Tag Archives: White Chalk Crime

WHO IS NEXT TO GUEST BLOG? A ROLE MODEL

This country has never been very good at picking role models. I remember growing up one of our role models was a blond steroid and drug addict.

This country has never been very good at picking role models. I remember growing up one of our role models was a blond steroid head and drug addict.

I thank Ms. Ortiz for her inaugural post here yesterday as a guest blogger. Now that we have an idea of who she is and from whence she is coming, it is a good time to introduce the next guest blogger to you. As you will see, this next person is at a totally different stage in their life and career.

Those of you who have followed this site, or New York education news in general, will be familiar with this person. I thought it was important for you to hear what this person has to say and to give them a chance to say it.

The person to whom I refer is Christine Rubino.

If you don’t know the case of Christine Rubino, you can familiarize yourself with it here, here and here. I first learned about her situation from the New York print media who were, not surprisingly, less than fair. For this reason, I decided to write about her situation myself. Despite the fact that this site can never hope to have the type of reach of the New York Post or Daily News, I would have been remiss if I didn’t use this little corner of the internet to give her a fair hearing. I am glad that I did because, since my first piece about her, Christine and I have become friends.

What convinced me of the need to talk about her story were the responses it elicited in the comments section of the news sites. People could not wait to pass all types of judgments on her character and fitness to be a teacher. It was sadly ironic that people who bemoaned the lack of role models for our children were saying some of the most vile and hateful things to be found on the internet. Vile and hateful not only describes the treatment she received from anonymous Puritans, but from the Puritans at the Department of Education as well.

As most of us know, Christine’s nightmare stemmed from a comment she made on her private Facebook page. It is a comment that Christine has never defended. She removed it very soon after it was posted. Very few people saw the comment. Since no students or parents were on her Facebook page, it would have been very unlikely that anyone who would have been truly offended by it would have ever known of its existence.

Unfortunately, one of the people who saw the comment during its brief life span was the resident teacher snitch of Christine’s school. Not only did he see it, he took a screen shot of it, saved it, printed it out and showed it to the assistant principal, a man with whom he had a “special” relationship. It usually works out that the people who have the most to say about their coworkers are also the ones with the most skeletons in their own closet.

The rest is history, a sad and bizarre history. The Special Commissioner of Investigation of the DOE sent goons to her house to rifle through her garbage. Those same goons harassed and threatened Christine’s friends. They lied through their teeth at her hearing. Her union-appointed lawyer wanted to roll over and die, pretty much advising her to accept her termination without a fight. The DOE lawyers tried to cast a pall of doubt on her character. Since Christine had a clean record as a teacher of 14 years, they weren’t above coaching the principal and students to lie about her, not to mention making up lies themselves. The head of the Administrative Trials Unit ensured that the “independent” arbitrator, Randi Lowitt, came to the right decision: termination.

Did it matter to anyone that this was a comment made on her private Facebook page? Did it matter that the comment expressed the normal frustrations of being a teacher? Did it matter that she had taken the comment down almost immediately after it went up? Did it matter that she showed remorse and never defended what she said? Did it matter that she had a spotless record as an educator?

It mattered to Christine Rubino, who took Lowitt’s decision to the New York State Supreme Court. It mattered to Judge Barbara Jaffe, who ruled that Lowitt’s termination decree was “shocking to the conscience” of the court.  It matters to any teacher or thinking person who has an ounce of empathy.

The Department of Education likes to say that it puts “students first”. Christine’s two children are students in the DOE. Did they put those students first when they took away the livelihood of their mother? Are they putting them first by denying the woman they tried to destroy any form of unemployment compensation? If people are so concerned about role models for our children, why don’t they criticize the unethical and underhanded way the DOE harasses teachers? Barring that, why don’t these people act like the role models they seek by not judging an entire person’s character based upon one news article?

