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A new teacher still remembers

Dan Adiletta blogged for us as a first-year teacher at Explore Middle School in East Oakland. He moved across the country after Explore’s closure in June, but he’s kept in touch. Here’s what he has to say about his new position at a private school in Connecticut.

Dan AdilettaIt’s not fair how good I’ve got it now. Since I’ve left Oakland for Marianapolis Prep School, I’ve been continuously shocked by the changes. My bike, classroom and apartment are all unlocked at the moment. The students are well-mannered and always do their homework. If I want a new classroom tool there is one person I ask who will order it for me. I’m encouraged to customize the curriculum. Disciplinary action, when it’s necessary, is swift and harsh. But I have my concerns.

I’m afraid of going soft. I had to develop a rather uncharacteristic edge to my personality while teaching at Explore Middle School. It allowed me to keep order and offer structure in difficult situations. That was a hard-won achievement that has only been collecting dust here. Similarly in Oakland, all my lessons had to be rigorously thought through in order to avoid a disaster. There is no such threat here.

I’m afraid that I won’t be of any help. The unbelievable conditions that my former students endured without a second thought should be headline news across the country. As it is not, it is up to us that have seen it to do what we can. I teach my students about it. I ask them for ideas. We have resources here that I am determined to use. We’ve started a club called UrbanTech to refurbish computers and send them to students in need, (we’re accepting donations as it’s awfully expensive to ship computers from Connecticut to Oakland!).

But I’m not afraid that the students in Oakland will be left unsupported. While more help is urgently needed, I’m still in awe of the resilience of my former coworkers that continue to innovate, inspire and endure. I just hope that through programs like UrbanTech, I can help too.

dadiletta

  • TheTruthHurts

    I appreciate this story. Teaching in an environment like most Oakland schools is not for the faint at heart. Teaching in any area where generations of oppression has led to a vicious cycle of self-oppression, poverty and dysfunction is not easy by any stretch. Most get into teaching to make a difference and there are few places where you can more clearly make a difference.

    Teachers need better support to maintain in that environment. At some point, living in a war zone takes its toll and they need to prevent it or at least keep it at bay longer.

  • Nextset

    I hope Dan writes more.

    It appears that he is now teaching in a real school. At some point in the future perhaps he will come to understand that the problem with OUSD is not that the students are black or poor or single parent.

    The problems and some of the differences Dan is realizing is best summed up by his lines “Disciplinary action, when it’s necessary, is swift and harsh” and “The students are well-mannered and always do their homework”. Poverty, being black and having a single mother parent does not have to equate with discipline & deportment. OUSD makes it that way by sending unmistakable signals to the kiddies that discipline and deportment is not required. And that is real easy to fix. You remove anyone not complying with performance and attendance standards from the school and send them elsewhere to continuation schools. When it’s sink or swim time most people take lessons well.

    If these black kids are to have any chance of making it in the world they need greater discipline than Ken and Barbie. It’s something (discipline) that is so cheap, poor people can have it in quantity. You just have to be in a school system that puts a premium on it. And have teachers and administrators that believe in it. For the moment, that is not OUSD.

    Maybe they do need to hire Michelle Rhee. And bring in ex-military types to instill the discipline we need. Or get some Irish Nun types. At least in a few demonstration project schools.

    OUSD needs an AIM school. Otherwise the charters are going to be the only provider of such education and OUSD will become/remain the defacto continuation school.

  • oakie

    I hope people realize that what the reform movement is trying to do (including Michelle Rhee) is to encourage young and energetic teachers like Dan, and to compensate them for good results. A teacher in the OUSD knows exactly how much compensation they will get by looking in a table with ‘years of service’ and education level axes. And, of course, they never cut out the failed and mediocre teachers that inevitably are created by this kind of compensation scheme. Anyone care to explain why Oakland has not fired a teacher for poor performance in many many years (if ever)?

    Young and energetic teachers do not get a fair shake in the compensation they receive at OUSD. And no doubt there are teachers here with many years of service and not carrying their weight, who are overcompensated (and in some cases should be outright fired).

    And not one of the “innovations” trumpeted over the years by the school district, like hiring yet another bureaucrat responsible for AA male performance, addresses this issue.

    Money talks, b.s. walks.

  • J.R.

    Oakie,
    You are right of course, but you aren’t saying what most people want to hear and so you too will be marked. We have to do the right thing for children even if it is not the popular thing with certain adults. These people want to protect position,paychecks and pensions and I would rather protect children and their right to a fully equipped education. Our taxes and our budget is more than sufficient, it is an freshwater ocean of money the problem is we have far too many bureaucratic adults drinking from it(many more than we realistically need)the kids who rightfully should be first in line for that money, never see it, it is being siphoned off before it ever reaches the classroom. That is one of the main problems here, if we did not waste money so easily we could afford SEED urban public boarding schools for kids on a large scale.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvmS0a84Chs

  • Oakland Teacher #731

    Dan:

    There is already a very extensive organization right in Oakland called “OTX,” or Oakland Technology Exchange, which refurbishes computers donated, mostly by corporations, and some by individuals. OTX has been around for more than 10 years and is pretty well-known in the OUSD. So, while I completely applaud the efforts of you and your students in what sounds like a dream school compared to what we have to endure here in Oakland, I’m not sure you’re not just duplicating what already exists.

    Having said that, I’m kind of sorry I have spent 20 years teaching in Oakland. The teaching conditions here are abysmal. It’s probably too late for me to change to a saner environment.

    I am appalled at so many things, such as inaccessible administrators, both on-site and central office, who refuse to meet with teachers, respond to phone calls or emails.

    I’m appalled by the disrespect routinely directed at teachers by students who consider school to be some sort of prison. (Not all students; I have some truly lovely students this year; but I have to say, that in every class, there are students who make teaching almost impossible).

    I’m appalled at parents who have no clue how to raise their children, and often support their children’s appalling behavior and disrespect (so we don’t wonder where they learned it).

