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Why do so many new Oakland teachers leave? Some have no choice.

By Katy Murphy
Wednesday, October 13th, 2010 at 4:18 pm in teachers.

A new report to be presented at tonight’s school board meeting (agenda here) shows that 73 percent of teachers hired by the Oakland school district in 2004 were no longer in the classroom, five years later.

Andy Kwok, rookie teacher at EXCEL High School who left in 2010 after three years. Tribune file photo by Lane Hartwell.Using several years’ worth of data, the district found that 28 percent of its new teachers didn’t return for a second year; about 48 percent didn’t come back for a third, and 60 percent didn’t return for a fourth (such as Andy Kwok, right, the rookie teacher we followed in 2007-08).

Through surveys and the district’s personnel data, the New Teacher Support & Development Department tried to find out why 887 teachers hired between 2004 and 2008 had left. They collected 491 responses.

You might be surprised by one of the top reasons new teachers leave their Oakland classrooms: they have no choice.

Nearly 160 of those teachers were released by the district — presumably after their first or second year of teaching, before earning tenure. If you put that figure over 887, the total number, instead of 491 (since the district’s database can account for all of the teachers who were let go, rather than relying on survey responses), it comes out to 18 percent.

In other words, almost one in every five of the new hires who left OUSD classrooms between 2004 and 2008 were forced out of their jobs; they didn’t leave in search of greener pastures, as is often presumed.

About 90 teachers — 18 percent of the 491 survey responses — said they moved out of the area; 13 percent said the working conditions drove them out, and 3 percent said it was the low pay. About 4 percent took other jobs within the district, becoming administrators or instructional coaches.

Sixteen schools had one-year turnover rates of more than 20 percent in the 2009-10 school year.

You can find the full presentation, which compares the retention rates for various internship programs (Teach For America, Oakland Teaching Fellows, etc.) here.

Thoughts?

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]

  • Catherine

    For those of us working in “flatland schools” who teach as a second or third career, it is not the needs of the students, the long working hours, the parents who have more children than they can help or afford, or the planning for five or six grade levels of student abilities in one classroom. We expect those. We expect students whose lives are in chaos and we expect to have to contact parents / guardians of over 50% of our students multiple times to get a conference.

    It is the chaos of the bureaucracy. Photocopiers and Risographs that are out of supplies or not working for days at a time; internet that is down and the tech guy telling us to change our lesson plans for one, two, three or more days until he gets around to fixing it, getting pencils and erasers for our students who don’t have them; keeping a librarian; making school choices between keeping a librarian or a sports program when you know that libraries are what functioning schools have and sports programs actually keep kids coming to school; Oakland has created a school environment where it is acceptable for a teacher to spend half or more of any planning session climbing up and down stairs, moving from room to room and searching for an appropriate person to fix broken machinery.

    When I worked last Saturday preparing for a science and writing unit, I spent 6 hours at school – 2.5 hours were spent on looking for, finding, listening to the excuses of and pleading with the tech guy to fix the machines to copy what my students needed. Nearly half of my planning time spent on unnecessary hostage situations. In the business world, he would be gone. But this is Oakland. I am fortunate enough to have a job offer outside of Oakland next year. My heart goes out to the teachers I work with. They accept this waste of time as a necessary evil. Relatively new principal is trying to solve bigger issues – if she can solve this issue however, she will add a great deal to her credibility.

    It is not the pay that makes teachers feel like clerks, it is the begging for necessities to teach.

  • JR

    Hmmmm,
    Now, I recall several teacher’s telling me that junior teachers were NOT being forced out in this district, but there seems to be a rather large difference between perception and reality. It’s seems that peoples presumptions were flat out wrong.

  • Katy Murphy

    I think some people had made the point that Oakland wasn’t losing its junior teachers through a general, seniority-based layoff process, which is true. The district managed to avoid that process this year, at least for its K-12 classroom teachers.

    The forced departures described in this report are more akin to firings than budget-related layoffs. Before teachers earn tenure/due process rights, they are “probationary” employees and can be released — or “non re-elected” — for any reason.

  • JR

    Katy,
    They have to cut somewhere(firings or budget related layoffs, just different terminology), and we are all forced to sit back and watch “the dance of the lemons” because tenured teachers are not going anywhere we are stuck with them, and that is pretty much six of one = half a dozen of the other. I was also told that teaching jobs were always available in OUSD and not too long after that a junior teacher stated she could not find anything. BTW Senior teacher are scared to death of losing seniority protection because they say two junior teachers will be hired for the price of one senior teacher. Now would this be a firing or budget related(who knows,who cares, and who really knows the intent of the people making that decision). Your turn………………..