It is for these reasons that it is important we hear directly from Christine Rubino. When I had the idea of getting some guest bloggers, Christine was the first person who came to mind. I have seen first-hand the type of good person she is. I have seen her be a mother to her children, protecting them from the misery through which she has been put so they can have as normal a life as possible. I have seen her open her house to people and share what she has, despite the fact that she can barely make ends meet herself. I have seen how she maintains friendships she has had since childhood, a sure sign of a person with character and integrity. I have seen Christine help me get some of the things I needed to get settled into my new apartment when I moved a few months ago. Perhaps if other people see the type of person she is, they wouldn’t be so quick to pass ignorant and misinformed judgments on her.

Up until now, Christine has had people speaking for her. Me, her lawyers, the DOE and the media have all been allowed to paint the picture of what type of person she is. But she deserves a space where she can speak for herself.

The Christine  Rubino case has been a lesson in the best and the worst in humanity. On the one hand, you have a person who has done nothing but be generous and helpful to everyone around her; someone who always wanted to be a teacher and did the job with distinction. On the other hand, you have a bureaucracy that lied, sneaked around and harassed to get what they wanted, and what they wanted was the destruction of another human being.

You can decide for yourself which one is the bad role model for our children. I, for one, would not allow a bad role model to be a guest blogger on this site. Stay tuned because tomorrow, for the first time, Christine Rubino finally speaks for herself.

Advertisements

The Other Bullying

This story has weighed on my mind since I read about it earlier this year:

On Thanksgiving, a grade-school gym teacher parked on the shoulder of Interstate 80/94 in northwest Indiana, got out of her Mercury SUV and walked in front of a moving semi truck.

The 32-year-old’s suicide shocked the tiny Ford Heights school district where she worked. In the days afterward, tension grew amid conversations by co-workers about what had happened and questions from the Army veteran’s parents. The turmoil peaked during a crowded meeting in December, when some teachers and school board members clashed.

The suicide note that Mary Thorson left centered on frustrations at the school, and her death spurred some of her co-workers to speak out at the public meeting.

Teachers described an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the two-school district, where little things snowballed over time.

“We don’t feel like we can speak out because we have been intimidated,” teacher Rose Jimerson said at the meeting. “We have signs all over the building about anti-bullying. … Our staff gets bullied.”

Mary Thorson was, tragically, driven over the edge. It is an edge too many of us find ourselves in the age of teacher bashing.

The same thing happened to Rigoberto Ruelas.

Between these two tragedies we see the two biggest culprits in the war on teachers: administrators and the media.

It is no coincidence that the media has made an issue of student bullying, a problem that has been around for ages, at the exact same time that they have taken to bullying teachers.

Can anyone say subterfuge?

Teachers, those who are actually in it for the long haul like Mary Thorson and Rigoberto Ruelas, were dedicated to the profession to the point where being a teacher was part of their identity. It is a tough thing for people in other lines of work, who usually frequently change careers, to understand. Being a teacher is who you are. It defines you. When people attack and insult teachers with words or actions, it is an attack on who we are as people. It is an attack on our very identity as human beings.

Sadly, it is tough to see how there will not be more tragedies like this in the future.

There is an online petition in Mary Thorson’s memory started by her father to stop the bullying of teachers. It is worth your signature, if for no other reason than a show of solidarity.

My heart goes out to Mary Thorson’s and Rigoberto Ruelas’ families. There are people who understand what is happening to teachers and fighting against it.

A Tale of Two School Districts

What do you know? A school that does not look like a jail.

To teachers in New York City, schools in the “suburbs” are mythical places. They have parking lots, swimming pools, computer labs, debate teams and lacrosse. Class sizes are small, educational resources abound and students sit still with hands folded and have names like “Cody” and “Brianna”. Teacher salaries are higher while less is generally asked of them. The only negatives we hear are about the parents who, as the polar opposite of many of those in NYC, are overly engaged in their children’s education and ready to challenge a teacher as to why their kid received a 95 and not a 97.

Urban myths? I guess it depends on the suburb.

I have a friend who is about to finish his first year as a high school teacher in an upper class school district. Before this gig, he taught in NYC for several years. In his own words, the transition from urban to suburban has been a “culture shock”.

He is treated like a professional. Administrators do not yell at him, subject him to useless professional development, lecture him in staff meetings like a child or berate him because he did not hand in or sign off on some meaningless paperwork. They respect his time as a teacher and understand that he has lessons to write, assignments to grade and students to tutor.

