As usual, I have a million blog post ideas that I haven’t had time to write. I want to write about things like our favorite children’s books and what we’ve been doing with homeschooling. But instead I have found myself lately feeling like I need to share a story. Recently my husband lost his job and it’s brought to my mind a LOT of different thoughts. We’ve really learned so much from this experience. And I feel compelled to share.
My husband taught mathematics at a small rural school for six years. He was hired just days before our first child was born and it was a huge answer to our prayers. It was just thirty minutes away from our hometown, which meant that we weren’t going to have to move away from our huge support system and the town we love right before the big transition of having our first baby! Since then we have had two more children, bought a house, and settled down.
It wasn’t all rainbows and lilacs. (Aren’t rainbows and lilacs the best? Far better than roses…) As is the way of things, he got tenure after teaching three years and we breathed easy. The first three years were extremely stressful. He could lose his job for no reason at all, which seemed likely for several reasons.
- Parents like to complain about teachers who are “giving” their kids bad grades.
- Administration didn’t have any of the teacher’s backs.
- Education does not seem to be the goal of many people involved in running the school or sending their kids to school.
Happy parents tend to keep quiet and unhappy parents are the ones who speak up. Even though they were in the minority, they shouted the loudest. Instead of sending the complaining parents to the teachers to talk about classroom policies, what the kids can do to raise their grades, and to build a cooperative relationship between the parent and teacher….the administration listens to the parents and tells the teachers to change their classroom policies without any consideration of the teachers at all. No matter that teachers have a degree in education and have gone to school for four plus years. No matter that they put in 8-12 hours per day on this job. No matter that they attend conferences and different trainings every year to keep their teaching certification up to date. The parents who are complaining, clearly have more expertise in how classrooms should be run. The superintendent who never even goes into the classroom to observe or discuss anything with the teachers, but spends all his time talking about sports…he should be the one who makes decisions like that, right? Makes complete sense.
As for #3…I really didn’t understand this at first. I didn’t understand why people would be against my husband, who is clearly a good teacher. But you can’t reason with people who disagree on what the purpose of school is. Of course people are going to dislike an educator who is trying to hold his students to some educational standards, when they don’t care about education. When parents yell at teachers because of their kids’ bad grades instead of holding their kids accountable for their choices- not turning in homework, not coming in to ask for help, not re-taking their tests for a better grade…there’s not much hope in reasoning with them. When my husband is talking to a student who has a bad attitude and is trying to encourage him and that student rolls his eyes and says, “stupid common core bull shit”…there is not much hope in reasoning with them…because that kind of attitude does not start with the student- that is coming from the parents. When the school holds some dance classes for the highschoolers so that they can have a fun time at prom without the overly-sexual “grinding” that usually happens at dances, and the parents decide to rent a “party bus” and park it at the school on prom night so that the kids can party all they want without any rules…there’s not much hope in reasoning with those parents. Do you see what I mean?
My husband is a darned good educator. Not every student loves him. I think this can be said for any teacher, but especially a teacher of mathematics, because let’s face it…it’s not everyone’s favorite subject. But even if some people don’t like him, they can’t argue that he was a dedicated teacher who was passionate and knowledgeable about his subject. He almost never missed a day of school. He was there crazy early every day and always available if a student needed help. He recorded all his lectures and made help videos on youtube so that students could get help any time they needed it, even if he wasn’t at school to help them. He allowed students to turn in homework any time before the end of the quarter for full credit and re-take a test as many times as they needed to. Although one could argue that this isn’t true to real life lessons (we can vouch for that!), my husband cared more about them learning the subject than learning lessons about deadlines. He was willing to spend his own time grading all the those test re-takes, too, even though a lot of times the students clearly hadn’t studied any more the second time around. An educator to the core.
This year the contracts for the next school year was due a few weeks before they had been due in the recent past, and my husband didn’t notice. My husband is amazing at a lot of things…but paying attention to paperwork is not one of those things. Unfortunately, teacher tenure only works if you turn your contract in on time.
When my husband realized his mistake, he rushed to the superintendent to apologize for his mistake and ask to turn it in late. But the superintendent waved him off and said “too bad.” This man (the superintendent) had never come into my husband’s classroom to know what kind of teacher he is and had really only said a few words to him the entire time he had been working there- which is less time than my husband had been there. He had no reason to dislike him, other than maybe gossip- listening to parent complaints. My husband had served the school for six years, yet this man waved him off like an irritation and told him, like it was nothing, that my husband was going to no longer have a way to pay his mortgage and feed his family of five. He told him that he could re-apply for the job, but said it like there wasn’t much point in it. Turns out he was already talking to someone who he wanted to be an activities director (planning sporting events, etc.) and I think some sort of coach too, and it turns out this guy also teaches math. So they decided to hire him instead. They decided to fire a quality educator who had served the school for six years and hire someone who was more sports-oriented. Not to say that the new guy is not an awesome teacher. But he could have been hired for the sports things and my husband still could have kept his job. Because really, these are two different full time jobs. I really don’t know how they plan to have the new guy do everything they hired him to do unless they cut some of the math classes that they have offered in the past…which is what it sounds like they are going to be doing.
