There is a double standard within Chancellor Michelle Rhee's administration. What we are seeing is a chancellor who is not being accountable when it matters most to be accountable. Most of us can agree with the Post writer who said that Rhee overplayed her hand this time in laying off hundreds of teachers. News releases show teachers recounting horror stories of their dismissals despite years of positive performance evaluations. Most have yet to be informed about the real reasons for their imminent layoffs. Students following the lead of their teachers and school counselors report that these untimely dismissals have led to changes in class schedules, dropped classes and worries about their education. Despite unending news coverage of recent layoffs, Rhee digs her heels in and refuses to provide data to substantiate her claims of an education budget shortfall now down to 12 million dollars from earlier reports of 40 million.
I wanted to share an email that I received from a newly hired DC teacher on her dismissal from DC public schools. Her words illustrate better than I can how DC students are the real victims in this tragedy.
“After devoting the past six years of my life earning a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education, I applied to the DC Public School System (DCPS), hoping to make a difference in the lives of students living in urban areas. I was especially interested in DCPS given its efforts to implement an IMPACT program throughout each school to maximize the educational experience and better students’ test scores. Being a recent graduate, I was fortunate to have the IMPACT program implemented in my own curriculum.
I was delighted to receive a call from offering me the position of 3rd grade teacher. I eagerly signed my contract and retracted all other outstanding applications. I quickly set forth preparing myself for this fantastic opportunity, which involved a number of major investments including signing a new lease, moving into my apartment, and purchasing a car. Readying myself for the start of classes, I also acquired my DC teaching license, school supplies, “extras” to help incentivize my students, and all the bells and whistles needed to create a welcoming classroom environment.
Of course, no amount of effort fully prepares oneself for a new life experience. Indeed, the past five weeks of teaching have been eye-opening for me. I quickly realized that the students in my class needed tremendous support to ensure that they were emotionally and intellectually ready for the challenges of third grade. I saw this as an exciting opportunity– one that I felt well qualified to fulfill with the academic and hands-on experience I have immersed myself in for the past six years. Translating my knowledge to meet the needs of these students – children who have lived difficult lives – required nothing short of complete dedication. This has meant starting early each day and working into the evening hours to write and review lesson plans, focusing on the needs of the entire class and the individual needs of each student.
On Friday afternoon, I learned that I had been laid off. Apparently in a last-minute attempt to balance the budget, Michelle Rhee and the District of Columbia opted to lay off 200 or so teachers during the most critical period of the academic year – just when students are becoming acclimated to their new environment. My immediate concern was what would happen with my students because I was the only third grade teacher at my school. My principal has informed me that some students will move up to fourth grade and some will move down to second grade. In these tough economic times, the solution should not be to provide a poor educational experience for these children who, arguably, need extra attention. Simply assigning them to another grade greatly degrades the educational opportunity for my third grade students and the classes into which they are integrated. While I am obviously upset with losing my job, many more individuals will suffer due to this shortsighted decision.
We live in a great city in a wonderful country. We must remain competitive and teach our students at the highest standards. The decision to lay teachers off weeks into the school year is disruptive to the lives of the children and dishonest to the teachers who made a commitment to DC Public Schools. I am floored by this decision, and I cannot help but to draw conclusions about the long string of mishandlings that must have led to this situation. I have to ask, what is Ms. Rhee’s accountability in the situation? "
Posted by The Wash. Teacher featuring Candi Peterson, blogger in residence