Perhaps this is because there are so few administrators at the school: three for a student body of about 1,300 kids. They handle the day-to-day operations of the campus while teachers lead academic departments. The only time the principal asked the teachers to do anything outside of teach is when she tried to mobilize the staff to resist the new value-added teacher evaluations.

My friend still has a tough time believing that a school like this can exist. He still fears that, whenever he sees the principal, he is going to be yelled at or harassed. He fears that one day the principal is going to take off her mask and reveal herself to be a reptilian overlord out to make his life a living hell. I think he can sue the NYC DOE and his former principal for an acute case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Since his time there, no teacher has been sent to a rubber room or reassigned. In fact, he has never even heard of any teacher being investigated for anything at the school. The staff is filled with veterans who have been there for several years, if not decades. Teachers hug their students, entertain them in their classrooms during lunch and routinely give them pats on the back and reassuring rubs on the shoulder.

And there is no small-minded administrator or ghoulish newspaper reporter there to cry “pervert”.

If I did not know any better, it seems as if my friend teaches in a healthy environment. Teachers do not come to work fearing what their principal will put them through today, nor do they have to put up with an autocratic mayor who sees himself as God Almighty. They can come to work and focus on teaching which, hard as it is for us in the city to believe, is the real job of the teacher.

You think the students at the school benefit from having a veteran teaching staff whose professionalism is respected? Gee, I don’t know, that is a tough one.

And what about us poor schlubs in the city? We may not be able to have the swimming pools or lacrosse teams that they have in the suburbs, but why is it that we are not entitled to the same healthy work environment my friend has? Why are we constantly broken down by administrators with questionable teaching backgrounds and ethics? Why do we have to open up the newspaper every day to find another round of bash the teacher?

You think the students at our schools lose out by having a teaching staff who are treated like criminals? Gee, that is a tough one as well.

So, why the contrast between my friend’s suburban school and New York City?

Because the parents in my friend’s upper class school district would never stand for it. They send their children to school to learn, to earn good grades and to build a transcript that will get them into a good college. They do not expect teachers to be babysitters, nannies or counselors. They expect teachers to teach. They cannot do that if they are in constant turmoil. A school that rubber rooms its teachers, wastes their staff’s time with useless meetings and PD and generally harasses them as a matter of policy would bring up serious questions about the leadership of that school. Angry parents will show up to school board meetings, point out the fact that their property taxes are funding their children’s school and call for the administration’s head on a platter.

On the other hand, parents in NYC are largely absent. Not only are they unaware about what their children do at school on a daily basis, but they expect teachers to raise their children for them. This creates a vacuum, one that administrators are all too happy to fill. It starts with people like the Mayor and Governor who claim to be “lobbyists” for children. Of course, this implies that parents are incapable of playing that role. And in the name of “the children”, they foist all types of “reforms” on the system that have nothing to do with learning and everything to do with building a billion-dollar edu-industry of testing and data. In order to implement these reforms, they seek out the most pliant and unimaginative people to be administrators.

That is why when an administrator says they intend to do something for the sake or safety of “the children”, you better run the other way. This means a teacher is going to get harassed. It is just like Napoleon who made all of his reforms in the name of “the people” of France.

Parents in the suburbs do not fall for this shtick. Nobody can tell them what is good for their children because they know what is good. They know what is good because they are present and engaged.

Imagine Mayor Bloomberg going out to the Hamptons to run a school system and telling the parents he knows how to educate their children. Imagine him closing down their schools, harassing their teachers and hiring yes-men (and women) as administrators. He would be run out of town as a laughing stock.

But this is par for the course in NYC, as well as urban school districts across the country. That is why in battling education reform, teachers who actually care about what is happening need to activate the parent community. They need to get parents to take the type of stock in their children’s educations as parents in the suburbs.

There is a long road ahead in this regard, but it is a fight that we cannot give up. The alternative is an eternity of harassment and misery.

Teacher in Crisis

As many of you have probably noticed, the frequency and size of posts on this blog have tailed off lately. My goal is always to update this place twice a day with things that are not complete wastes of time for the people who have been gracious enough to frequent here.