  • Katy Murphy

    JR – I don’t mean to engage you in a debate — just to clarify the difference between a layoff and a firing/non re-election.

    It’s true that other districts, such as Los Angeles, have lost junior teachers in general layoffs. It’s also true that some schools — including some in Oakland — stand to lose junior teachers when they are forced to eliminate positions because of budget cuts and/or loss of enrollment. In those cases, the teachers are “consolidated” and transferred to other schools, a seniority-based process which is arguably as disruptive to the students as a teacher losing her job.

    Los Angeles Unified just reached a settlement with the ACLU that will limit seniority-based layoffs at some schools. This is a case to watch: http://lat.ms/a3r2U0

    The firing/non-re-election of probationary teachers is in another category, though. It’s a mysterious process, but it happens in good fiscal times and in bad.

  • Gordon Danning

    Catherine:

    I don’t think you can blame Oakland for the lack of support at your school. Rather, you need to blame your site administration. I have never had problems getting copies made at my site – and I use a LOT of copies — because my administrators understand that it is important and hence is a priority. A good principal will be in the copy room herself, if that is what it takes to get teachers the resources they need.

  • Former OUSD teacher

    I taught at Edna Brewer for one year. The principal at Edna Brewer hired 7 new teachers that year and kept one. She undermined and sabotaged new teachers she did not like in as many ways as can be imagined, by writing devastating unhelpful reviews in the first three months, by telling involved parents that their children should be moved out of their classes, by commenting on their performance in public, by allowing the OCI person and the security guards to override their discipline decisions.
    When our contracts were not renewed, we discovered another delightful side effect – We cannot be hired in OUSD for five years in any capacity, including title one at a private school.

    Most of the teachers let go were not terrible teachers. We were inexperienced teachers who needed time and reasonable support to become good teachers. At least four of the seven teachers found jobs in other districts/schools and have gotten excellent reviews – one former colleague was teacher of the year in their district and I have received outstanding on nearly all of my reviews.

    Unfortunately, the decision to keep teachers is based entirely at the school site and is made largely by the principal. There is no protection for new teachers from vindictive people who play favorites.

  • Ms. J.

    My burning question is: why did it take JR so long to formulate the response we all knew he was ever so ready to make?

  • mumbler

    JR–you’re brilliant as ever. Katy, you too.

    What you guys didn’t mention for new teachers who are released is the intense pressure on principals to pull the plug on a teacher after only observing said teacher for 1.5 years. Tenure happens that fast in OUSD. If tenure was TEN YEARS, we could really give a new teacher a shot and coach them and trust that they’d be great for kids.

    In the present system, if someone is not a good fit and you don’t release them during this EXTREMELY short window–which is unfair to both teacher and administrator–you can never get rid of them. The dance of the lemons is right.

    Senior teachers are scared of losing job rights not because an admin will hire two people for the price of one but because several senior teachers would be gone in an instant if they lost their job protection. And they would be replaced with better teachers who would be better for kids and learning. But that’d be too rational for the time we live in, full of corporate and union entitlement. Ug!

  • JR

    Katy,
    It is hard sometimes to convey precise meanings in posts so its OK no harm no foul.BTW the termination process was created to be a pain so the principals couldn’t or wouldn’t use it. Read this little primer on the long torturous process.

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/32467640/Devil-in-the-Details-An-Analysis-of-State-Teacher-Dismissal-Laws

    Former,
    I know exactly what you are saying, the principals do have control over personnel matters if(big if)the employee is not tenured. When the employee has tenure the principal has to follow a long drawn out process just to recommend the employee for dismissal.

    Mrs.J
    Don’t be burned, sometimes it takes a wee bit longer, and I know you are just chomping at the bit to read my opinion.

  • Steven Weinberg

    When I first entered teaching, 42 years ago, there was a better system in place for evaluating new teachers. Teachers were considered probationary for their first three years and were evaluated several times in each of those years. Teachers could not grieve the content of their evaluations, but they could challenge their evaluations if proper procedures were not followed. Teachers could be let go at the end of any year in the probation cycle if their evaluation was unsatisfactory, but those who were making progress had all three years to prove themselves. After the third year the teachers who were retained earned regular status and district would have to document its case much more fully if it wanted to dismiss that teacher.

