Jun 18, 2010

Letter From A Second Year DCPS Teacher

Having grown up in a family with much older grandparents, I always valued the opinions and words of wisdom from my elders. Even though I prided myself in having a mind of my own, I learned early on that wisdom and life experience bring much needed insight. I think some people refer to it as the school of 'hard knocks'.

Several years ago I ran into several younger teachers who overwhelmingly supported WTU's infamous red and green contract proposal for DC teachers mainly due to the hefty salary increases. I couldn't help but realize they didn't even know the half of what they were embarking upon. Little did I think that I would ever be able to convince them about what was happening on our educational landscape. This very blog was born out of my desire to offer another view point to union members like them about how this red and green proposal would strip all of us of long earned tenure and seniority protections and almost always lead to termination. Needless to say, due to elevating this issue, the red and green proposal soon became history.

Much to my surprise I received an email from one of these teachers who is now a second year teacher. Several years ago, she along with her cohorts chastised me on blogs and in person for not supporting Rhee's reform model and the WTU red and green tiered proposal. This teacher's recent correspondence gives new meaning to the colloquialism 'listen to your elders.' I am thankful that she was able to write me, share her story and admit that she made a mistake. I don't believe that I always know what's better, but like my elders before me I have been there, done that and have the t-shirt with my name on it. I am sharing this email from a teacher, who I will call Terry. I believe her email offers insight into what many DC teachers are currently experiencing under Rhee's reform model.

Hi, Candi,

"It’s been a long time since I’ve written on your blog, but I read it faithfully.

It took a long time but I have to say, you and DCPS teachers have been right about so many things. At my school the teachers are very supportive of me, a still-new second-year teacher. I have struggled with writing and teaching effective lessons, managing student behavior, and organizing my classroom. However, I am new, motivated, and teachable. I left a better-paying career to teach. So you would think the administration would value my attitude and willing spirit.

However, the administration heaps criticism on me and has not offered mentoring to me, nor has it ordered coaches to come into my room to model lessons. The administration takes incentives from my students (recess, field trips, computer use, daily prizes) but blames me for having an ineffective behavior plan. Having a master educator observation has been encouraging to me because the difference between my fall and spring observations showed significant progress. However, I am so disillusioned with my administration that I don’t think I even want a post-conference for my last principal observation. The only reason I haven’t broken down psychologically is because of my friendship with God, who sustains me, and because I have seen the administration belittle and humiliate other teachers at the school so I know it’s not all about me. Teachers have walked out (and others have threatened to walk out) of staff meetings. Turnover is high. Teachers are pitted against other teachers during meetings. Teachers on your blog have been saying all along - it’s not so much the teachers as it is the parents and the administration. I once was blind…

I don’t know what my plans are for next school year, but based on my principal’s IMPACT scores, I may not be in DCPS. My heart was really set on helping the most disadvantaged students in DC.

Moving to another school system won’t be so hard for me because of my age and lack of children who depend on my income and health insurance. However, I feel for teachers at my school who are older, sometimes parents, and either leaving DCPS or considering leaving. They have told me that it is really a leap of faith.

I regret, though, having gotten my feet wet in DCPS then moving to the suburbs. The first two years are when teachers make the bulk of their mistakes. There’s a huge learning curve those two years. Now I may have to take all that knowledge gained at the expense of DCPS’ students to the ‘burbs.

I need to find this one teacher I thought was so terrible three years ago and apologize, because now I see.


(the real name of the teacher has been changed to protect her identity)


The Washington Teacher said...

Moderated response to Anonymous below:
I have to moderate this response. This essay is not contrived. One thing I am not is a liar. If you read this response you will note this teacher changed careers from another field so her reference which states "I need to find this one teacher who was so terrible three years ago makes sense." She worked in another capacity in education previously.

Rhee hires and fires everyone, young, veteran and in-between so its not about me having anything both ways. What I don't get is if you believe I am making things up just trying to get votes- why keep reading my blog. That's a rhetorical question. Stop cluttering my blog up with your hate mail and nonsense. Happy trails.
The Wash. Teacher
Anonymous writes:
This was very clearly written by an older teacher as a cautionary tale. She writes, "I need to find this one teacher I thought was so terrible three years ago and apologize, because now I see."
Um, didn't you say you were a second year teacher?
Also, you don't get to have it both ways. The Rhee critics have been saying all along that Rhee is trying to get rid of veteran teachers in favor of new teachers. Yet this very silly and contrived essay was written by self-declared ineffective younger teacher. Which is it? Candi, I know you are in the midst of an election, but this is just pitiful.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this!