It has not only been this blog that has fallen into a state of semi-neglect. My email correspondences with colleagues, friends and fellow bloggers have also backed up. I am not as quick to hand back homework or exams to my students as I used to be. A few weeks ago, I curled up into a ball in my apartment in a state of acute depression. It is like I have been having an existential crisis although, at 33 years of age, it might be a mid-life crisis.

As I read the blogs, talk to colleagues and come to work every day, it is becoming painfully obvious that I am not longed for the world of New York City’s Department of Education. Although things are far from definite, one thing I do know is that the role I am currently playing in the system is too constraining and is causing me more than a little psychic torture.

I talk to teachers from around the city. Despite the fact that these teachers are in different schools teaching different subjects to different student bodies, the story is almost always the same. One of the reasons why I did a lot of thinking about the passing of Fortunato Rubino yesterday was the fact that this system could ill afford to lose an educational leader like him. The horror stories I have seen first-hand and have heard from friends all speak to an epidemic of oppressive leadership in schools across the city.

One colleague from another school works under an AP that hates her. They have never gotten along. The teacher has never been insubordinate and, in fact, has feverishly tried to comply with the increasing number of responsibilities her AP has heaped upon her. It is of no use. This teacher is already out of license by teaching art most of the day. She has no materials and is located in three different rooms on different floors. Whenever she turns around, she is being called into another meeting or put on another “curriculum planning committee”. On top of that, she has to deal with the litany of disrespectful and sarcastic comments that spew forth from the mouth of her AP. She gets the sense that she is being set up for failure. I suppose she should be thankful that she has not been written up and still has a job in the NYC DOE.

Other colleagues of mine are not so lucky, like the one whose 3020a hearing begins tomorrow. I have known her since college and we have worked at the same school for 5 years. During that time, she has done all of the extra things that the administration has asked of her: stay late for open houses, teach some of the most challenging classes and give up time in order to be the coordinator of student activities (COSA). She regularly was the first one in the building and the last one out. The students recognized her hard work on their behalf and admired her for it. A lot of her work was done for free, out of a sense of obligation to the school community for which she worked. Few people, especially administrators, rarely ever gave her a “thank you” and would be damned to put it in writing if they did. Despite all of this, she never once complained or was insubordinate. As a matter of fact, she was quite supportive of the administration and their vision for the school.

And for all of her hard work, support and dedication to the children and the system, she faces termination.

We had a staff meeting in the auditorium yesterday. Most of the meeting consisted of students presenting some of the extra-curricular projects they had been working on. Once that was all done, they stayed in the auditorium while the principal addressed the staff. He stood at the back speaking to the napes of necks and bald spots of everyone in the room. In a tone that could only be described as angry, he shared some parental complaints he had about first marking period grades. Parents were upset because teachers were taking points off for bad behavior. Some teachers had never given exams, yet failed students who had showed up every day. He mentioned how he tried to defend the teachers by referring parents to the online grading system, yet saw that teachers really had no justification for failing the students in question. The staff largely hung their heads in shame, many of us wondering whether we were the objects of the principal’s ire. The students who had presented their projects were there to listen to it all.

These are just a few examples of what goes on every day in New York City’s Department of Education. Sure, there are horror stories out there like David Pakter, Peter Lamphere, Ted Smith and Christine Rubino. These stories are just the most shocking and reprehensible examples of what a reprehensible bureaucracy is capable of. What causes teachers to be the most demoralized, however, is the type of treatment described earlier at the hands of people who are supposedly education “leaders”. It is the endless pettiness, immaturity and inhumanity to which teachers are subjected every minute of every day. It has become so normal, so commonplace, that it forms the unconscious background of everything else that happens during the course of the school year.

This is the norm throughout the New York City Department of Education. To be sure, there are principals out there who do not do business this way. These principals should be celebrated, appreciated and supported. But, if me or my friends’ experiences are any indication, this is not the norm. Fear, disrespect, paranoia and inhumanity are the orders of the day.