    At some point during my career the legislature passed a law changing the rules. The probationary period was shortened to 2 years (something the unions wanted) and in return the districts were given a completely free hand to let go probationary teacher they wanted without having to follow any set procedure (something the districts wanted). I believe both changes hurt teachers. Two years is not enough time for many new teacher to develop all the skills necessary to do an excellent job in the classroom. I know it took me well into my third year to achieve adequate classroom discipline, so I don’t think the union served teachers well by getting the probationary period reduced. On the other hand, allowing districts to fire teachers in the first two years without having to follow the evaluation procedures or give those teachers support also hurt schools and opened them up to the type of abuses Former OUSD Teacher describes.
    Those abuses are exactly why teachers resist giving up the job protections that they have.

    Many schools in Oakland demand a great deal from a new teacher, and not all teachers are a good fit for the schools they are placed at. I have known several probationary teachers who were let go by Oakland who ended up being very successful in neighboring districts. I think the rule against allowing other Oakland schools from considering someone who was let go from an Oakland site is unfair and deprives our schools of some excellent teacher candidates.

  • ILoveTeachers

    Teaching is hard. Some people can’t cut it. I’m glad there is a way to say goodbye to those who aren’t cutting it so that more children don’t have to suffer.

  • Nextset

    This is all very interesting but the first post by Catherine is the one that gets my attention.

    Why would any good teacher stay in such a rotten school district? There really are other jobs and other occupations to go to.

    If a person remains in working conditions as bad as Catherine describes, they are no better than the school they would be complaining about. You don’t ratify bad working conditions as described by remaining in it and trying “to make it work”. You walk out. (And hopefully blog about it so other would be workers can refuse to work in that district.)

    I suppose the Charters are the real future. AIM anyone?

  • Steven Weinberg

    Hundreds of dedicated teachers stay in Oakland for one reason: the students.

  • JR

    Steve,
    You are right most teachers are good and dedicated, but whether that means 60%,70% or 80% no one knows. The only thing we know for sure is there are some teachers who should not be teaching, and they are standing in the way of many good competent teachers with less seniority. Is firing incompetent teachers the complete answer to our problems,no. Is it a step in the right direction, absolutely YES for now and the future.

  • Oakland Teacher

    I second Mr Weinberg’s reason for staying. I will also add that this is MY community, where I have raised my own kids (successfully and through OUSD), where I live, where I am lucky enough to be able to own a home (no thanks to my salary), and where I feel like I can really make a difference. Even if that difference is not for as many students as I would like, every kid counts in my book.

    I agree with Catherine about what makes my job hard. This year I am also dealing with broken equipment and a lack of supplies. I have already spent nearly $400 of my own money, and I am not a new teacher, so have a lot of materials of my own. It is depressing to have to beg for paper, journals and pencils (I gave up and bought my own). It is defeating to not have a working copier (constantly broken this year). The kids are the high point of my day; useless PD and broken infrastructure the low point.

    You have to be incredibly stubborn to stay here.

  • Nextset

    Steven Weinberg: You don’t help “the students” by remaining in a nutty failure factory. That only perpetuates the bad conditions. You help the students by knocking the factory down so a different place will predominate. If the conditions are this bad at OUSD or any other district they remain so because the teachers stay. Walking out to the Charters en masse would result in the students following you. And presumably things would be better for all.

    When certain lines are crossed you don’t talk, you don’t negotiate, you leave, preferably without notice. The students should do the same. Let the shrinking/collapsing enrollment signal to the administration that they cannot go on they way they are.

    Or is the truth more like things are not this bad and the teachers involved are more interested in the paycheck they are getting with the efforts they do have to put forth? Would working elsewhere entail more or different work for maybe less pay?

    I don’t buy the “for the children” line at all. The children will be helped by the destruction of bad schools and their replacement with real schools.

  • http://www.skylinehs.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=77763&type=u&rn=6808095 David Orphal

    Why do great teachers leave our profession? There are several reasons:

    High-stakes testing: First introduced as a way to measure the quality of education at schools, test scores have now become the educational goal at far too many schools.

    What do these bubble-in-the-answer-test actually measure? At their very best, they measure a child’s ability to identify a correct answer from a group of red-herrings. Critical thinking, writing, analyzing, connecting, and using information in real-world ways; these skills are being pushed out in favor or low skilled, drill and memorize test prep. Teachers enter our profession saying things like, “I want to teach children to read and love literature”, “I want to help children speak a foreign language”, “I want to watch children experiment with science and explore their world.” No one every says, “I want to help children score higher on state-mandated tests.”

    Unfortunately, that is what they are being asked to do. Ten years ago, my then principal said, “Don’t worry about the tests. We will never teach to the tests. We teach our curriculum and the tests will take care of themselves.” Five years later a different principal said, “This is not the cruise we signed up for. But it is the cruise we’re on.” Then, just last week, my principal said, “You know what your PowerStandards are. The state has told us. We know exactly how many test items apply to each standard. The state has told us. Those are the standards you should make sure to do a great job on. Don’t worry about the others. Now I know what some of you teachers are going to say, ‘Does that mean I am teaching to the tests?’ Yeah. You are.”