    I’ve given two decades of my life to this place, to say nothing of countless hours of unpaid overtime, but when I hear of schools like yours, I wonder why I’ve continued to flail away in such a hopeless environment that seems to get worse with passing year.

    I would love to go in and just simply teach, but half of my effort must be spent on crowd control. How many great prospective teachers have turned to other professions because of the appalling behavior of our young people.

    I wish I could spend a year teaching in a school like you describe. Enjoy it; it sounds so great!

  • Public School Teacher

    Nextset, I agree with your post. Kids do need discipline and structure so they understand the rules of real school.

  • D. Frederick

    A google search>’African American Education Task Force’
    will show that OUSD and many of the other 99 largest US school districts outside the SouthEast Quadrant show very similar dysfunctional activities & results. Jphn Taylor Gatto and crew offer some REAL strategic approach solutions. Oakland Teacher #731,you especially need to Google him. bell hooks (you know her?) sheds more light on the issue @ http://www.infed.org/thinkers/hooks.htm . A peek might be refreshing.

  • D. Frederick

    Sorry about that typo on John’s name; its been a LONG DAY. Do you remember Arlene Ackerman? She just left San Francisco as super; Now she’s in Philly, PA. Same dynamics, same results. While Dan is in a much calmer environment, he is STILL a pawn in the bigger game. Have you looked at the 47 minute video on google called; “The Capitalist Conspiracy”? Or the shorter video; “Money as Debt”? How about Howard Zinn’s book; “A People’s History of the United States”? Now THAT could get a LOT of students’ attention.

  • Jenna

    What I am seeing is that many students are learning in Oakland under very adverse conditions.

    In many Oakland schools, we have come to expect that we must work in chaos because the children’s lives are in chaos. We expect that there are more children in families than those families can support financially, and emotionally or educationally (helping with homework, attending school events, volunteering at school).

    We expect that families that do not speak English must have translation services for every document, meeting, piece of paper or phone call that goes home. We expect that the parents won’t help their students with reading in English because they can’t.

    We expect to provide school breakfasts and lunches during the school year and the summer. We expect to provide a school nurse, a counselor and a dentist – at some schools in Oakland.

    We expect that we will have to have multiple intervention strategies, break the classroom into small groups to reteach every lesson, have student study teams when we strongly suspect the parents need to talk to a physician about ADD or ADHD because we need to run around the bush about 20 times rather than saying something directly.

    We expect that many students will need to be told multiple times a week to bring a pencil and paper, to keep their backpacks closed, keep their head off their desks when the teacher is teaching, to show up to school on time, to come in from lunch on time, to look adults in the eye when they speak to you, to stop your feet when a teacher says to stop and we expect we will need to say this over and over.

    We expect that students will not treat school supplies carefully and with respect (books, desks, colored pencils, markers, and science supplies).

    We expect that if a teacher leaves his or her laptop or cell phone on his or her desk and turns his or her back there is a very good chance it will be stolen.

    We expect that there will be problems with graffiti in school bathrooms, on the sides of buildings, on fences, and sometimes we expect it on teachers and school administrators cars.

    We expect that we must have lockdown procedures for the school, special signals for danger that is manmade, we expect to have chain link fences around school property at all times when school is not in session.

    We expect students to stay out of the halls until the bells ring because they will damage bulletin boards, displays, steal from classrooms and create chaos.

    What if our belief system was wrong. What if . . . there were functional school districts where nearly everything I said that we suspect and believe (because the vast majority of teachers will tell you that almost everything I said was true) was actually wrong.

  • Hot R

    Which is it Oakie? Are teachers who have to deal with generations of racism and oppression and lack support from administrators really bad teachers simply because they accept their meager raise each year? Dan is the same teacher he was in Oakland. Is he an amazing teacher now because his classroom is controlled and all his kids do the homework? Or is it really about socio-economic conditions? It is hard to accept the reality of poverty and that the teacher, with a few exceptions cannot consistently perform miracles. Solve Oakland’s economic problems and “presto chango” the schools will get better.

  • Jenna

    Hot R: If we solve the economic problems in Oakland will students begin speaking Standard Academic English in the classroom?

    Will students do their homework if they are not living in poverty?

    Will students not steal cell phones and laptops, meaning the teacher can leave them sitting on a desk and they will not disappear if everyone is living above the poverty line?

    Being broke and being poor are two different things – being broke is a temporary condition which may change depending on what is happening in society, the home and within the student. Being poor is a lack of values as well as a lack of money. Broke students come to school attempting to speak the best they can, attempting to behave and follow rules such as take only what belongs to you and not what belongs to others. Broke students come to school with homework at least attempted.

    Poor students come to school tired because often the household cares more about the immediate needs and desires of the adults before the needs of the children. Poor students often come to school wearing clothes and shoes that total over $200 with a cell phone beginning in 3rd grade, but do not have a dictionary, pencils and lined paper in the house for homework.

    I agree with the premise of institutionalized racism. But I also agree that if you spend $100 on a pair of sneakers and then say you don’t have money for a dictionary, you are creating your own poverty of intellectualism.

  • oakie

    Hot R and Jenna: Assuming you know California history, you know that the most extensive and profound discrimination and oppression over the last 100 years was against Asians. In fact, the AA population in California up to WWI was minuscule, while outright property ownership bans and legalized discrimination/oppression against Asians is well documented. Yet which school in OUSD serves one of the poorest populations (and with English as a second language, Jenna) and has student performance right up there with Hillcrest?

    Franklin, whose students are Asian, the most oppressed minority in California.

    I’m sorry your dogma does not fit the facts. You are entitled to your opinion, of course, just not your own set of facts.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, there are great teachers here, especially young and energetic new teachers (yet another example of the straw man baseless charges against people who want reform).

    It’s the system that beats them down, and that is partly the fault of the teacher’s union which insists on protecting the bad/underperforming teachers.

    Thus we have zero teachers fired for failing performance in OUSD, for many many years, and the annual dance of the lemons. This is in absolutely no way being done for the benefit of the students.

