Seventeen years

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My colleague has seventeen years in the district. Her 22 page evaluation yielded a frightening number, a number that would have forced any newer teacher out of the district at year’s end. She will be allowed to remediate herself until October, she told me. I talked to the union rep about the situation. (Sort of.) He’s a good man and no gossip, a consummate professional. We phrased the conversation hypothetically, my question being a simple one: Does my colleague have any possible union remedies? His answer was no. Charlotte’s* scores are not grievable, unless discrimination is involved. My colleague can write a rebuttal for her file, but that’s about her only option. She’s screwed, blued and tattooed.

The union rep and I discussed the fact that these 22 page documents are highly subjective, with luck of the evaluator a major factor in results. How well you connect with your evaluator matters. Whether or not you have the same views on best educational practices can skew scores significantly. Does the evaluator like loud and busy classrooms? Does the evaluator prefer a quieter, more traditional atmosphere? Will the evaluator factor student behavioral history into observed misbehaviors? Is the evaluator so scared for his or her own job that test-score paranoia has kicked in, leading the evaluator to tense up in fear at any signs of student obtuseness? A mere snippet of a school year has determined my colleague’s numbers and she is in serious trouble.

The pension system has been set up so that the best times to quit are multiples of 10. I am hitting one of these breakpoints this year. My colleague still has three years to travel before she reaches a good stopping point. She’s an expensive hire and no district is likely to pay for all her experience. She’s also in an area of teaching where jobs are scarce. America has no shortage of P.E., English, or history teachers. Any attempt to move after seventeen years has to be explained, too. I see no good way to spin this mess. The odds that she can find another position don’t seem high, given the number of lower-cost, new graduates who are looking for a first opportunity.

Eduhonesty: I’ve never sat in my colleague’s classroom. I don’t know the fine points of this story. I do know that an injustice appears to be underway. If my colleague has so little to recommend her, why did the district need seventeen years to uncover that fact? Charlotte’s axe seems poised to lop off a good woman’s head. I have no way to judge those rubric scores, but my colleague strongly wishes to continue teaching. With the pension system operating the way it does, and a possible mid-year job loss in the works, though, I’m not sure she can afford to be remediated, not with so little likely help and encouragement from her remediators. The administration appears to want this woman gone.

My colleague’s best move appears to be surrender, but she seems unlikely to go quietly. I admire her ongoing pedagogical diligence, her efforts to teach as this craziness swirls around her. I’m not sure I would continue to work that hard with an axe hanging above me.

I’d love to end this post with a ringing call to action. I can’t because we are buried in politics out here, obscuring any clear view of what is occurring in our classrooms. Perhaps my colleague actually lacks teaching skills. As I say, I’ve never watched her in action. Perhaps, though, she is merely older, experienced and therefore expensive. Perhaps her views are politically incorrect and she is unwilling to spout the party-line of small groups and extreme diversification. We are a profession of buzzwords, driven by fashion and test scores. Politically savvy teachers adopt the latest fashions and try to make them work. Some older teachers stick with the outdated fashions that have always produced results for them. Perhaps my colleague is one of the victims of test-score panic. All across America, teachers are being blamed for lower test scores that may or may not be in their control. The societal forces that hold urban students down can’t always be addressed by the best of teachers.

Who knows what’s going on? I don’t. Layers upon layers of quiet politics seem to underlay many recent administrative decisions and I am not talking to my administration, never about matters of substance anyway.

*The woman who wrote the rubric that created the 22 page evaluation.