Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"You are not the Right Fit"

"You are not the right fit for this school."

I have endured this parry at least three times as an educator.
Once, when I applied to a charter school in the inner LA area – they never bothered to explain why in the terse email that they sent me, why I did not fit in their little coterie.

 The next time, it was as a substitute teacher in Hermosa Beach. I cannot confirm my suspicion regarding why the school district let me go, but the last day that I worked there, the local paper had published my personal essay on my work in the LA County Juvenile Hall.
I had a good track record at Hermosa Beach. Over the past year, admittedly I did not take many of the assignments which they offered to me, in part because I was taking assignments in Centinela Valley, where I was guaranteed work every day and for better pay.
The art teacher really liked me, and she requested me every chance that she could, even when I had to turn her down from time to time, she would still request me. She even wrote me a letter of recommendation, informing me at that point that her students openly expressed their joy when she told them that I was going to cover their class.
I loved working in Hermosa Beach. The students were some of the most respectful students I have ever had the privilege of serving. The secretarial staff were very polite as well as professional, proving that good secretaries are not hard to find, and they do not have to lord over you their superior skills at keeping the school together in one piece.

The nurse on call at the school was also very supportive. Once, when I brought a student to the office for kicking another student, the younger child got visibly upset, pleading and panicking that he did not want to be expelled. I explained to him calmly that I had no intention of him getting expelled. “How else are you going to learn?” I comforted him. “But you will get a consequence. But don’t worry – you won’t get expelled.” Still, he was very distraught about the whole  matter, enough that he asked his tech teacher for help. After the young man went to the principal’s office, the nurse told me that she was very impressed with how I counseled the young student. I never forget that moment, since at the time I had never felt so insecure and unstable about the choices and decisions that I was making as a teacher.
The same teacher who also worked with the distraught boy later complimented me for the leadership that I had undertaken with an unruly group of fifth graders – the full time teacher was caught ill all of a sudden. She had been struggling with the student, in part no doubt from the pressure of being evaluated at the end of the year whether she would have a job  or not with the district next year. I am convinced that part of the reason why she was having troubles was that she did not want to make waves with the parents or the administration at the school – in short, she was working to earn a job as well do a job, a terrible mixture for a teacher, who deserves absolute support and respect without worrying about upsetting the powers that be.

Hermosa Valley School went through four principals in two years, a more common phenomenon in local districts considering the growing fiscal and political problems pressing against school staff and budgets.
Still, after almost five years of being on call to the district, I was summarily, or rather unsummarily, dismissed. I had called into the subfinder system, only to find that I could not get through for some reason. I called the office manager for an explanation, following came a short phone call from the manager, telling me that I had received a number of unsatisfactory reports, and that I should look for a position in another school district.

I could not believe what I was hearing. Two teachers had written me letters of recommendation. I was often requested by one teacher. Teachers and staff praised the work that I had done at the school. Students also looked forward to my coming. And I was unsatisfactory?

I requested to speak with the new principal, a recent installation from Beverly Hills, one whose fastidious up-tight nature plainly on display distanced many staff. She was simply not a nice lady, but she was not overtly mean, either.
I finally got in touch with the interim principal a week later, where she denied that she was not involved in the “house-cleaning” for substitutes.

She claimed that I was written up because I was using the computer during class time. I was appalled to hear such a thing, as I never used the computer unless I wanted to supplement a lesson. She claimed that this complaint was lodged against me during my last day – during a class when I was teaching students about the American Revolution. After exhausting all the questions that I had shared with the class --- provide for me by the teacher – I then asked the class if they were aware that the American Revolution turned in a world-wide conflict, one which involved the Dutch, and their strong financial backing, and Spain. I went to the Internet to confirm the widespread conflagration of the American Revolution. Hermosa Valley Students are quite astute in core subjects, more so than more inner city counterparts.
I was deeply saddened, therefore, that the “leadership” at the school deemed me unsatisfactory. After sharing with them the standing which I  had with parents and teachers and students, the principal became more evasive.”

Well, it’s not just one complaint, but there were other times, too – when, she did not tell me. She then shared with me that the district did not deem me to be a poor teacher, but that I was not the “right fit.”

I have yet to understand what this trite phrase means, beyond the notion that I was not politically compatible with school officials or parents. It is both shameful and sad that so many teachers who are capable, credible, and dedicated eventually get pushed out because a principal or a set of parents do not “like” the teacher. I am against tenure for life, but teachers really do need protection.
The assistant principal at another local high school made a similar indict against me – yet she and the district staff did not have the courage or the character to inform that I was not the “right fit” until I had confronted her placidly in her office. The shameful secrecy is a great sorrow to me, and I am sure that these subtle subterfuges have brought down many qualified teachers. What a tragedy for public education.

“Not the right fit” for me has come to mean “We do not like you, but because personal preferences have no place in deeming or demeaning the quality and efficacy of a teacher, we drummed up some trumped up reasons to remove you, and we are convinced that you won’t do anything about it because there are more of us than of you, and not only that you are a mere at-will employee whom we do not owe an explanation.”
Our students deserve better than pencil-pushing micromanaging. Parents should expect more from their teachers and their principals, too.

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