    Those young and energetic teachers might be more likely to stick around if the bad teachers are fired, the underperforming ones given notice of limited time to improve or they’re out next, and bonuses for those who demonstrate they can improve the performance of students under their care.

    I can’t believe these reforms are considered novel ideas. Should have been done 30 years ago: why hasn’t it?

  • J.R.

    Oakie,

    AMEN to that!

  • Oakland Teacher

    while I agree that there are teachers out there who need to leave the profession, and getting rid of them would benefit students, I fail to see how that action would convince the “young and energetic” teachers to stick around. I talk to every single one I know of who leaves, and they always have the same reasons: low pay, too much work after hours, classroom management, lack of training, lack of support – both site and central.

    In OUSD, we have the added layer of so many of our “young and energetic” teachers being interns who are here as part of TFA, Oakland Fellows, etc… They are recent college grads who were recruited at their colleges, or saw an ad and could not yet figure out what else to do with their life (immediately). They leave quickly and go on to new challenges where they are treated (and paid) like professionals. The young teachers who come in through more traditional teacher training programs (earning their credential at Cal, CSU’s, Holy Names, etc…) are far more likely to last! They at least wanted to become a teacher and were not “recruited” to be one. While I often admire these “recruits”, as a parent of school age kids and a teacher, it is very disheartening how often they leave.

    There is no question but that there are some poor teachers (all ages) out there. There has been at least one at every single school I have worked or my children have attended. But pointing the finger at them as the cause of the failure of the education system is not reasonable and will not result in meaningful change at the institutional/structural level.

    This year I am so overworked, I rarely have time to read or post on this board. I arrive before 8 and leave at 5 or later. I work 8-10 hours doing prep each weekend. I think I get paid for about 7 hours daily. It is also too frustrating to think about policy and change, as it is hard for me to feel positive about my job this year, no matter how hard I work!

    Jenna, thank you for both of your insightful and reflective pieces. I would add that “Poor students have game systems, but no books in the house.”

  • Hot R

    Oakie:

    I am not againt reform or firing bad teachers, just pointing out that the meager yearly raise teachers receive has not even kept up with inflation or burgeoning medical costs. Thus no one is getting rich teaching. As for your remark about bonuses, did you see the latest objective study which found that bonuses have no effect on test scores? A better solution is to raise teacher salaries to attract better teaching candidates and not make teaching about sacrifice.

    I do agree that the unions live in a fantasy world where they claim that all teachers are the same. They are not. But the public lives in a fantasy world where they claim all students are the same. They are not. And you live in a fantasy world where you think the solution to all educational problems is to fire the 50 “bad teachers” who are moved around each year and give bonuses to the good ones. It is not.

    Teachers leave Oakland because the working conditions are horrible, the facilities are horrid, the enforcement of rules is non-existent, the supplies are meager, the working conditions are sometimes dangerous, the pay is low, and the administrators are incompetent. Change that.

  • J.R.

    Oakland teacher and hot r,
    No one I know has ever said that poor teachers are the cause for the failure of the education system, only that they are a part of the problem with tenure and seniority preference being another problem. One of the main reasons teachers leave Oakland in short order is because the tenured teachers are in the best schools, in the best grades, and the best students(seniority preference and bumping in action). The young teachers are working the worst conditions at the lowest pay, bumped around from school to school at a whim and generally treated like crap and so,they generally leave in 3 to 5 years. What is so hard to understand about the root cause of this problem? This union brotherhood crap is all show, same as the older cops who threw the young cops under the bus, when they are the ones that are doing the hard dirty street work. It is only going to get worse unless the taxpayers police the system because we cannot trust these foxes to guard the henhouse.

  • J.R.

    Hot R,
    Some of the administrators are incompetent, because the system is built that way, the incompetent people are not fired as they should be. These people just collect years and seniority(sound familiar) and that is the sole determinant of their worth, and who is to blame for that? The whole system needs an enema(Michele Rhee style) and only then can we make progress. This system as it stands is nothing more than a jobs program with very little regard for children.

  • oakie

    First off, I mispoke: I intended to mention Lincoln as the exemplar, not Franklin. I had a friend who had taught at both in his beginning years of teaching (I don’t know if he is still teaching here). This was 20 years ago, and it was astounding to hear the difference in operation between these two schools. And the student performance seems to measure that well, even to this day. A competent school can teach, even very economically disadvantaged students who do not speak English as a first language.

    Oakland Teacher Says: “while I agree that there are teachers out there who need to leave the profession, and getting rid of them would benefit students, I fail to see how that action would convince the “young and energetic” teachers to stick around. I talk to every single one I know of who leaves, and they always have the same reasons: low pay..”

    Well, using Michelle Rhee as a great example of an attempt at reform in another dysfunctional school system, she fired 5% of the teacher population for failure to perform, put out warning notices to another 10% that you have one year to shape up or ship out, and also offered 5 figure bonuses for teachers who could demonstrate student achievement through objective and transparent metrics. And, in exchange, the teacher’s union spent their members dues and volunteer hours to defeat her.

    I suspect a 5 figure bonus could, in fact, motivate a new and energetic teacher to perform. Looking around at a bunch of dead weight making more money (since in OUSD, teacher compensation is a simple calculation of years of service and academic achievement) is also highly demoralizing.

    So I do see how reform will embolden some to set their goal to have their students outperform the expectations.

    “There is no question but that there are some poor teachers (all ages) out there. There has been at least one at every single school I have worked or my children have attended. But pointing the finger at them as the cause of the failure of the education system is not reasonable and will not result in meaningful change at the institutional/structural level.”

    Great that you admit that there are, in fact, poor teachers out there. I guess that’s progress (many still fight against reality and claim to not see this–ask ANY teacher’s union official or their quislings). I think pointing a finger at them is a great start at reform. In fact, I claim that if you don’t do that, there is absolutely no hope of turning around a dysfunctional school system and the best solution would then be to dissolve the district and start all over. Seriously. Bankruptcy is a vital element that keeps capitalism healthy. I will point out that OUSD did not go “out of business,” only had a state takeover. And now, as we look back, I do not see any real change I can believe in: it’s all window dressing while it continues to be a thug university. Those 60% of the AA male population that does not graduate will, predictably, be the ones mugging us in the streets in the next couple of years which is why we are the 4th or 5th most dangerous city in the country. Spending another $150,000 in compensation for a single person (who looks real nice in the newspaper’s photos) does not mean squat. Watch that graduation stat and see if I am right or wrong as the money employing this guy grows to near half million dollars in just the next 4 years.