    In just ten years, I seen the progression from “We will never teach to the tests” to teaching to the tests. I’ve seen dozens of self-styled educational experts come to my district with strategies and tools that are “research driven and shown to be effective.” Which really means, these techniques raise tests scores. I’ve seen teachers labeled ineffective because of chronically low test scores and other labeled effective because of high test scores.

    I haven’t seen a teacher labeled great because her students can write creative essays or his students can research an excellent paper, or her students can conduct an outstanding experiment, or his students demonstrate the curiosity to ask questions and show the skills to find answers. Lately, it’s been all about test scores.

    I haven’t seen anyone ask the question, “At what costs?” Sure this technique may raise test scores, but at what costs? Sure this teacher has gotten her students test scores up, but at what costs? Sure this school have great test scores, but at what costs?

    If test scores go up, but children do not remember what they have been taught, are we really better off? If test scores go up, but children’s curiosity is lost, are we really better off? If tests scores go up, but children learn that learning is memorizing facts for a test, are we really better off? If we train a whole generation of people with amazing skills at finding a correct answer from a group of red herrings, are we really better off?

    A future manager at Apple may ask this future engineer for a creative idea for the next iWhatever. That engineer, with years of high-test scores behind her may say, “I can’t think of anything new or creative. But if you put the correct answer here with three or four incorrect ones, I will totally spot the correct one.” Are we really better off?

    Tomorrow, tune in again, when our intrepid teacher comments about the harrowing adventures of new teachers in Non-Academic Needs Land!!!!!!!

  • happyHBmom

    Sounds like poor interviewing/hiring technique to me.

  • JR

    David,
    I know that I wouldn’t want test scores to be the goal, but tests do need to be used as a partial way to gauge content knowledge of students and see what they know and where they are deficient. What is lacking here, is it the curriculum, the teaching technique, the student, teacher or a bit of every one. Even our best kids don’t stack up very well it seems when measured against other nations, why is that?

  • Cranky Teacher

    The five year rule for non-re-elects is EXTREMELY stupid. If you get non-re-elected at one school that is a very harsh “time-out.”

    Here’s what that tells me: If you want to get tenure, hold out for a job at one of the functional schools where you have a fighting chance of being decent by year two — and not having a crazy principal.

    If you are at a dysfunctional school, it is going to be year 3, 4, or 5 before you are going to be any good with a challenging group of students.

    Another thought: Maybe TFA and OTF are TOO effective at supplying fresh recruits. After all, why invest tenure in this 24-year-old you’re slightly iffy on when you can just get a fresh face Ivy Leaguer next year to throw into the fire?

    People who want to teach, note the numbers of who gets hired: Very few history teachers and almost zero art teachers. Special ed and science, that’s where it’s at.

  • Emmy

    I’m not able to access the full report–perhaps too many people at one time are trying to get to it.

    I am very interested in the report, because some of my former special education students who taught in Oakland have opined that some new teachers were not rehired for a second year, because space was needed for brand NEW incoming interns from TFA. I’d like to see the actual data, particularly if it breaks out teachers by subject area. Who actually did the study? I understand that the district commissioned the study, but who actually gathered and analyzed the data?

  • Katy Murphy

    These are all good questions. I’ve asked for data about what happens to the “probationary” — first and second-year — teachers only, since the report includes a mix of tenured and probationary teachers who left. I’m curious to see the number/percentage who received non re-elect notices after their first year and during/after their second year teaching. I’d also like to know if that percentage varies by internship program (TFA, OTF, etc.), and how it compares to other districts.

    I thought the district’s New Teacher Support and Development Department conducted the study. http://bit.ly/dyCtEb

  • Jessie Thaler

    To add another personal narrative to the mix, I came to Oakland through OTF and taught there for the last four years- one year as a resource specialist, and three as an 8th grade English teacher. I was non-reelected last year without being given a reason. My school community (parents, students, and my colleagues) wrote letters and attended a school board meeting, asking that the non-reelect be rescinded. It was not. This year, I teach 7th and 8th grade English at a private K-8 school in San Francisco. I teach fewer hours a day and have far more prep time. We have plenty of resources (I have a Smartboard in my classroom and access to a laptop cart for my students to use). My salary increased by about 30%. Leaving Oakland was heartbreaking, but this year, for the first time, I feel like I’m able to concentrate on developing as a teacher. In short, my job feels sustainable. I haven’t given up on public education, but it did give up on me. Not only does a non-reelect bar a teacher from being rehired in Oakland, it severely impacts one’s chances of being hired at a public school in another district.

