Dec 7, 2008

DC Principal Tries To Fire Outstanding Teacher

Here is another email that I received from a teacher regarding a DC principal who unfairly tried to place an outstanding teacher on a 90 day plan without regard to her work performance. As I have noted in my other blog entries- some DC principals have been advised by Rhee's administration to place a quota of teachers on a 90 day plan even if they have to 'lie'. I can't help but ask what's wrong with this picture ? If you know of cases in which DC teachers have been unfairly placed on a 90 day termination plan, email me with specifics c/o Read the email below and weep ! (Posted by The Washington Teacher).

"Hi Candi.. On "Rhee's 90 Day Plan"- As I reflect on one of my colleagues most recent school situations, I can only think how her situation could have been another teacher potential "Horror Story". Her new principal told her she was putting her on a 90-day plan. As she was busily preparing for a formal observation, she decided to read our WTU contract guidelines. After reading our contract, she approached her principal to ask why she was targeted for a 90 day plan since she is a tenured teacher and all her evaluations have been rated as "exceeds expectations." She has also been selected for several teacher leadership assignments because of her extensive experience and insight to problem solving school, student, and parent concerns. In addition, she also served as a special education coordinator at one of our most reputable high schools.

After her discussion with the principal, the principal rescinded the decision to place her on a 90 day plan. My colleague was shocked at how vulnerable all teachers/ET15 employees are today with working in a school system with inexperienced new administrators from other school districts and under the chaotic leadership and mandates of Michelle Rhee. It appears that newly hired administrators from NLNS (New Leaders for New Schools) and other affiliated agencies (not within the DCPS school approved administrator's pool) are coming to DCPS from outside our pool with their own agendas, directives, and mindsets and with the attitude or mandates that DCPS teachers should be FIRED.

It appears also that Teach for America teachers, et al are given all the resources, professional development, access to new technology, administrative support, better class rooms, etc. Most of these teachers are coming to us without classroom experience, appropriate certifications, and degrees . One thing I learned from my colleague's situation is that teachers MUST READ their WTU contracts consistently. Unfortunately, this is a lonely scary environment to work in when teachers can not trust their principals "WORD" or Chancellor Rhee's 90-day plan implementation process. Have principals already submitted a "Hit List" of employees targeted to be "FIRED"? " Anonymous


Anonymous said...

This is really a sad story for all. I think you have a great blog.

DC Teacher Chic said...

I think this is a great story, too, but I disagree with the statement that TFA teachers get more resources or ANY other benefit. As a TFA alum myself, I can tell you I routinely got the worst behaved students. And, like many of my TFA peers, I arrived in a classroom stripped of materials. Often, by the time I reached my classroom, the veteran teaches had taken the classroom libraries and curriculum resources left over from the previous teacher. If TFA classrooms appear to be better-equipped, it is because those teachers have bought the materials themselves or gotten grants for them.

Mr. Potter said...

I also disagree the TFA teachers get the best resources or suppport. I began my teaching career with TFA, and my first year I taught math in the vacated band room. I didn't even have a white board to write on. My whole first week I had only 20 desks, despite rosters in the 30s. I had no shelves, bulletin boards, cabinets, etc. I had to actively seek out all of these things in my first weeks of teaching when, quite frankly, I had enough on my plate. And in terms of adminstrative support, my first year I received absolutely no support. The only time an administrator set foot in my room was the one time I was formally observed. I don't mean to complain -- I know this is standard fare for first year teachers in DC -- I just don't want people thinking that TFAers have it any easier.

Now, my classroom is spectacular. But it's because I sought out resources from or spent my own money. I will also agree the TFA teachers enjoy excellent professional development, but it is put on by TFA itself and not by the district.

Just wanted to clear that up.

Anonymous said...

to former TFA teachers - please consider that things may have changed. It may be that this year, TFA's are getting more support than veteran teachers. I don't know that for a fact, but it sounds like you don't either. I hope we can find out.

What I do know is that in a middle school, all the teachers of one grade(all over age 50) were told they would receive "needs improvement" evaluations (this is before school started) and be put on 90 plans and fired if they didn't improve. And yes, their principal was from the New leaders for new schools program

Anonymous said...