    “And you live in a fantasy world where you think the solution to all educational problems is to fire the 50 “bad teachers” who are moved around each year and give bonuses to the good ones. It is not.”

    I did not claim this one step is a solution to “all” the problems. Straw man again. I do believe it is a necessary, but not sufficient step. I do claim that if you don’t do this it will never be reformed. I think Michelle Rhee would agree with that.

    Oh, and I suspect there are a lot more than 50 teachers who should go. How many teachers are there in OUSD? What’s 5% of that? THAT would be my best guess.

    I think you underestimate the power of a 5 figure bonus, particularly to the young new teachers, either recruits or those who arrived via the education training system. I believe DC offered $20,000. And that was per year for a nine month school year. That’s not chump change. I wonder how many of those young recruits would take notice and stay if that were offered to them. Given the experience you’ve had of watching so many of them leave, it should be noted that the bonuses and firing of deadwood has not been implemented here and there is zero potential that they will be in the foreseeable future. And that is part of my point.

    The Chinese have an expression, “kill the chicken to scare the monkeys.” If you take dramatic and meaningful steps, you might be amazed how it gets the attention of some who need to wake up and perform. And these are, in particular, the ones really being protected behind the power of the teacher’s union.

    Then again, if the interest of the students is not your absolute top priority, you may not to endorse true reform. But I will point out one thing: if that was YOUR kid scheduled to be put into the classroom of one of those deadwood teachers, I suspect YOU would do what it takes to make sure your kid is transferred out to a more competent teacher. The good teachers do, indeed, know who the deadwood teachers are.

    “Teachers leave Oakland because the working conditions are horrible, the facilities are horrid, the enforcement of rules is non-existent, the supplies are meager, the working conditions are sometimes dangerous, the pay is low, and the administrators are incompetent. Change that.”

    So can you explain why Lincoln students perform among the best of the hills schools?

    I certainly would say administrative incompetence is a huge part of it. But Michelle Rhee will not be fired for incompetence, but for competence, and that was dangerous to the teacher’s union.

    Current conditions in OUSD are not dangerous to the teacher’s unions or the incompetent teachers they protect. Doing real reform will be dangerous for those who stand in the way of putting the students as the absolute single highest priority.

    After doing these reforms, then the onus will be on the administration. I am more than happy to put the squeeze on them next, because once the impediments to actually create an excellent school or district are eliminated, the spotlight will soon shine on them. And they will not be able to hide behind those excuses. They will need to watch out. They’re next. But first, they must be given the power to administer. And they most definitely don’t have that right now.

  • Let’s Get Real

    Please do not keep citing Lincoln as a typical urban public school of poor students. The students are mostly Asian, and not many of their families are living in the same conditions that many families are in some other Oakland neighborhoods. Also, we are not being honest if we do not acknowledge that there are differences in how Asian families view education and personal responsibility that lead their students to perform well no matter where they go to school.

    It is not surprising that the American Indian charter school, which is likewise lauded for it’s high achievement, also has a disproportionately large Asian population.

    I’m not saying that only Asians can be high achievers, but I am saying that it takes a lot more support and resources for students to be successful who come from backgrounds where the focus at home is on day to day survival, and education is not a priority.

    Dan’s experience is a poignant example of the difference a school’s student population and resources can make in a teacher’s effectiveness. This is why it is too simplistic and ineffective to keep blaming teachers for troubled schools.

  • On the Fence

    There is an oft cited arguement on this blog that does not seem to make any sense. It goes something like this:

    Senior teachers get to bump energetic, hard working newbies, and are taking all the good jobs at good schools. They throw the low paid, but energetic new teachers under the bus until they leave. The senior teachers are also getting paid much better and don’t deserve it. Among the senior teachers are many lazy, deadweight, union protected, children haters who can’t be fired. We need to pay based on who is performing well and not based on senority.

    So here is where I get confused. Well, if the senior teachers are flocking to the ‘coveted’, ‘good positions’, like Hillcrest, Crocker, Franklin, Thornhill, Montclair, etc., then based on the above argument, they seem to warrant every last nickel and then some! Those are our consistently best performing schools. So seniority must really be working and anyone who teaches there should get a nice fat bonus!

    Oh, but that is too simplistic!?! Yes, I agree. In general, the issues with our schools do not lie with the union, seniority, or the quality of the teachers. In my opinion, it has to do with deep, complex, societal issues, so please stop using our teachers as your personal whipping post. Public schools in Piedmont and San Ramon are thriving, probably with seniority, unions and similarly trained and educated teachers. As someone alluded to above, Dan is the same teacher, although he might find his ‘results’ to be quite different in his new setting.

    If there is one area of change that I really could get behind, it would be Nextset’s and others’ insistence on improving student discipline in the schools.

  • Ms. J.

    I’m still pretty darn energetic even at my geriatric age of 39, and even after teaching for over ten years, but I am not so young, and I am a much better teacher than I was ten years ago. Stop with the simplistic ageism.

  • J.R.

    On the fence,
    You are forgetting two facts:
    On the fence,
    1. Teachers are different, some are good, some are great, and some are lousy.

    2. Students are different, some are motivated, some are not, and some are determined not to learn.

    Teachers are always reminding us that students are different, but somehow forget that also applies to teachers, and they should not be on a step pay system but a merit pay system.

    On The fence,
    If you couldn’t figure out why some of these schools do better, then I am forced to wonder about you. There are plenty of parents in Pleasanton(a very good district BTW)who can tell you which teachers are not good, and their students(luckily high achieving), had to push themselves through the year.

