking up about the sewage leak at your school. It is a relief that the District worked rapidly to clean up the feces, urine, sewer water, and toilet paper, but students and teachers should not have been exposed at all.

    The Williams settlement created a new complaint process that allows teachers, parents, students or any community member to file a complaint with their principal when there is a condition at a school posing a threat to the health or safety of students/staff. The district has to fix the problem within 30 working days, and they have to send a written response within 45 working days. You can download a complaint form at http://webportal.ousd.k12.ca.us/docs/WilliamsComplaintFormEnglish.rtf, and you can read more about the complaint process on our website at http://www.publicadvocates.org/resources/.
    Complaints can also be filed when students lack sufficient textbooks, when the bathrooms are not regularly cleaned (two problems raised in Marijke Conklin’s post), or when students do not have access to a qualified, permanent teacher.

    Youth from grassroots organizations such as Californians for Justice, Youth Together, and Asian/Pacific Islander Youth Promoting Advocacy and Leadership (AYPAL) have filed hundreds of complaints at Oakland high schools to improve their school conditions. Their Williams campaigns have resulted in repaired bathroom sinks and cleaner bathrooms; additional custodians assigned to schools; removal of graffiti; repair of some heating and ventilation problems; buildings repainted; and improvements to the district’s textbook inventory process.

    Feel free to give Public Advocates a call (415 431 7430) if you have questions about the Williams complaint process or would like more information. You should know that the law prohibits districts from retaliating against people who file complaints. But, if you are concerned about this possibility, you can file a complaint anonymously or ask someone else (i.e. a student organization, your union, your church) to file it for you.

    Thank you for taking the time out of your busy life as a first year teacher to chronicle your experiences, and for standing up for the rights of your students. I look forward to reading more throughout this school year.

    P.S. As a former public school teacher who didn’t take the time to write or journal about that first year, I think you’ll be really happy to have this written record to turn to later in your career (even if it is a public one!)