This story is not just about my husband. It is just one example of how teachers are often treated at this school. This is going to be too long already to go into other stories though, so I’ll just stick to ours.
Now, you might be thinking, “she’s just bitter. How much of this is really true?” Haha. I get that. I think that sometimes when I read blog posts too. But here’s what went down:
- After my husband realized his mistake (because of rumors that he wasn’t coming back, not because the administration bothered to ask him about it or let him know he’d missed the deadline), he tried to turn in his contract and was waved away on Monday the 6th around 9am. The superintendent said it was too late and that he’d already advertised the position.
- The position was not actually advertised until 2pm that day (Monday).
- On Tuesday the 7th, my husband asked to add an item to the school board meeting agenda about getting his job back, because the board is who votes and gets to make the decisions on issues like this. The superintendent said no.
- My husband re-applied for his job. It took us a while to get a resume and cover letter made, letters of recommendation written, transcript copies, etc. The application said that incomplete applications would not be considered, so we made sure to turn in a complete application. We weren’t able to get it in until Friday morning. In the meantime the superintendent called in the guy he had in mind and interviewed him on Thursday.
- My husband contacted a board member about his situation. There are two board members who are pro-teacher and two who are not. Another board member is new so we weren’t sure, but she’s really good friends with one who is not for teachers, so we didn’t have much hope. Basically, anything the superintendent wants to do is backed by the board because he “has the votes,”as he said many times to different people during this ordeal. But the two board members who are pro-teacher were fired up about the situation. They called a special meeting.
- The three board members who were against us said they were not available on Monday the 13th for the special meeting. So the pro-teacher board members asked for a special meeting at 6:00 the night of the normal board meeting. The normal board meeting was schedule for 7:00 on Tuesday the 14th. The three board members “couldn’t make that” either.
- We packed the place Tuesday at 7:00. We had to wait through other agenda items and speak up in the “public comment” time, since they had refused to add us to the agenda. Students, former students, teachers, and parents wrote letters in support of my husband and many people showed up to the board meeting to speak in favor of the board voting to allow my husband to stay. People spoke in his favor for at least an hour.
The board admitted that there wasn’t any evidence against him as a teacher, in fact the opposite, they admitted that he is a great teacher… but were voting against him simply because he didn’t turn his contract in on time- they smiled at us and basically just told us that it was the consequence of his own action. A teacher was there who said that this has happened three times that she can remember in her 23 years there and every time the teacher had been allowed to turn in their contract late. Maybe with a punishment, like taking away tenure, but still allowing the teacher to keep her job. There is no policy that says they can’t have grace for a teacher and accept a late contract. In fact, two board members kept making motions to vote to hire him back…motions that were ignored by the others.
When people asked why he didn’t bother to interview and consider my husband for the job, the superintendent waved that thought aside (he spent most of this time hunched over, looking down, and waving at people like their points were completely invalid.) He said that my husband hadn’t let anyone know that he still wanted the job and that he didn’t bother to turn in his application until Friday. (WHAT?! If you take a look at my little time line, you can see that my husband made it clear that he wanted his job back and considering we had no notice that he was going to have to be applying to jobs any time soon, I’d say we got our application in in a reasonable amount of time.)
Everyone in that room saw through the smiling board members’ BS and knew that they were not allowing him to return because they just simply didn’t want to…they had their own agenda and their priority was not to keep on a dedicated, quality educator.
The board meeting was amazing. If you have to get fired, I highly recommend it happening in a room full of supportive people saying amazing things about you. After six years of feeling so completely helpless as his wife, of listening to how people treated him and being able to do nothing, it felt great to be able to say something…even if it wasn’t much, and even though I got cut off because I had too much to say (What? Me? Long winded?!) 😉 And it was touching to be able to see and hear from people who felt he had made a difference in their lives. To hear that all the hard work that he put into his job…getting up at 4am, spending his free time grading tests, making all those youtube videos….that his efforts meant something to people…that was huge for both of us.