    The problems are deep and systemic I agree, but does that mean the bad teachers get a pass, not in this lifetime from this point on. Good teachers get results with poor kids, and even much better results with motivated kids. I hate to sound like an extremist, but societal policies(Welfare AFDC section 8) that encourage irresponsibility to thrive, have also brought about an unsustainable number of multi-generational irresponsible misfits, and who is to blame for these liberal policies that have brought us to the brink?

  • J.R.

    Mrs. J,
    The absolute worst most biased kind of evaluation is a self evaluation. It is of absolutely no use whatsoever. This bad system we have will either change with your cooperation or we taxpayers will change it for you whether your union likes it or not. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, you better hang on.

  • Sue

    Hi, Oakie. Here’s the answers to your questions:

    Number of classroom teachers in OUSD: 2195
    Five percent of those = 109.75

    Source:
    “K-12 Classroom Teachers (FTE): 2,195″

    http://publicportal.ousd.k12.ca.us/199410818193832733/blank/browse.asp?A=383&BMDRN=2000&BCOB=0&C=57403
    (the page says the numbers are from 2007 – maybe someone else can find links to more recent data)

    Somehow, I just don’t think that firing 110 teachers is going to have much of an impact, if any. I was taught by some teachers who weren’t so great, like everyone else, I imagine. The worst was a high school PE teacher who was attempting to teach all general education subjects in a combined 7th and 8th grade classroom.

    I’m ashamed to say that the poor guy left teaching after having me as an 8th grader in his class. He couldn’t do algebra, so his attempts to teach it were awful, and I was very-very good at that subject, so I was continually correcting his mistakes in front of the entire class. (My 13-y-o son can be as much of a wise-@ss know-it-all as I was then – thank goodness we all grow out of the age!)

    Somehow, the long-suffering students in his class all managed to survive that dreadful year. Everyone passed and went on to the next grade. Most graduated from high school, and some completed college, too. One year with a bad teacher wasn’t the end of anyone’s academic progress.

    One valuable thing I learned from enduring that year with a poor teacher, was how *not* to behave when I’ve worked for poor managers. As an adult, I don’t go around publicly embarrassing them when they make mistakes. A few bad teachers (or at least, the occasional teacher and student interaction that’s bad for that student) are always going to be in the mix no matter how big or how small the school district.

    We all have to learn to deal with other humans who aren’t perfectly wonderful, because there are an awful lot of less-than-wonderful people in the world, and most never went into the teaching. So, a rare bad teacher offers students a different kind of learning opportunity – which is also valuable in its way.

    Oh, and for the record – I’ve met exactly one *bad* teacher in 14 years as a parent of OUSD students. That individual is teaching at Montera Middle School which I believe is the top performing middle school in the district. Somehow, I can’t convince myself that firing that individual (and it would be richly deserved) would make the slightest bit of improvement in the less-high-preforming schools of the district.

    But maybe the blame-the-union-because-we-can’t-fire-bad-teachers kool-aide just tastes better to the folks who are making it than to the rest of us they’re trying to convince to drink it.

  • Sue

    I forgot to say to Dan – way to go! Thank you for anything you can do to help out Oakland kids!

    My husband also built computers for kids out of donated spare parts for a number of years. We were aware of OTX at the time, and they’re great, then and now. But there were still kids in our sons’ schools who didn’t have a computer, and we changed that for a few of them. I’m sure there’s still more demand than is being met.

  • oakie

    Let’s Get Real Says:
    “Please do not keep citing Lincoln as a typical urban public school of poor students. The students are mostly Asian, and not many of their families are living in the same conditions that many families are in some other Oakland neighborhoods. Also, we are not being honest if we do not acknowledge that there are differences in how Asian families view education and personal responsibility that lead their students to perform well no matter where they go to school.”

    Actually, no one brought up race or ethnicity when they argued that poor kids, especially esl, were performing poorly in school (and it’s not the teacher’s fault, I suppose was implied). No mention. Until I use an example of a school chock full of poor students, with the added disadvantage of esl.

    But, oh, they’re Asian. Not fair.

    My answer: this is, precisely, the soft bigotry of low expectations. It is not genetic or embedded in any particular identity group. [Unlike the apparent belief of the school board at one time, which pronounced that speakers of a particular dialect apparently made them "genetically" incapable of performing well in school. I.e. it's not the teacher's fault!] That argument is borderline racism.

    On the Fence Says:
    “…Senior teachers get to bump energetic, hard working newbies…”

    and Ms. J. Says:
    “I’m still pretty darn energetic even at my geriatric age of 39… Stop with the simplistic ageism.”

    I never mentioned an age. “Young” and “energetic” are not age, they are a state of mind. Ergo, the charge of ageism is yet another (it is getting tiresome) of a straw man argument. Actually, I could posit that for you to jump to the conclusion that one implies the other could be considered ageism.

    On the Fence Says:
    “The senior teachers are also getting paid much better and don’t deserve it.”

    They do not deserve it BECAUSE they have years of service. Nor do they deserve to be protected from layoffs based on seniority. Period.

    They would deserve it if they can demonstrate that students under their charge perform better than expected. But only on the basis of performance, not seniority. Isn’t it amazing that a professional sports team is able to hire, fire and set wages based on performance, but when it comes to education of our young (at taxpayer’s expense), then it seems so extreme a concept. Whew, now there’s a demonstration of where our real priorities are, isn’t it?

    “Among the senior teachers are many lazy, deadweight, union protected, children haters who can’t be fired.”

    Never have I said “many” or “child haters.” Again, straw man. But, yes, I argue that it can easily be demonstrated (zero fired in a pathetically dysfunctional system like OUSD) that they CANNOT be fired. Cannot. And I claim there exists teachers in this system that ought to be fired IF your SOLE highest priority is the students’ welfare. How can you have several high schools where the percentage of 10th graders who are competent in math is IN THE SINGLE DIGITS? How can not a single teacher in any of those high schools (who are giving most passing grades in math) be fired for what is prima facie evidence of incompetence or at minimum stating falsehoods?