As a professional developer assigned to a school in DCPS, I can tell you that we (the 2 PDs at our school), most definitely do NOT provide more assistance to TFA teachers than other teachers.

However, the teaching staff at many schools, from what I've learned from my own experience and conversations with other PDs, can often be divided into these two camps:

New teachers, who are sometimes young too (and sometimes TFA), who are open to receiving assistance, aren't threatened by us, love to get feedback, enjoy collaborating on instructional plans and have no problems with us coming into their classrooms to observe, model or just help out.

Or many "veteran" teachers, who resist our presence, challenge our credibility, ignore us in the halls, argue with our suggestions, try to undermine us with staff and even berate us in front of staff and students.

Let me ask you: who would you rather work with?

So to hear a vet teacher complain that new teachers get more PD is utterly ridiculous. Please. Either you want us there and you avail yourselves of our services, or you don't. But if you don't, you relinquish the right to complain about new teachers getting more PD.

Anonymous said...

Something else may be going on - veteran teachers may feel they're being set up for failure (indeed, some of them are)and to ask for help is to imply they need help (after all these years). Maybe some of them do, but if an axe is being held over their heads, it may be hard for some to perceive it as a helping hand. No doubt there are some bad teachers out there. Some can get better and some can't - or won't. But when teachers are told upfront that all will get bad ratings, it's pretty clear what's going on.

Mr. Potter said...

Anon #2, who wrote "to former TFA teachers - please consider that things may have changed. It may be that this year, TFA's are getting more support than veteran teachers. I don't know that for a fact, but it sounds like you don't either. I hope we can find out."

Of course, I can't speak for everyone across the system. However, I am still in the school that I was originally placed in, and -- at least in my school -- this is absolutely not the case. Our first year teachers say that they feel like they are getting no administrative help. I have personally helped several of our first-year teachers (TFA and non-TFA) get textbooks, desks, and other basic resources when administrative staff were unable or unwilling to help.

In talking with some of the "veteran" teachers, I think that many are fearful that if they admit that they need help, the might be singled out. Personally, I don't feel this way -- I love and welcome the help I get from my administrators -- but my guess is that if it appears that young teachers are being treated better, it might have something to do with young teachers being more willing to accept suggestions. I'm speaking totally generally, of course -- not everyone will fit into this stereotype. But that might be an explanation for any trends you're seeing.

Anonymous said...

I work in a school that has had mostly excellent TFA teachers for several years now (different ones). I worked closely with a number of them in my department. They'd occasionally get observed from some TFA administrator, but never got anything more than I did from DCPS in terms of training, PD or supplies (which is to say almost nothing, btw). When I would sign out at around 3:45, they'd still be there, lesson planning, developing materials, copying, decorating their rooms. They always stayed much later than I did. Sure, they didn't work in DCPS for more than 2 or 3 years, but this seems par for the course for new teachers anyway.

Anonymous said...

I think most of you are missing the point. The reason that I posted this email is to stress what is happening even to outstanding teachers in this climate. They are being placed on 90 day plans due to this quota system even without regard to performance. Scary thought? There before the grace of God ... go I or you or someone else.

Let us not get into this divide and conque diatribe. Let's not get detracted from the real issue or mission at hand. We must focus our energies on even the slightest possibility of losing our effective teachers who have been put in the pot with all of this bad teacher rhetoric. This makes the point of painting everyone with the same broad brush and pitting teacher against teacher and principal against teacher. It makes no sense. Reality Check ! Let's get to work supporting each other- teachers and principals and providers- Least You Be Next !

Anonymous said...

I have been saying this ever since I heard about it. This agressively enforced 90 day plan with its with all school quota and pressure on principals to deliver names is quite a serious threat to all teachers. Yes, I know there are deadbeats among some of our colleagues, as Mr. Potter has pointed out; we all know this. But these teachers are very much in the minority. And my fear is that principals are under the gun to come up with names under fear of losing their own jobs or not getting reappointed next school year.

Mr. Potter said...

Washington Teacher,

Perhaps I am missing the point. I simply don't share in my colleagues fears about arbitrary firings. Obviously, things are different in different schools, but I generally trust my principal to make smart choices.