    Incidentally, I e-mailed Tony Smith at the end of June to see if he could shed some light on the district’s decision to let me go. I never heard back, but the e-mail I sent him is pasted below:

    Dear Mr. Smith,

    I was at the Oakland Teaching Fellows Opening Ceremonies last night. I appreciated your inspiring words to the fellows, both regarding your own commitment to Oakland public schools and the importance of effective, invested, high-quality teachers.

    As you probably know, I was non reelected from OUSD this year. What you may not know is that four years ago, I was one of those Oakland Teaching Fellows, sitting in an unfamiliar room in a new city, full of hope that I could change the world by becoming a dedicated, passionate teacher. Like you, I was in it for the long haul. I spent the last four years working tirelessly at developing my abilities, learning about the Oakland community, and doing everything I could to close the achievement gap and build trusting relationships with my students. When I was reassigned from Explore to Claremont as part of the consolidation process, I jumped feet-first into my new school community, reaching out to all my students, getting involved with PTA and school site council, attending school events and fundraisers, and this year, riding my bike 65 miles to the Capitol building in Sacramento with a group of parents, teachers, and other public education supporters.

    This March, when I was informed that I would not be allowed to teach in Oakland anymore, the Claremont community stepped up. Scores of parents, students, and colleagues wrote letters to you and to the school board asking that the non reelect be rescinded. A subset of those supporters accompanied me to a school board meeting, where they spoke on my behalf and I pleaded to be able to continue working in OUSD.

    I never received any reason why I was non reelected, nor did I ever receive any communication as to why the non reelect was not rescinded. I have heard you emphasize that retaining quality teachers is a priority for you. I am one of those teachers, and after four years of this challenging work, I am still committed to serving the youth of Oakland. I would very much appreciate hearing from you directly on this matter.

    Best,
    Jessie Thaler

  • Jason Mundstuk

    1. Tenure seems a hot issue. What’s wrong with 3-5 year contracts after a two-year probationary period? Non-renewal of contract would require documentation and provide opportunity for appeal.

    2. Are principals or site administrators or whatever they’re called as subject to performance-based evaluation as teachers are? Are teacher evaluations at the school level really subject to the whim of the local principal? The issue of good and bad boss/principal applies here.

    3. These comments are very thoughtful and great. Hi, Gordon.

  • Emmy

    I was just now able to access the report.

    The report gives one pause with regard to OUSD hiring practices for special education.

    The chart “New Teacher Hires by Subject 2006-2010″ (p. 12) shows 49 Special Education hires for the 2008-2009 school year . However, “Teacher Separations by Subject” (p. 13) for the same school year does not list Special Education, suggesting that any special ed teachers who left were non-reelects (the chart also shows “Other: 50 [Prob Temp Releases Non-Reelects]“). Special Education is the only subject listed on the “new Teacher Hires” list which is not shown on the “Teacher Separations by Subjects” charts.

    The same is true of the 2009/2010 school year report chart (p.14): 41 special ed teachers were hired, but special ed teacher separations appear to be reflected only under “Others: 80″.

    Of course, there could be omissions in the charts, in that perhaps there should have been additional lines for Special Education on the charts on pp. 13 and 14. But, as reported, it appears that any special ed teachers who left the district were non-reelects.

    Many–half to three-quarters, I believe–of new TFA and OTF interns each year are special ed teachers, so it sounds as if these teachers are the ones being let go to provide space for the new incoming crop of TFA’ers and OTF’ers. If that is the case, it means that many of our special ed students are getting brand new underprepared teachers every year, instead of having slightly more seasoned teachers.

    This would be consistent with what I have been told by my intern teacher students. Two of my students became department heads in their Oakland middle schools in their second year of teaching (that is, they had completed one full year of teaching)–they were both the most experienced special ed teachers in their schools.

    In the summary of the report (p. 20), there is an implication that some former OUSD employees elected not to participate in the survey, which is understandable if these teachers were non-relected. As a PhD candidate specializing in special education, I would be more than happy to assist in gaining the cooperation of these former teachers, in order to provide a more complete understanding of the situation

    An observation: It is appealing to highlight that we have bright young people coming into the district from TFA and OTF (and most of the people I’ve seen have been excellent hires). However, I don’t believe we are doing the best by our students and or by the teachers, if we have a revolving door of underprepared teachers; even the retained teachers (and principals) suffer unnecessary instability in the schools. On the other hand, this system may benefit other school districts, who pick up our disappointed non-reelects, who have gained their teaching experience “earning while learning” on our students.