“My principal does not like me, so she is making my life a living hell” is a commonly spoken sentence in Bloomberg’s DOE. At no point have I ever heard that “my principal has tried to bridge the gap with me” or “my principal had an open and honest discussion with me” or “my principal disagrees with me but it’s perfectly fine”. At no point have I heard a principal who has a problem with someone on the staff doing anything less than try to make someone’s life a “living hell”.

Principals lead school buildings. The goal of every school building is to provide a healthy educational environment for its children. If a teacher were to stand in the back of the classroom and berate all of the students for the transgressions of a few, it would be considered bad practice. It would be noted in an observation report and probably be used as a justification for a “U”. If a teacher did not get along with a student, it would be considered harassment for that teacher to give that student extra work and make snarky comments to them. It would probably be cause for disciplinary action, maybe even a 3020a hearing.

It seems as if because principals have the power to make the lives of teachers a living hell, or because they have the power to destroy teachers they do not like, that they believe it should be a power that gets exercised. There are even some principals who fancy themselves humanitarians because they do not do this to every teacher all of the time.

As I get older, I get more intolerant and militant. I just cannot fathom why a principal, someone who is responsible for setting the tone of a school, would think that making anyone’s life a living hell at any moment is productive in any way. Someone disagrees with your vision for the school? Great. You should welcome criticism, dialogue and debate. As the principal you have the final say, of course, and it does not mean you should put the things on hold that you want to achieve because a few malcontents do not like it. Instead, how about trying to bring those teachers along to your vision, give them roles of leadership and importance in that vision and show them that your way can do great things for many people?

When a student challenges me in class, I usually ask them why they feel the way they do. I do not take it as a personal insult. If anything, everything that students do in my classroom is a reflection on me and I take it as a critique of what I am doing at the moment. I have learned a lot about teaching because of this. Maybe I am a little too secure about the righteousness of my vision and ideas.

But I do know one thing: a leader who does not lead by example, a leader who believes a different set of rules applies to them, a leader who does not encourage free discussion is not a leader at all, but an oppressor. It does not matter what the setting is. It does not matter if it is in the political arena or in the arena of education. There is something rotten if a leader does not take their role seriously enough to model the behavior they want to see in the people they lead.

Before I started teaching I had a notion, since then discarded, that schools operated on a different moral plane than the “real world”. Maybe this is one of the reasons why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place. The real world to me was ruthless, ugly and destructive. Schools were beacons of high-minded values and enlightenment. After 12 years in the system, 10 of them under the Bloomberg regime, this silly naiveté has been beaten out of me. If anything, the ugliness and ruthlessness in our education system is worse than that of the real world because it is the students who ultimately get hurt.

Along the way, a lot of innocent teachers lose their livelihoods, reputations and careers because an administrator took a bad shine to them. What does it say about a human being if they can intentionally make the life of someone’s mother, daughter, father, son, brother, husband or wife a living hell? What does it say about a human being if they can give absolutely no thought to taking someone’s livelihood away merely because that person disagrees with them or because that person rubs them the wrong way? I might be able to forgive a lot of things with people because I also would like forgiveness for my own shortcomings, but I cannot forgive people like this. So-called leaders who act in this manner are working from a morality (amorality is more like it) that does not even register in my universe.

I do not totally blame the system either. While the reptilian corporate values that Bloomberg has foisted upon our schools have caused tremendous damage, it would have gotten nowhere without a legion of willing collaborators to do his bidding. It is easy to throw up your hands and say “it’s just the nature of the beast”, but at what point does one accept responsibility for being part of that beast? I think there is still something to be said for individual choice, free will and doing what you know to be the right thing in your heart.

This is why I admire the career of Furtunato Rubino. His example points to what is possible within the context of a thoroughly rotten system. While other principals were busily seeking ways to make people’s lives a living hell, Mr. Rubino never once lost focus of the fact that he was an educator who had an ultimate responsibility to the children of the community he served. Maybe if the Reality-Based Educators, Norm Scotts, Arthur Goldsteins, NYCDOEnuts, Michael Dunns and Bronx Teachers of the world became administrators, they would be able to carve out a piece of sanity and humanity in this monstrous universe we call the Department of Education.