I think, though, that you are missing the point of those of us who chose to respond to the comments about TFA teachers getting extra resources. Such comments weaken the solidarity that good teachers should have with each other. I think posting such comments on your blog sends the message to TFA teachers that "this union doesn't like you." And, I think that putting the blame on TFA teachers / DC Teaching Fellows / new teachers in general does nothing to address the fears that many teachers are fearing. Instead of pointing fingers, we should be engaging in serious dialogue with our school leaders about our concerns.

Anonymous said...

"I think posting such comments on your blog sends the message to TFA teachers that 'this union doesn't like you.'"

I agree, and as the new PD person who posted earlier, I've already gotten the "you're not welcome here" message from some veteran teachers *and* from WTU, who treated me like a scab when I called requesting a hard copy of the contract under which I am employed. (They "don't have any left," was what I was told. Right.) I am appalled at the us vs. them attitude that pervades this district. It's beyond dysfunctional.

Not everything needs to be so adversarial, as old-guard DCPS and WTU would have everyone believe.

As for a quota, Bill Turque asked me if it was true Rhee asked principals for "3 names per school." I said I had heard of no such quota or even any specific number, but from my observations, three sounded like a conservative estimate. I can pick 3 from one department alone who could benefit from closer scrutiny of their pedagogical skills.

I'm coming from a district where "satisfactory" was the highest rating you could ever get as a teacher, so I don't know what everyone's complaining about. The perfect teacher does not exist, and to admit one's weak areas is actually (and paradoxically) a sign of strength.

Anonymous said...

Nice, Mr Potter, that you trust your principal In the current climate in DC, that's hard to do - if only because the principals are being pressured to fire people, irrespective of competence (if that's true - and I bet we'll soon find out)

As for refraining from any negative comments about TFA's -- really now? Free speech being stifled? It's OK for Rhee to make global references to all those many "bad" DC teachers, but not OK to suggest that TFAs might, just might be getting a break? Simply implying such a thing should be grounds for deleting the offending posts?

Anonymous said...

Three per department who could benefit from a closer scrutiny of their pedogogical skills (the current eduspeak phrase is their practice, btw). We could all benefit. I'd love some pointers, extra coaching, etc and even as a veteran, I don't feel threatened. I am secure in my skills to want added help. But I'll never get it, as the principal has rated me exceeds. So I take courses and trainings at universities to keep up in my field. But that's not the same thing as three per school whose classroom management, lesson planning, instructional practice, student rapport, professionalism require them to be deemed ineffective and put on a 90 day plan and soon out the door? Please don't muddy the water with lack of clarity but we all appreciate the dialogues here on this blog.

Anonymous said...

Nah, no breaks for anyone, TFA included. But I do remember in my school a couple of years ago, 2 TFA teachers who were asked to leave by our principal in January and not finish out the school year. They got no breaks and were performing in an ineffective manner, so the principal had them leave. Other teachers who were also not working work were also asked to leave, transferred out or sent away and they were not DCTF nor TFA.

Mr. Potter said...

To Anonymous, who wrote "As for refraining from any negative comments about TFA's -- really now? Free speech being stifled? It's OK for Rhee to make global references to all those many "bad" DC teachers, but not OK to suggest that TFAs might, just might be getting a break? Simply implying such a thing should be grounds for deleting the offending posts?"

Free speech? Seriously? I didn't suggest people who don't like TFA be sent to a gulag. I said it wasn't constructive. Free speech means you are allowed to say what you think without fear of recrimination. It does not mean you can say whatever you want without other people pointing out that it's dumb.

Also, I never said that the way in which Rhee is presenting her opinion is OK. I certainly never said anything about deleting posts. I said it was hurtful for the person running this blog, who is a leader in the union, to be publishing posts that separate teachers into different groups. First year TFA teachers are just trying to do their jobs as best they can -- they are not the people that anti-Rhee teachers should be mad at.

There is way too much in-fighting in DCPS, and I think the WTU leadership is behind a lot of it. If we're supposed to be a union, we shouldn't be publicly putting each other down. Part of the reason so many new teachers quit is that they feel they are unsupported -- by administration and by other teachers.