    Finally, perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider reallocating the considerable funds currently paid by the district to TFA and OTF to retaining and supporting the intern teachers (who don’t qualify for BTSA).

  • http://www.skylinehs.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=77763&type=u&rn=6808095 David Orphal

    Why Teachers Leave Our Profession: Non-Academic Student Needs

    Last year at Skyline High School, our beloved senior, Eric, was murdered while celebrating his eighteenth birthday.

    Years ago, in another school and another city, I am wakened by a 3AM Sunday phone call from a mom. Her son, my student, was dead, killed by his own hand.

    I called a student’s mom to talk about where the child might be, since he hasn’t been coming to class. He’s a runaway, who, for want of some 14-year-old’s idea of freedom has been running to the homes of a friend whose parent is addicted to drugs, his friend’s parent, “Doesn’t care what I do,” the child told his own mother as an explanation to why he had run. He thought his mother’s idea of school, and chores, and homework was “unfair” and preferred the lassie-faire attitude of the friend’s parent.

    Another student comes into class crying because the boy she “likes” is seeing another girl.

    A different year and a different girl, and that time the love triangle ends with violence.

    Another child, who isn’t coming to my class, is caught smoking cigarettes, and in possession of crack cocaine.

    Another child, and another school in another city confides in me that she has been selling herself for meth.

    Another child, a few years ago, is cutting my class, wandering the hills behind our school, and finds the skeletal remains of a child who had gone missing a year before.

    I tell you these stories not in some curmudgeonly way of shaking my virtual fist in impotent rage and type… “Kids these Days!”

    Quite on the contrary, I love each and every one of the children whose stories I told above. When we could, the parents, administrators, and I spent hours trying to help the child make the situation better. The times we couldn’t, we held each other and cried over our loss. They are my kids. They are my classroom “sons” and “daughters.” They and their parents know I’ve got their backs – even if that means I am riding them to do better.

    I tell you these stories to shine a light on some of the non-academic issues facing our children. These stories are from Oakland, and the suburbs and the country. None of them have to do with why Germany and Italy turn to fascism after the Great Depression, nor do they have anything to do with the three branches of government. These stories are not the topics I was planning of working on when I chose to enter the teaching profession fifteen years ago.

    My point is this – teacher-training programs do not prepare candidates for the mountain of non-academic issues that children bring with them to school each day. The situation is even more extreme in our neediest schools, where many new teachers start, and too quickly end, their careers.

    Can you blame them when they quit after only one or two years? They aren’t ready for the headache and the heartache of the stories I detailed above. Would you do better? If you think so, I am sure Skyline is going to have some openings this June and we’d love to have you join are team and help us make a positive impact in our children’s lives.

    Tune in tomorrow, when our intrepid teacher tackles the “third rail of teaching”…. parents.

  • ChocolateSebastian

    Jessie,
    I am glad that you found a new position. Your students and colleagues did not support or understand OUSD’s decision to non reelect. There needs to be some transparency and accountability in the process. Does anybody at the Board or Cabinet level review the non-reelects to ensure that teachers are being fired for appropriate reasons? Last year an excellent special education teacher spoke out at an OUSD Board meeting re. her concerns about some mental health classrooms – concerns shared by many of her colleagues. She invited Superintendent Smith to visit the site and classrooms in questions. There was no response to that invitation. The teacher was later offered the choice of leaving voluntarily or of being non-reelected.

  • Cranky Teacher

    More anecdotes on this topic:

    – Two years ago our hardworking first-year bio teacher was consolidated to another school, and then we had to bring up a new one from a different school. Luckily, he didn’t quit and took the transfer, but that just seemed silly.

    – I watched one principal who had only been on campus a month whip up his list of non-re-elects by doing 10-minute class drop-in visits ONCE. Can you imagine having your whole career damaged by a one 10-minute visit (plus whatever gossip the admin had heard)?

    If the problem for prob teachers is really tenure, then, since we are without a contract, now is the time for the Admin to make a bold offer:

    Significant raises in exchange for significant reduction in tenure protections.

    I spent years as a non-union “at will” employee and was fine with it — however I got paid TWICE (80K vs. 40K)as much, to work roughly half as hard!