Highlights of the night:
There were many letters and many people who spoke up, but I was especially touched by a woman who works as a secretary at the school. She said that she’s seen it all- shady ways of dealing with things, the way that the administration treats its teachers- and she never speaks up for fear of losing her job and for confidentiality purposes, but this crossed the line. She wasn’t going to come but she was there because her son told her that it was the right thing to do. And she agreed and decided to put her own fears aside and speak up for what was right.
Her son, now a 20 year old in college, said that he’s at the Univeristy now majoring in music/education. He wrote a letter in support of my husband and then at the end, when it was clear that the board was not going to vote in our favor anyway, he stood up and said, “I go to the University. When I tell people that I graduated from here, I get laughed at, so thanks for that. They name names. There are people here who give this school a bad name, and I’ll tell you what, it’s not THIS guy.” (Points at my husband.) He had tears in his eyes and apologized for getting emotional and told them that they could probably learn something about that. ha! (They do seem like feelingless robots.)
A man who was there for some other issue and had no idea that this was going to be happening stood up and said that his kids had mixed reviews of my husband, which is normal. But that even if they had all hated him, that everything being said here tonight would convince him that firing my husband was the wrong thing to do. That people obviously think he is a quality educator, and besides, it’s bad business. It’s not just about my husband’s job, it’s about teacher and community morale. Clearly the teachers who are there do not feel supported by the administration and board.
A pro-teacher board member made a motion that the board re-hire my husband. Then another board member did some sort of substitution motion that they hire the new guy. The board member who made the original motion is an older gentleman, probably in his 70’s. He’d been involved with the school board for a long time but wasn’t completely familiar with the idea of a substitute motion. So the board member who made the substitute motion, said the name of the rule and called the man “buddy” like he was an idiot. Wow! So disrespectful…seeing that and understanding his attitude toward the people around him made me understand why he was voting against us. Anyway, after they made the vote against my husband, the whole room got up and left…including the two board members who were rooting for us. It was amazing. Granted, we had been there for three hours, but they had only made it through half of the agenda. Those two board members didn’t care and left with the rest of the room anyway.
So there you have it. It was an awful and amazing experience. He needed to get out of that toxic environment anyway, and I wonder if this was God’s way of giving him a push. The biggest blow is the income of course- we were finally going to be making enough to start not being so tight. And now we’re starting over.
That’s the end of my story, and you can stop there if you want, but I do have a few more thoughts.
There’s a lot of talk, especially after the Waiting For Superman documentary, about how it’s impossible to “get rid of all the bad teachers” out there. Some food for thought:
- It is possible to fire a teacher with tenure. And not just if they make a mistake like my husband did. If there is documentation that the teacher is actually doing a poor job, you can get a teacher fired, although it is a long process. If a teacher is actually doing a poor job, it is possible. (Or you can do what this school is doing, and treat them poorly and hope that they quit!)
- But you see what happens when a teacher doesn’t have tenure? A rotten school board can choose not to rehire a teacher for ANY reason, even with there’s a TON of evidence that he is in fact a GREAT teacher. I know that this can be the case with any job, really, but I’ve had a lot of jobs and have never felt the stress of getting fired like my husband felt (although I’m sure there are other jobs out there with this same stress.) I don’t know- I’m not pro-tenure per se. I understand the argument for a merit-based system…but who decides if a teacher has merit? If students have bad attitudes about education and don’t test well, do we fire the teacher? If loud parents want their kids to get good grades easily without actually learning anything, and they want a school that focuses on sports, do we fire the “tough” teacher whose primary focus is education?
- Seriously, where are all of these “bad” teachers? Nobody is going to do things exactly the way that anyone else would do them. And taking into consideration a highschool teacher has probably about six different classes with 15-30 students in each class…so up to about 180 kids per semester? What are the odds that even half of those parents are going to love every single thing that teacher does? Looking back on all my years in school, I can think of about four teachers (elementary through college) that I didn’t really like. And I wouldn’t say that they were “bad” teachers and I definitely wouldn’t say they deserved to be fired. I just didn’t jive with them. I still learned from them. They still worked hard to educate us. Teachers have an awfully hard job. They have to be really passionate about what they do to stick with it. Because we’re driving teachers away!
- This should be a given, apparently it’s not, but I really think we ought to treat every human that we come into contact with like a human ought to be treated. We shouldn’t call politicians bad names when we disagree on an issue or curse at the guy on the phone about your bill or treat a waitress like dirt because she got our order wrong or yell at teachers when our kids aren’t passing a class (or teach our kids to have bad attitudes about their own education because you dislike common core or some other education policy.)
To conclude this incredibly long, rambling post (thanks to everyone still reading!) go thank a teacher today! Don’t let the negatives be louder than the positives. 🙂