    “We need to pay based on who is performing well and not based on seniority.”

    Yep. You’re finally getting it. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

    “So here is where I get confused. Well, if the senior teachers are flocking to the ‘coveted’, ‘good positions’, like Hillcrest, Crocker, Franklin, Thornhill, Montclair, etc., then based on the above argument, they seem to warrant every last nickel and then some! Those are our consistently best performing schools. So seniority must really be working and anyone who teaches there should get a nice fat bonus!”

    No, you’re not following. You are confused.

    And this IS precisely what Michelle Rhee addressed in DC: performance metrics are based on expected performance of a student compared to actual performance. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it’s the comparison to expected performance, stupid.

    So that cancels the perennial performance of middle class and above kids from advantaged backgrounds, which is expected. Of course, there are always exceptional teachers who even do amazing things with those students, also, and they WOULD deserve a nice fat bonus for their effort.

    “…the issues with our schools do not lie with the union, seniority, or the quality of the teachers…”

    Oh, please, you don’t really believe that, do you? If you do, let’s fire every teacher and put monkeys in the front of the classroom since they work for bananas.

    Not a single poorly performing teacher in OUSD deserves to get the axe?

    Would you put your own kid in that teacher’s class? It defies credulity. And it focuses our attention on the dilemma we face, and why I argue that there is absolutely no hope for reform in Oakland. Nada. Zip. Mei you. And why I will vote against any additional tax money for OUSD, and I hope you will join me in preventing a further waste of money.

    Sue Says:
    “Here’s the answers to your questions:Five percent of those = 109.75…Somehow, I just don’t think that firing 110 teachers is going to have much of an impact, if any.”

    I was just using that number as a placeholder, but thanks. The 5% is based on what Michelle Rhee did (maybe I should start referring to her simply as Goddess for simplicity).

    I would suspect that among the lower half performing teachers, most would definitely take notice and take a gulp. Some won’t, most would, and some in the top half would also. It’s amazing what a act like firing the worst of the worst would have in concentrating the mind of the remaining. No matter how cruel that might be to some, I suspect those teachers who ARE performing exceptionally well will be more than a bit happy with ejecting the worst apples. Then again, maybe we should set up separate schools for those bad apples, and all those who think they should not be fired should send THEIR kids to those schools. It would be perfect justice.

  • J.R.

    Oakie,
    Good post, you’ve covered it all. Some people who coast but are entrenched in this education system are dependent on this jobs program staying as is(much like welfare recipients do). Of course I am not referring to the good and great teachers who deserve their pay(and even more). When money is involved people won’t hear you, much less listen to you.

  • oakie

    On the Fence Says:
    “…so please stop using our teachers as your personal whipping post. Public schools in Piedmont and San Ramon are thriving, probably with seniority, unions and similarly trained and educated teachers.”

    In absolutely no way are teachers the target of my attacks. Bad teachers are, and those who protect them from their fair disposition.

    Piedmont and other functional schools thrive IN SPITE of the unions protecting the incompetent teachers. The entrenchment of the teacher’s unions is in the DNA, but it does not manifest itself in Piedmont. Why?

    There are bad teachers there, but they have nowhere to hide. Do you think the parents in Piedmont do not suss out who they are? Do you not think they make a lot of noise if their own kid gets stuck in such a class? Do you not think the other teachers and administration know the score and gently but ultimately force them out knowing damn well the parents will be down the school’s throats if they did not find a way of flushing them away? Parents are deeply deeply involved, they network and they get what they want from the system. The stink they would raise if they didn’t…….

    The union is no protection for those bad apples. They go. There is no dance of the lemons to perpetuate the incompetence. The parents are too savvy to tolerate it and they will not stop till they get their way. They know who is boss, and it’s them. And they’ll let anyone working in PSD know it. You just try and defy them.

    It is highly functional in spite of the union employment contract structure.

    Therein lies the rub. In Oakland, they CAN hide, the unions can successfully protect them and the parents are not inclined to object, for many reasons. Maybe all those low expectations I keep seeing in the counter-arguments.

  • Let’s Get Real

    Oakie, stop throwing around catch phrases like “the soft bigotry of low expectations” and reread the full text of my response.

    I’m simply stating THE FACT that students who come from backgrounds where education, i.e., academic work, is not a priority need more support to achieve. Are you trying to say this is not true? Are you trying to say that there is NOT a tendency for certain Asian groups to achieve on higher levels than other groups in many schools–not just at Lincoln and not just in OUSD? And if you concede that they do, to what to you attribute their success? Is it all just a coincidence, or do their family priorities have something to do with it?

    And what classroom experience do you have, anyway, Oakie? Lately, it seems that the people with the most to say have the least authority to say anything!

  • Sue

    I think everyone missed my point too. If we compare OUSD to Piedmont, their families/parents are education oriented, and their administration responds to their families. In OUSD, even when parents/families are aware of a problem teacher, and we try to get the administration to take notice and get the problem corrected, we’re lucky if we can get that teacher out of our own child’s school and shuffled off to another school.

    Actually, I’ve seen a couple of pretty good teachers who were also highly active in the union, get moved from their preferred school and preferred grade level to other worse-performing schools, and grades they found most challenging, apparently as punishment for their union activism. That’s a bad administration abusing good teachers.

    Getting rid of bad teachers (however it gets done, “dance of the lemons”, or any other option) is the responsibility of the *administration*. It’s not up to the parents, it’s not up to the students, and it’s also not up to the union.

    Certainly, the parents and the students can and *should* bring problem teachers to the notice of the administration, and then the *administration* needs to fix the problem.

    I mentioned before that I’ve only encountered one truly bad teacher in 14 years of dealing with OUSD. This person supposedly “taught” my now-college-freshman when he was in the 8th grade, and this year is supposedly “teaching” my younger son. Still at Montera, and the adminstration still hasn’t done their jobs and straightened out or gotten rid of this bad teacher. (In our family’s most difficult moments of conflict with this teacher, my husband and I have discussed printing anonymous fliers accusing him/her of child molestation and putting them on all the car windshields at the school.)