  • Yet Another Oakland Teacher

    On the non-re-elects, in 10 years I have had friends let go for turning down the advances of an administrator, questioning an administrator on practices that several years later were deemed to be embezzlement, for having their husband question a principal when the principal said something untoward to the teacher in front of the husband. All of these were amazing African American women who are stakeholders in our community. I have also watched as principals hung teachers out to dry in bad situations with no support, then called them incompetent and non-re-elected them.
    There were a couple of years in the last decade where it appeared that principals were directed to dismiss at least 1 of every 2 new hires.
    Tenure has its issues, and there are bad teachers, but when you have watched enough of what is done to probationary teachers – the reasons tenure was instituted still exist, to protect teachers from punitive and capricious actions of administrators.
    Before anyone carries on about the lemons – the structures exist for administrators to do their jobs and either re-train or remove them. I have seen it done (it really needed to be done), it takes work, determination and a willingness to be potentially unpopular, on the other hand teachers know who the “lemons” are on a staff, and want them gone too, because their incompetence causes more work and stress for everyone.

  • http://www.skylinehs.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=77763&type=u&rn=6808095 David Orphal

    Why Great Teachers Leave the Profession, part 3: Parents…

    “Why did my daughter get in trouble for needing to go to the bathroom?” asked the angry voice on the other side of the phone. We had no salutation, no small talk, no wishes for a pleasant start to one another’s day. We had my self-identification, then her accusation-question.

    “Do you believe that your daughter got in trouble for needing to go to the bathroom?” I replied.

    “That is what she told me!” she shouted. Coming through the line, I could imagine hearing her own stories from the first eighteen years of her life. I knew from her daughter that mom was a former student at the very continuation high school now attended by her daughter, the topic of our conversation. I could feel the weight of her experiences with public schools. They were not places of learning. They were not places of curiosity, or investigation. For her, they had been places where conformity and obedience were the values of the institution. For her, they had been places were punishments and rewards were used to cajole and force children into compliance. For her, they were places where nails that stuck out were hammered down. I could hear her frustration, anger and fear. Her daughter was now the latest victim of that same system. Teachers and principals were now unfairly picking on her daughter. For crying our loud, she had only needed to go to the bathroom.

    “I believe that is what she told you.” I replied, the smile on my face reflected in my tone. “That wasn’t my question. My questions was, ‘Do you believe your daughter when she tells you that she got into trouble for needing to go to the bathroom?’.” This question caused a long pause and the parent reflected on her question, her daughter’s claim, and the lack of logic therein.

    “Well, what is your side of the story?” she asked.

    “Your daughter came into class ten minutes late, chatting with a friend of hers who is not enrolled in my class.” I began. “It took me another five minutes to get the friend out of class and heading back to her own. As soon as the friend left, your daughter shouted, ‘I need to go to the bathroom!’ Frankly, I didn’t believe her, but hey, coincidence happens, so I said, ‘Wait five minutes for your friend to find her way back to her class, then you can go to the bathroom.’ You daughter then stormed out of class, slamming the door behind her. This is why she is in trouble.”

    “She didn’t tell me any of that.”

    “I believe you when you say she didn’t.”

    Parents love their children. They will protect them with all of the ferocity of a mama bear and cub. This is the right and natural order of things. Teachers who do not already know this, will learn it soon.

    Children lie. Frankly, we all do, but children want to have fun and, when caught, they would like to avoid trouble. Getting away with a lie is a wonderful way to avoid trouble. Teachers and parents who do know this, need to learn it. Like yesterday!

    I’ve been really blessed with all of the wonderful parents whom I am in contact with at Skyline High School. I think our Advisory system is a contributing factor in that. Instead of feeling responsible for all one-hundred and thirty children I teach in a day, I, their English, biology, and math teachers all share the one-hundred, thirty and we each take responsibility to mentor about thirty of them. Since I only have thirty families to call and talk to, I have the time to actually build relationships with my children’s’ parents before there is trouble.

    But I have heard stories… The story above, where mom believed her daughter’s story is not unusual. Our school has plenty of children who are experiencing their own personal wars against conformity, butting heads with teachers and administration. Many of these children have parents who butted heads with teachers and vice principals in their own days.

    I’ve heard plenty of stories of parents who readily believe any lie their children tell them; who think that teachers are “out to get” their children, just like they were “out to get” them a generation ago.

    I have heard stories of parents badgering and bullying teachers until a grade was changed or a consequence for behavior dropped. I heard of parents, grown adults, charging into classrooms looking to fight the 14 year old child who was bullying their baby.

    I seen parents come to school high, to defend their child’s use of marijuana.

    Perhaps the saddest, were the parents who made their child re-enroll in school every four months or so, to stave off the cancellation of their SSI check. After three or four days of attendance, the child would disappear and the parents would be unresponsive to our efforts to contact them. We wouldn’t see them for four months or so, when the SSI was threatened again.

    To wrap up, let me be crystal clear about this: 95% of the parents I have had contact with over the past 14 years are WONDERFUL! They are looking out for their child and realize that the teachers are too.