There are two different groups of teachers in my school. Those who feel that the system is beyond broken, cannot understand how a principal who does NOTHING can still be around, and are abused daily by the admin. These same teachers have not been offered wonderful professional development opportunities, their voices are not heard, and heresay is included in their evaluations.

The other group of teachers is comprised of mostly young, TFA or teaching fellows. These are people that do not have teaching licenses, and most will leave within two to three years. They are given more materials to utilize, have their choice of off-site professional development opportunites, and choose to not see how devalued the other half of the staff is. Is this group more valued because they are the least expensive teachers to hire?

One has to wonder why DCPS does not want to invest in teachers that are willing to stay and invest their time, energy, and creativity in their students for the long term. Why is DCPS only looking for a "quick fix?"
Why are dedicated teachers hired from as far away as California and Spain, told their experience will be beneficial, and then completely demoralized as the year progresses?

This whole real scenario at my school is unbelivable to most not in education. It leaves even the best teachers afraid to do their jobs, and feeling like battered children themselves.

EFavorite said...

First to anon - Candi is also not a stupid liar, and she'd have to be very stupid to leave an error in a contrived letter that made it look like she was lying.

Now to the 2nd year teacher - thanks for writing this. I don't doubt that there are others who feel the way you do. Such a pity that rhee's reforms are driving people like you out.

Anonymous said...

So what were your IMPACT scores, Candi? Highly effective?

The Washington Teacher said...

You guess it right Anonymous @ 3:02. Thanks for asking. Now back to the subject at hand. ;--)

Anonymous said...

I would suggest to anonymous at 3:02 since you work for the chancellor, you should already know Candi's IMPACT scores. Sounds like you are just trying to start some confusion. Get a life. I am a DC teacher and this story rings true in my school.

Anonymous said...

First, I would like to thank Candi for being the eyes and ears for me, as it pertains to union issues. Candi, Is the Voice of DCPS teachers! This blog site is a daily read for me. I am inspired and informed by my fellow teachers thanks to this blog spot.
Now, for any of the Rhee-lovers, Candi does not have to create lies for votes. Candi, stay strong you have a lot of people on your side.

Anonymous said...

It is saddening to read the angst and over-reaction to comment-ers who may--or may not be--trolls. In any case, Candi's moderating always seems wise to me, and she is responsibly generous in letting nonconforming views appear.

As to angst about teaching (rather than trolls or unwelcome views) I am a bit concerned with the hyperbolic demonization of "parents" in the featured comment.
I sometimes get the feeling that educators do not look in the mirror enough. It always seems to be some other party. It's like retail store personnel bemoaning the customers, in some respects.

Regardless, the absence of sufficient mentoring and professional development, inept administrators, and the "pitting" of teacher against teacher all sound pretty bad. I thank you all who teach in DCPS and hope things improve for you.

Anonymous said...

DCPS is like working at a fast food restaurant. the door is constantly swinging with teachers walking in an out.. and the food ( quality of education) will never change as a result because there is a bare investment in workers and an SOP in place for everything.

Anonymous said...

I think this letter sums up a lot of my feelings about my job as a first year teacher and a DCTFer. I must say that DCTF never promoted it's program as being a cure-all or engaged in veteran bashing. I found the veteran teachers at my school engaging, helpful, thoughtful and dedicated. I learned a lot from observing and listening to them.

I expected the behaviors the kids exhibited, however I was not prepared for the incredibly poor management team that ran the school. I don't know what DCPS was like prior to my arrival but it is obvious that the "reform" is a token exercise that will not yield any fruitful results. Why? the ineffectiveness of the administrators is a huge obstacle. At my school, my principal has no ideas or values he is willing to commit to that will bring about quality and significant changes in the attitude, behavior or achievement of the students. All initiatives implemented within the school came from Willhoyte regardless of whether the tools or resources were in place. As such the interventions and prevention programs were never executed in the appropriate manner. The admistrators are like flies.. flitting from one thing to another in hopes of finding the magic bullet to raise test scores... test scores .. test scores.