But I understand why the people I mentioned might not be thinking about making such a move. They are teachers first, great teachers, and they know the work they do is the most valuable work of all. After dedicating your life to teaching, there is a sense that becoming an administrator makes you one of “them”. Their values are too incorruptible to be able to give themselves over to the system in that manner.

As for me, I have seen and heard too much to pretend it does not affect me anymore. Too many lives have been ruined, too many lines have been crossed, too much of man’s inhumanity to man has been on display for me to plug along, teach my classes and go home like nothing has ever happened. I feel filthy with each passing day.

So, I do not know what the future holds for me but I am pretty certain what it does not hold. Bloomberg, Walcott, Duncan, Obama and all of the administrators who know no other value but to make peoples’ lives living hells can go on building their filthy world without me.

16 Reasons To Fire Mr. Hand

Front page New York Post photo of the evil Mr. Hand.

I’m not much of  a movie buff but I do have my favorites. Fast Times at Ridgemont High is one of them. Although considered risque for its time due to its portrayal of teenage sex and drug use (not to mention the bare-chested Phoebe Cates scene), it is pretty tame by today’s standards.

My favorite character is Mr. Hand the history teacher, played by Ray Walston. He runs a tight ship.

Imagine if Mr. Hand was teaching in Bloomberg’s DOE.

He is too much of a veteran and too overpaid. His principal, who is half his age with 3 years of teaching experience, needs to trump up some bogus charges in order to terminate his license.

How many things can you twist out of context in order to terminate Mr. Hand?

1) Locked his classroom doors,  fire hazard.

2) Grabbed hat off student’s head, assault.

3) Snatched cigarette out of student’s mouth, assault.

4) Took candy bar from student’s hand, assault.

5) Hovered over young girl’s desk and talked about coming to her house, sexual harassment.

6) Sarcastic towards Sean Penn by saying “I get so lonely when all my students aren’t here.”, verbal abuse.

7) Ripped up Sean Penn’s schedule in order to cause him mental anguish.

8) Revealed students’ test grades in front of class, causing them all mental anguish.

9) Mistakenly said that Platt Amendment was an amendment to “our constitution” when, in fact, it was an amendment to Cuba’s constitution, incompetence. (We know the DOE strives for accuracy in teaching).

10) Lectured class about truancy, verbal abuse.

11) Menacingly waves his finger at Sean Penn saying “food will be eaten on your time.”, assault.

12) Wrote “I don’t know” on the board in order to cause Sean Penn mental anguish.

13) Said Spain had a “disorganized Parliament”, racist speech.

14) Oh my God, did he say “what in the hell is going on here?”

15) Took Sean Penn’s pizza, unlawful confiscation.

16) Encouraged students to eat pizza, promoting bad health. (We know Bloomberg is serious about our health.)

Mr. Hand was called into a meeting with the principal and his chapter leader regarding certain accusations. These accusations were never specified but, for the good of the students, he was reassigned to Tweed pending investigation by OSI.

After Mr. Hand left the office, the principal immediately got on the phone to “legal” and said he wanted Mr. Hand terminated. Legal then coached him in exactly how to write up the accusations to make them sound as horrible as possible.

Both the principal and OSI wrote reports alleging that Mr. Hand “physically and verbally assaulted several students”, “had inappropriate sexual contact with a teenaged girl”, “locked his students in a classroom creating a safety hazard”, “partook in hate speech” and “demonstrated gross incompetence”.

He is awaiting a 3020a hearing that will drag on for several months and years in the hopes that he will just quit. The arbitrator assigned to the case knows that the principal wants him terminated, so he will do his best to oblige.

Meanwhile, the NY Post is set to run a headline tomorrow morning “Worst Teacher in the City”, with a huge picture of Mr. Hand. The tagline will read “racist pedophile harasser collects salary while on suspension.”

The internet version of the story will have 50 comments underneath from readers bemoaning “tenure”, “lazy teachers” and “pedophiles”. There will be lots of righteous outrage, like “why does he still get to collect his big fat salary?!” and “I have to produce in order to keep my job, why do teachers get to have tenure?!”

Sound far-fetched?

There are hundreds if not thousands of teachers in Mr. Hand’s position all over the city.