    But that 5%… they can drive me crazy, and at the end of the day, when I’m telling stories, it’s the 5% who seem to take up all my time.

  • Catherine

    @ David:

    Thank you for your comments. I, too, am sometimes very frustrated with students and very frustrated with parents. I am mostly frustrated with students who interfere with other students learning.

    I happened to be video taping oral presentations last year. In one presentation you could see in the corner of the frame and hear one of the students who continually interrupts learning of other students. Mom consistently denied this happened. I believe she truly believed her child whom she described as a targeted student who just needed additional help and understanding. However, after watching the video and hearing her own child’s interruptions, we had a very, very different parent and a student who was much more attentive to appropriate behavior.

  • chubbywater

    Get rid of homework…it’s working a 2nd shift…kids have enough chores to do..as well as spending time with family.

  • OUSD New Tacher

    I am a new teacher with OUSD this year. I teach a class in West Oakland. This is my second year with the district. Last year I had three long-term assignments and this year I have my own class.

    I have never been so miserable in all of my years as I am this year. Last year was wonderful! The administrators knew what they were doing, they were supportive and there were discipline policies in place.

    This year I have worked nothing less than a 50 hour week. We have to beg and steal supplies, there are ants and mouse droppings everywhere, and the students are allowed to beat the hell out of each other with no consequences other than lost recess.

    It isn’t just my class. It’s in almost every class. The majority of the teachers spend half their day yelling at the kids. And I do mean yelling. Yelling is not my style. I started telling the parents when their kids were being hit, kicked, stabbed with sharp pencils and spit on. Told them to talk to the principal about it because my hands were tied when it came to making it stop (the majority of the violence happens outside of my classroom in the cafeteria or on the yard). The principal told me not to let them know their kids were being assaulted unless I could say it in a positive way. ????? Right.

    I’m fed up. It makes me ill. I don’t want to watch it anymore and I don’t want to be around some principal that is afraid of losing her job because she can’t handle the student body and do her job. I don’t know how anyone expects me to do my job.

    I know I’m being short and choppy here. I’m just disgusted and have been. I’m tired of talking about it getting no support or constructuve feedback.

  • Catherine

    The same thing is happening in my middle school. I do have to say, I quoted in several of my classes the regulations that say that students do not have the right to interfere with the learning of others. Then I told the students who were interfering that I would give them a day to think about it.

    I brought Williams complaint forms into my room and I have encouraged students to take them home to their parents. When a Williams Complaint is filed the teacher, principal, and district administrators are required to respond. Williams complaint also covers the issue of rats and mice we have at our school as well. This year alone half a dozen of my students have pointed out mice scurrying through the classrooms and the halls. Have any families filed complaints? I don’t know. I do know that I printed off 200 sets of forms on the riso-graph and have handed out about a third of them.

    Enough is enough. Students deserve to feel safe from yelling, other students and a principal who refuses to act on their behalf. We waste over one-third of class time with students who physically interfere with the learning of others. The district must be held accountable. Tony Smith must realize that until all students are safe in their own learning environments, learning at high levels will not be a reality. The schools with high levels of learning are those schools where discipline is under control – title 1 schools can be safe places to learn when there is a principal and a district who take responsibility for the safety of all.

  • Sara

    I have also seen students who are disruptive on a daily basis but whose parents deny it and say their angels are being picked on. It would be great if more teachers would tape their classrooms. It is legal and they do not need the permission of anyone as long as they are using it for professional development.It California Education Code 44034. ” Any classroom teacher who, in the interest of improving his or her personal teaching techniques, wishes to use an audio recording device in a classroom to record classroom instructional presentations, may employ that device without the necessity of obtaining the approval of the school principal or other school officials.” Students in Oakland believe they can get away with anything because they feel empowered. They figure their teachers’ hands are tied. If a teacher asks a student to give up a cell phone because they are using it in class, they often say “no”. What is the teacher going to do about that? They can let it go and resume the classroom but send the message that the students are in control, not the teacher, or send the kid out to the office but he will probably be back in 10 minutes with no consequences. Until administrators are prepared to play hardball with unruly students the teachers and the kids who want to learn will suffer. I wonder, are they all afraid of getting sued by the lousy parents and that is why they have no backbones?

  • ChocolateSebastian

    Just to add to the anecdotes. I taught in a West Oakland school last year that was mouse infested. I had to buy and empty my own mice traps. Every morning there would be trails of mice droppings all over.

    Superintendent Smith, can we have a regional response to the mice in West Oakland? Mr. Solar, perhaps one strategy for retaining effective teachers would be to remove rodents from their classrooms.