I don't know any teacher that feels that they did an effective job of actually educating children for their lives as much as preparing them for the DCAS. The all-encompassing obsession with the test scores comes at the expense of everything else in the school. Behavior and teacher training. Most morning meetings up until the DCCAS focused on testing.. very few focused on teacher skills as good teaching practices, but rather "it is a great way to help kids with the test"" . If your kids showed gains on the DC-BAS test then you were a favored teacher and if not you fell out of favor.. we played this game the ENTIRE year. If you were non-value added then you either were responsible for helping with the math/english or your class was constantly preempted for g test-associated activities.

As a first year teacher, I found nothing that I could invest in with DCPS besides the camaraderie and solidarity my fellow teachers offer. Even then, teachers are so afraid of losing their jobs that they tend to distance themselves from other teachers based on real/perceived slights from administrators at times or whether a teacher is hot or cold. Thus, the comraderie for all I know is an illusion. Quality professional support is sketchy for new teachers. I had a mentor. However, it differed greatly from my former corporate mentorship program in terms of substance and goals (not quite sure if there is one), I cannot find any tangible way that it helped me as a teacher. A recurring theme when I asked the mentor for advice or guidance was not to upset the principal and implied do not involve me in any issues because my evaluation is linked to your IMPACT scores. Overall, I thought IMPACT is a joke and the inability to challenge these scores will be the undoing of this reform effort. My ME told me quite bluntly he/she has too much work to do and if he/she made a mistake I have the next evaluation to boost my scores. Some of the observations were inaccurate , which was admitted but no scores can be changed without fear of managerial reprisal etc.
Yes, my scores were low, which is a first for me in all the jobs I held. However, it is strange that I don't feel bad about the scores. At no time was there any substantive feedback or targeted intervention implemented so improvement could be truly evaluated.

Help asked for was never received. To sum it up, I am looking for a new job in a school district that has a strong teacher retention and mentorship program in place.

The most important lesson that DCPS has taught me is to examine the leadership and schools VERY carefully before choosing. I only wished I had discovered this board before saying yes to DC instead of the other district where I was offered a job.

EFavorite said...

“One has to wonder why DCPS does not want to invest in teachers that are willing to stay and invest their time, energy, and creativity in their students for the long term.”

As I’ve said elsewhere, the chancellor's specialty is hiring and firing. She likes it and knows the mechanics of it.

Remember, she headed a teacher recruiting firm (The New Teacher Project) for 10 years before coming here and that she thinks the answer to improved tests scores is a system of teachers who only teach for a few years, like she did in Baltimore in the 90’s where she supposedly raised her students’ reading scores from the 13th percentile to the 90 percentile. (There is no evidence of this, but the Chancellor has repeated it numerous times to the national media.)

Teacher turn-over is expensive and disruptive and there is no indication that it benefits the kids. Common sense would say it does not, but the Chancellor doesn’t go by common sense – only by what she believes.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I am "Terry." I did work in a DCPS school 3 years ago in a non-teaching role. I met one teacher in particular who I thought was awful. Even when I disagreed with Candi in the past, I never thought she was a liar - I would have stopped reading her blog if i felt that way. I suggest u do the same.

Also, I feel the same way anonymous @ 7:40 feels - this is my first time getting a low rating at a job, so it's easy to remember that IMPACT scores don't define me.

Anonymous said...

i am anonymous @ 2:23...

there was a huge discrepancy in scores from IMPACT in our school, as i am sure there were in many more.

teachers who were favored by the admin, who are mostly TFA's and fellows were given extremely high scores compared to those of us who have taught previously in better managed districts.

the same TFA's and fellows were given low scores by their ME's, but veteran teachers recently hired from elsewhere, such as myself, were given glowing IMPACT scores from their ME's.

i think there is something to be said for a stranger who comes into your room and does not know anything about your classroom or your background.

on the other hand, principals were supposedly not trained well enough to execute the IMPACT system this year. some teachers in our building were evaluated by just the principal and others by both the p and VP...it was extremely evident to many in our building the bias that existed on such evals and on the dates chosen for such evals.

also, according to all of the IMPACT info. we received in the beginning of the year, we were supposed to receive professional support if our scores were low in certain areas...that did not ever happen in our school. coaches were never in our room, and the three times the principal was in my room for the evals, she belittled me in front of my kids.

how in the world are principals like this allowed to stay in the profession and treat students, teachers, and parents so horribly?
efavorite...i would love to know if you have an answer to this...as i do not believe rhee would find these admins to be highly effective.