Anonymous said...

I hope you're not trying to deny that your "it's not constructive" remark was a genteel way to cut off negative conversation about TFA teachers.

And No, you didn't make the comparison to Rhee, *I* did.

TFA teachers may be the nicest, most equitable people in the world, but it is Rhee herself who is trying to separate them out as superior to other DC teachers and to set up a rivalry between young and old. Would you deny that?

And what effect does that have on "the children," who according to Rhee, always come before adult interests?


Anonymous said...

I, too agree that it is Rhee herself that is making the most of this false and divisive distinction between career teachers and those in alternative certification programs and TFA. She has held them up as being smarter and more able to affect student growth and achievement than those of us who have made it our life's work, despite the two or three years they put in.
Because I am a professional and a person of faith accountable to someone even higher than my principal or chancellor, I will always reach out to and help all new teachers (TFA or otherwise) who come into my school. They are teachers too.

Anonymous said...

I post anonymous emails from time to time that DC teachers send me about their work place issues. I posted the email that was referenced because that was the experience of the teacher who wrote to me. No one is attempting to suggest that her experience is characteristic of our entire school system- it is simply her experience.

My goal here is to facilitate communication among teahers, providers, community members, parents and others. Part of the problem in my opinion is that only part of the DCPS story is being told and often slanted in the mainstream press. My goal is to get teacher stories out through my blog- which by the way is my personal blog and not a union blog. Readers are encouraged to arrive at their own conclusions.

If you have an issue that you would like featured on my blog, feel free to write me c/o

Anonymous said...

I heard that during their training, TFA teachers were advised not to engage with veteran DC teachers - because they bitch and they'll just bring you down.

Any truth to that?


Anonymous said...

If what was posted above is true, it's slanderous. And BTW, most of the TFA teachers in my school have been very clickish and stay to themselves. This could however be a factor of age and the fact that most of them have just come out of college, where I'm married, with children and sure of my career plans: I'm a lifetime educator.

Anonymous said...

I do not know of any rumors that you are referencing Anon #2

Anonymous said...

I too have found some Teach For America teachers a bit standoff-ish. So due to the fact that I have home training, I speak to them rather than wait for them to speak to me. I also help them because if they succeed, so do our students and our school. And I hope other DCPS teachers do the same.

Mr. Potter said...

I'm sure that there are some TFA teachers who might seem a bit standoffish (probably because of the age gap), but there is no truth to the rumor that TFA trains its corps members not to engage with veteran teachers. One of TFA's core values is Respect and Humility, and TFA teachers are reminded frequently that they are inexperienced and should seek help wherever possible.

I recall a leader in TFA telling us during our training that, when we went to our schools, we would likely meet teachers who were lazy and incompetent. But, she said, we would also meet teachers who have dedicated their lives to education, and have been doing amazing things for children for 10, 20, even 30 years. My experience in DCPS has certainly proved this woman right. I have occasionally met some very poor teachers, but I have also met brilliant educators of the highest quality. I've benefited greatly from working with the veteran teachers in my building, and I know that TFA as an organization celebrates those teachers who are life-long, quality educators.

Anonymous said...

Mr Potter - Thanks - I'm relieved to hear about your personal experience with TFA.

I wonder though, about your last line, when you speak for the organization as a whole: "I know that TFA as an organization celebrates those teachers who are life-long, quality educators."

I realize the Rhee is not necessarily the personification of TFA, but her strategy seems to be built around the model of a young, enthusiastic and temporary teaching corp. At the model school - Shaw middle school, featured by Jay Mathews in the Post, The principal speaks openly about his preference for hiring young teachers.

Anonymous said...

The email on this post is not slanderous. It is reported as the perception of the teacher who sent the email. She states that "it appears" which is not definitive and suggests that it is her opinion.

Anonymous said...

I was the anonymous who posted that the reference to veteran DCPS teachers as complainers that TFA teachers should avoid was slanderous. What I meant is that it was highly insulting to me, as a veteran teacher, to hear that new teachers are being instructed not to engage people like me. Sure, we bitch and moan a bit, but most of my school conversations revolve around student learning, teaching, materials and practice. When I read that I felt like I had been slapped.