    But I didn’t discuss how many bad adminstrators our family has had to find ways to work around. When we found good adminstrators, we’ve treasured them! Besides the several principals at Montera who are still tolerating that one bad teacher, I’ve seen so many, many others.

    And that’s what the union’s job is, to protect teachers from bad administrators. Yes, the union protects all the teachers, both the good ones, and the bad one(s?). It’s not the union’s responsibilty to determine which of its members is doing either a good job or a bad job. It’s the administration’s responsibility. In districts like Piedmont, the administration does its job, but in OUSD they often fail – and both the teachers and the students are the ones who suffer for the administration’s failures.

    With the number of bad adminstrators I’ve enountered over the years, and the number of good and even great teachers who have had to tolerate all sorts of ridiculousness, or finally chose not to tolerate it anymore and aren’t around OUSD any longer, my experience is that we families need to support our teachers’ union, because it’s the *only* thing that’s protecting our good teachers. Without the union, we wouldn’t have any good teachers left in the district, only bad administrators, and the worst, scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel teachers who couldn’t get or keep jobs anywhere else.

    Am I the only one who sees the main problem in OUSD is bad administration, and the secondary problem is disfunctional families, non-education oriented families who can’t or don’t make the administration do its job?

  • J.R.

    Sue,
    The union set the rules and procedures for discipline and termination of teachers, and you should know that(I think you do). The administrators must follow this long onerous procedure to the letter. You are also forgetting that administrators are actually fairly powerless in personnel matters ex: admins must take any tenured teacher who requests a transfer to their school, and they have absolutely NO say in the matter. As far scraping the bottom of the barrel teachers who couldn’t get or keep jobs anywhere else, tenure and seniority see to it that the only teachers bumped, moved or fired are the junior teachers and that is based solely on time served in the district, not competence. So there goes your argument right out of the window.

  • J.R.

    Sue,
    I have seen a number of schools run without administrators for extended periods of time(charters run by teachers, principal designee, teachers serving as interim)and admins are just not as crucial as you think, partly because their hands are tied by contract. They are mainly there to oversee, material procurement, management, loosely discipline and the most vital role, leading the school in a specific educational direction. Teachers are far more important and that is why people are so insistent that rid rid the system of poor teachers, it is only one piece of the puzzle, but it is an important one. Not allowing stupid and irresponsible people to breed would fix our problems but that isn’t going to happen so we need to do this.

  • harold

    @J.R. – you feel strongly about “bad teachers”. Can you accept Sue’s experience with “bad administrators”? I believe she has a relevant point.

  • Sue

    JR, you and I must be in different school districts. What you describe simply isn’t my experience – at all. You can throw out all the unsubstanciated claims you like, and I’ll simply dismiss them because they don’t match my experiences.

    You see bad teachers everywhere, and I’ve only seen one in 14 years.

    You see administrators as not very important, because you’ve seen schools run successfully without one. I saw four different principals at Skyline and what a mess that was during the four years my older son attended that school. (Oh, the stories I’ve told about that, on this blog!) I’ve seen two other schools that my sons attended where the principal was in their final year before retirement, so they just didn’t care anymore – that wasn’t working well, either.

    You’ll continue to see and believe what you’ve experienced, and I’ll continue with my views. Maybe your hoards of awful teachers are real, and their union is the cause of all the districts problems.

    And maybe my family has just been exceptionally lucky to have had so many good teachers (who were somehow able to overcome administrative problems we observed).

    *sarcasm alert*
    Yeah, right. That’s it. Must just be my family’s blind, stupid luck. Couldn’t possibly be anything else that might explain our differing experiences and views.
    *end of sarcasm*

    I’m going to restate my point about the necessity of the teachers’ union – you completely misunderstood what I said. (was that deliberate?)
    Without a union, the good teachers would leave the district. They would have no protections at all from bad and/or abusive administration, and they’d have and use their option to go work in other districts. Only bad teachers would stay in OUSD, because they wouldn’t have the same choice.

  • Sue

    Oh, and the word for “Not allowing stupid and irresponsible people to breed” is eugenics. Are you familiar with that word and any of the history around US and other countries’ eugenics laws and policies?

    You might want to google it if you aren’t.

    (*I* wouldn’t want anyone to think I sounded like a Nazi because I wasn’t sufficiently educated about something I was advocating. I’m assuming you didn’t already know that you’ll find that eugenics and Nazism will be connected in many, many of the google search results. There were *very* good reasons for the repeal of this country’s eugenics laws!)

  • J.R.

    Harold,
    Of course Sue has a point about bad administrators, they do exist all over(the system keeps them there based on time served), but principals just don’t and can’t do that much damage even if they wanted to because they just don’t have that kind of power. I do agree that most teachers are competent(good)and some are great. One of the longest tenured and highly respected principals in our district tried to hang on to several excellent junior teachers, but as is always the case the union contract is treated as gospel and these terrific teacher were tossed like last weeks garbage. As a parent I am frustrated that this system is so skewed, and yet I pay taxes even though I have no say. Bad teacher do a lot more widespread damage than bad administrators ever could.

  • J.R.

    Sue,
    I am well aware of what eugenics is, and no I don’t subscribe to it, but that is just stating the situation as it exists. Margaret Sanger was one such nut, and you know where that led us.

  • Eliza D

    “but as is always the case the union contract is treated as gospel”

    No, it is treated as what it is: a legal binding agreement.

  • J.R.

    Eliza,
    A legal binding agreement that effectively puts the interest of adults ahead of the interest of children, and that is exactly what a big part of the problem is.

  • Sue

    So, the union and the district adminstration bargain over the contract, and the administration does a poor job at the negotiating table (Very poor; extremely poor; or another descriptive adjective you’d prefer, JR?).
    But that’s not the adminstration’s fault and their failure?

    I’m confused. Did I get that right?

  • J.R.