Anonymous said...

Anon @1:15.. I am at 7:40..

My mentor showed up after my low score from the ME.I can only assume she was there to help;it was never stated explicitly. As a new teacher I was supposed to have a mentor. I don't think there was any value-added to the mentorship.. as stated earlier not sure how this looks with DCPS.

Anonymous said...

You tell him Candi, the truth will set you free.

Anonymous said...

I just want you to know that this plan to lower evaluations has been in place since Fenty took over and is done on purpose. Every person in the Broad Program (where Rhee attended leadership training) was put together to take over urban schools while destroying our educational system. Keep in mind that this is happening across the country. Check out the background of each of the Chancellors’/Superintendents in every state that have recently been hired and you will see that they belong to that group (including the head of education – Duncan). You see Bill Gates and his rich white group is behind this. Their mission is to destroy and wipe out seniority principals, teachers and central office staff and those who are not a part of the New Leaders and Teach for America. They will identify you as incompetent educators and fire you. People of color, age, and seniority are being wiped out.

A great number of these people do not meet the NCLB guidelines that they hire, but they hire them anyway. Oh yes, they want you to be a part of the white elite University Harvard/Yale/Brown – etc.). If you are one of the chosen, you are taken up several scales on the pay scale when you should start at the bottom. By the way most of the principals get 3 to 5 year contracts and a large bonus when they are hired; it’s called union busting. That’s right; they really do not want HBC educators. Most of these so call principals and evaluators could not teach their way out of a paper bag let alone evaluate you. What is going to happen; when Fenty loose this time around, it will take those individuals with true knowledge and expertise to straighten out this mess. Watch as they dismantle all of the district departments and place their people in place. Watch as they continue to steal funds right before you.

Today it appears we don’t have any morals because if we did, Fenty, Rhee, Reinoso, Henderson, Moody, Nichols, Jesus Aguirre, many of the selected principals, Gandhi, etc. would be fired or in jail.
What will it take for America to wake up ? They are destroying the history of education.

Anonymous said...

Also, Candi, what happened to the list of Principals and APs who were fired. This is the only place that I've seen that list published. Can you update it...I'm praying that one of my APs is out the door next year.

Anonymous said...

I was at the DCPS teacher transfer job fair this weekend. If you all could have seen how unprofessional many of the actual principals were that were in attendance, you would be in disbelief. But then again, most of us who read this article could probably believe it...

Anonymous said...

So true, wake up people! Sadly, so much dismantling has already taken place, and we the teachers voted for the contract. I don't think there is any hope left, until they all move on to the next big thing, and believe me there will be the "next big thing". It used to be PeaceCorp, NGOs, now it's TFA something else will eventually take its place, and people will write books and debate about how it happened, how did people idly sit by as they dismantled the system. It is sickening. And no I'm not a so called bitter, jaded, Veteran Teacher, this is my first year in DCPS.

EFavorite said...

Hello anon,

as to "how in the world are principals like this allowed to stay in the profession and treat students, teachers, and parents so horribly?"

I really can't explain it. It's completely counterintuitive to me.

However, I do know that the Chancellor sas said* that stress is good, so if she mistakenly believes that, then perhpa she thinks she's helping teachers by putting them under pressure.

*Rhee quotes on the value of stress:

“If they're [teachers and principals] feeling pressure--good! I feel pressure every day because I have the education of 49,000 kids in my hands" http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110011029

“People feel a little stressed out. They feel a lot of pressure. But that's good. Pressure is good.” http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/education/jan-june09/merrowdc_01-13.html

“I want every educator to feel that pressure. What we are doing is incredibly important, and if you are going into a classroom, you need to produce for the kids.”

The Washington Teacher said...

Anonymous 1:07 am

I have not updated the list of principals and vp's as I do not have any additional information at this time.

Anonymous said...