    Sue,
    It is so very easy to gamble with others peoples(taxpayers) money, I couldn’t even begin to count the ways I dislike the negative effect collective bargaining has on children and their education(the kids end up getting shafted) . I think both sides(admin & union) should be forced to go out and earn(get money instead of having it come “TO” them), and maybe they would have a greater appreciation of what taxpayers go through. The kids lose at the bargaining table because the more admins and teachers make the less the kids get. There is not a problem with funding, it’s with priorities. I am on the students side, how about you?

  • Public School Teacher

    J.R.

    Most school budgets pay for administration, I think approximately 40% or more. Therein lies some of the problems. In addition, funding is directed to consultants to assist with the NCLB testing fiasco and all the remedial classes and test prep needed to pass the test. Take a break from the teacher blame game, even though it’s the new “black” this year. For a good dose of reality, I would like to suggest some authors for you to read, Diane Ravitch, Jonathan Kozol and Linda Darling-Hammond. Start there and then comment on this topic.

  • ex-Montera Parent

    Sue, my children have been going to Montera for the past 13 years. There have been at least six really lousy teachers at Montera in that time but they were either replaced or quit, although it often took a long time. On the other hand there are quite a few wonderful young teachers, several of whom were Project Pipeline teachers and one or two older very competent teachers. The rest are just all right. That is probably what you get in most public schools. You are lucky that you have only encountered one bad one.

  • Sue

    Okay, I’ll accept that our family has just been unusually lucky.

    Having one kid with autism, so he’s always had an IEP and his general ed teachers have usually been carefully selected and worked closely with the Spec. Ed. team to support him and meet his needs. And the younger one was identified as gifted and slotted into GATE when he was a 3rd grader.

    So-called “normal” kids probably don’t get as much attention and planning as students with a severe life-long disability (and assertive parents who are *very* effective advocates), or GATE students who can consistently score at the top on all the state tests and help raise their school’s overall scores.

    We’re so abnormal. Lucky for us.

  • J.R.

    Public,
    I know about Ravitch, Linda Hammond, and I know the reality. You keep making the claim that all teachers are being blamed this is NOT true taxpayers just don’t believe that certain teachers should be in the classroom(they are part of a systemic problem). I comment on what I have actually witnessed, and experienced. Recently I was going from classroom to classroom handling IT duties(volunteer) and one of the rooms happened to be resource. I saw someone there, a state certified intervention specialist playing Solitaire on one of the PC’s, and I thought “it must be her break”, and I stopped by two hours afterward and there she was still playing a game and on and on throughout the day. These are the things that bother me, as I see waste and corruption which are really the same all up and down this system. Even when you don’t give your best you are essentially stealing from the taxpayers. Whether it be a Principal that lets things go to avoid drama, or a teacher who gives their class minimal work(busywork or whatever)or a state admin who waste the time paid for by taxpayers , it all has to STOP now! I would say taxpayers put plenty of money into the system, and a part of that money is just wasted on excessive people that we really don’t need and excessive salaries as well(Google LAUSD and the half Billion dollar school). If we were able to get rid of the waste fraud and abuse maybe we could pay our good teachers more, and that would be terrific.

  • J.R.

    Sue,
    My son has Autism, and I know the system fails them sometimes as well, and if it weren’t for the fact that he has been blessed to have many great teachers, he wouldn’t be so well adjusted today. You see I love good teachers, and I have witnessed how much difference they can make in the life of a child. I don’t want the good ones smeared because they get associated with the poor ones who really don’t want to be there(except for the paycheck), and yes they are there. We made the mistake of letting just anyone teach, and you really need the right mindset as well as the ability,patience and compassion to teach.

  • Sue

    Without knowing your son’s age, or the severity of his autism, I don’t know if he’s already in the ASIP program, or if he could benefit from it. Autism Spectrum Inclusion Program – it was originally called Asperger’s Syndrome Inclusion, and is still geared more towards the “Aspies”, but includes HFA students that can benefit from mainstreaming. The name changed because of our boy, I think. We’ve had him in the program since it began when he was a 5th grader.

    We’ve had truly incredible success for our son from it. He is now a freshman at CSUEB. Just a year ago, we wouldn’t have dreamed of him even applying to a four-year university, let alone getting admitted and being able to attend.

    He’s already exceeded our wildest imaginings of the brightest future possible for him. It was possible because of the *great* people (inclusion teachers and staff in the program and general ed teachers in regular classrooms) working with him. His h.s. and middle school inclusion teachers are both working with a new pilot program for autism spectrum students at CSUEB, called College Link.

    The counter-balance to such amazing success – that amazing middle school inclusion teacher (who really invented the middle school ASIP program, and provided the ground work for the h.s. program when it started), doesn’t work in OUSD anymore.

    Long ugly story, but the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, was when that horrible, terrible, no-good teacher at Montera had a problem compying with our son’s IEP, the wonderful inclusion teacher subjected to threats of physical harm. Rather than go through the hassle and waste of time of complaining to the principal, or going higher in the district’s administration – risking retaliation beyond those threats – the inclusion teacher quit and went work in another district.

    Now you know the details of *one* of the many situations that leads me to condemn the administration. They already knew the bad teacher was a problem. They didn’t care, and it was obvious to everyone involved. So a really great teacher (full credentials, as well as Severe Disability credential/certification) was lost to the district, but we still have that bad one.

  • J.R.

    Sue,
    I am not, nor have I ever been what you could call a fan of administration, and the fact that they tend to do what is easiest and less hassle for them irks me to no end. We have to deal with the absolute fact that good teachers help kids in so many ways, while bad teachers really can hurt children academically. I feel bad for your situation, and I hope for the best from here on out.

  • Sue

    Please, please, please! Don’t feel bad for my situation.

    Remember those “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” posters from the 60′s/70′s? Well, I’m savoring the sweetest and tastiest homemade “lemonade” ever. My son has far more talent and abilities than he has disabilities.

  • J.R.

    Sue,
    I am so very glad to hear that, best wishes to you and your son. No doubt he is a marvelous young man, as in my son. I actually meant that I was sorry the admins couldn’t or wouldn’t help you.