To you first year teachers: I was new last year to DCPS. Had taught in a school system for many years, and made a move to DCPS. I was one of 275 teachers who were let go of on June 17, 2009. 100 of the 275 were new teachers who were let go of. Allow me to share something with you. Being new to the DCPS system, I was never EVER provided a mentor nor assistance from the Professional Dev. Teacher.
I ASKED, and never received. The Professional Dev. Teacher was too busy with the third grade teacher, and her class in order to boost the kids scores on DC-CAS. Hence, my evaluation scores suffered. Tried to do something about it, however, nothing could be done through the WTU. Never had I been evaluated so terribly. Even if you ask for support forget about it....not going to happen in DCPS. In addition, don't even try to find another teaching job in Maryland nor Northern VA. The pickings are slim to none. I encourage all new teachers and Vetran teachers who are thinking of leaving DCPS to rethink their position. Many school systems in MD and VA are having budget issues. Montgomery Co. Public Schools are having to let of approximately 200 teachers, and there are furlough days being implemented. This is happening all over. How do I know? Been trying for a little over a year to get another teaching job.

I wish you the best in your teaching career. It may be a
good career choice if you love working, and teaching children.
Given the budget issues going on with these school systems it just may be a mistake at the same time to have gone into this field. Start thinking of stretching yourself in a different career path. I wish you the best.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, God, this school year is over. We made it!!

Anonymous said...

Yes, some of us made it, but some of us did not receive contracts for the upcoming school year. I was one of them... Caught me completely off-gaurd. I guess after reading this blog, I should start looking at charter schools or other counties.

Anonymous said...

I know the Principal at my school, Johnson Middle School was let go after only one year. They let him know on Friday and we are interviewing this Thursday. Is this the only new principal fired in the last week?

Anonymous said...

The principal of Woodson is leaving, but I don't think he was fired. I think he resigned to take another job.

Smart guy - but a loss for Woodson

Anonymous said...

I am a mid ranged 10 - 18 year teacher. This year I was paired with a new teacher whom thought she was the best thing since sliced bread. However, her test scores where very low throughout the year. The know it all principal padded her impact scores trying to save her while dragging my impact scores through the mud. My students out scored the other teachers' in the building by leaps and bounds. Do you think sliced bread ever valued my experience enough to ask for help? HELL NO!!! She did however ask another teacher (whose scores were also very low) for advice.

One bottom line is that the younger teachers do not value the older teachers AT ALL. The have been lead to believe by Rhee and the building administrators that "we dont know nuffin".

In all my years this is the first year I am ashamed to say I am a DCPS teacher. I have had more than five principals (due to retirements and excessing- when it was building senority) and this is the only one I have ever had and I must declare the WORST as well. She is absolutely unethical.

Where is the accountablility for principals who give out these low IMPACT scores? It sounds like around the city they are not offering any type of support to teachers even when asked. But they want to give out all these low scores so they can tell RHEE when the scores do go up hey look I have all these sorry teachers, not I choose sorry programs or used all their planning to talk about planning or did not give them any help or support or the 35 days students can be absent before a court referral is too much or they dont have enough time to write a zillion lesson plans in an hour a day and grade/analyze test/call parents/other things I want them to do. The principals are trying to cover their butts!!! on the backs and careers of teachers.


The kids and teachers who really care are suffering. Everyone please pray for the salvation of DCPS!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

As far as I know they are using the IMPACT scores to get rid of bottom feeders.

Its good that the guy from Woodson is leaving. That place is a filthy zoo! No order...only chaos.

The guy from Johnson? Well, I have a neighbor that works at Johnson...she told me that the place is a mess. The kids are off the hook and NO ONE did anything about it. I pray that they are able to help our kids in W7 and 8 by bringing in people who have the fortitude to maintain order and help our kids to get a good education.

Anonymous said...

I am annon 6/23/10 8:55, why did you take out the words white from my post. It all rings true, the black teachers do not stand a chance in this system and it needs to come to light and be addressed. I have a glimmer of a feeling of how oppressed our people felt in the 60's. I feel helpless and this blog is a voice for me to say what is really real.

The Washington Teacher said...

Anonymous @ 12:16:

I edited your post because I was concerned that it was 'racially inflammatory'. In this case I did not want to offend others and have your message misinterpreted and not read by others who frequent this blog.

I do hear what you are saying and value your views. Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

Teachers at Woodson respected the principal. Behavior problems were handled immediately and not blamed on teachers.

Downtown is just sorry they didn't fire him before he resigned.

Anonymous said...

anon. June 21 @12:29 really wrote very well and writes like someone who is very knowledgeable about "THE PLAN". We all know about the plan (five year). Everything makes sense from A. Duncan, MR, and the private foundation's support. It now really makes sense.

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