When the Seattle news media repeatedly choose to dig around for yet another story about when I “was escorted by police from Roosevelt High School”, I think you should know what that means.
The postcard to home from the math teacher at Roosevelt High School said that my son’s smile lit up the classroom every day. There was no mention regarding the fact that my son was failing the class, nor a single word about the basic math skills he was missing that would continue to prevent his success in algebra. Just that his smile lit up the classroom every day. I thought the card was odd, but it helped me to start listening more carefully to my son. He was trying to tell me what was going on in his math classroom.
What I sleuthed together was that over 10 years, two high schools and two performance improvement plans this teacher who could not teach math was knowingly assigned over 100 students every year who would never learn math from him. Of those 1000 students over 10 years, many would go on to drop out because they couldn’t meet the graduation math requirements. Most of their parents just thought their kids were messing up. What a shame.
It’s not that they didn’t know this teacher couldn’t teach math. They did know. Even the head of the math department at Roosevelt repeatedly asked the principal to stand outside the classroom and listen to what was going on in there which was often movies in lieu of instruction or worse. Parents had been hounding the school counselors and the principal for years about the problem at both schools. Still, they let it go on.
Parents who watched one of their children sink in this guy’s classroom would make for darn sure that the sibling didn’t get the guy in subsequent years lest the school wanted to be hearing from that parent relentlessly.
Phone calls, emails, and meetings could not get my kid out of that classroom. What’s a parent to do? Some would single subject homeschool the kid in math using a private tutor to get out of the problem. At $50 an hour or more, that’s an expensive proposition which wasn’t really feasible for me. Even then, what about the other kids? Have I succeeded if I’ve gotten my kid out of there, but the other 99 suffer?
What I decided to do was to have a stand in at the Roosevelt High School office. I showed up, requested a teacher that could teach math and vowed to stay there repeating my needs until someone did something about my problem. It worked. The next day my son had a new teacher and later that day I was able to convince the incompetent teacher to resign. I was able to immediately impact 100 kids’ lives and since then 100 more kids’ lives each year who don’t have to suffer in his classroom because now he’s gone.
As I was having my stand in, the student filing the mail in the slots told me that she knew he was the worst teacher in the school. We nodded to each other in a way only comrades can. The principal had to leave a meeting he was in to deal with me. I told him that I wasn’t leaving until my son had a teacher that could teach math. Security called 911. The two cops and I had a good conversation, a few chuckles and one even told me that he had this problem at his kid’s school with a similarly incompetent math teacher. He didn’t think his kid’s school would call 911 over a stand in to get a competent math teacher. More comraderie. I assured them that I was packing just my lipstick, my chap stick and my brain and volunteered to empty my pockets. More chuckles. As they escorted me out, a swarm of students told me that this teacher was a legend. They didn’t mean the good kind. The next day when my son and I met with the principal and he got a new teacher, the principal told my son that he was doing this “in spite of your mother”. No apology for the damage he’d been heaping on my son and other innocent kids, just a parting shot. Roosevelt followed up with a letter saying I wasn’t welcome on the Roosevelt property for the rest of the school year. I considered it a small price to pay and I didn’t appeal it.
But none of this is funny. We trust that our students are placed in classrooms with teachers that can teach. Some will be better than others, but we don’t expect that any will be missing the essential skills necessary for the job. We never expect complete incompetence.
The next time someone tells you that it’s the union causing the hiring and retention of bad teachers, please remind them of a few things. One, the principals do the hiring and firing and two, the CBA just assures due process. The principal and his boss, the executive director of schools, are each paid between $125K and $150K plus a generous benefits package – including 6 weeks off a year – in part, I would hope, to figure out how to get a competent teacher in every classroom. They both claimed how hard it is to get rid of a bad teacher. Neither was willing to exit the teacher at the expense of all those innocent students.
I have my share of gripes about the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement – not gripes about them having one, but the actual content tends to disappoint me. Overall though, I have way more gripes about the principals’ collective bargaining agreement than the teachers’ – take a look at that sometime.
My stand in strategy was a bold move that was successful. I’m usually a letter writer / meeting goer type, but this wasn’t solvable with a letter or a testimonial or any of the other ways I tried to go about a solution. I’m not sure there are better strategies out there so long as the folks managing the teaching corps continue to shun their responsibilities to have a competent teacher in every classroom and persist in placing the blame outside of their control which continues to hurt children by the hundreds and thousands through the district. Shame on them.
When I ran for school board in 2011, I got numerous letters of support from parents thanking me for my effective stand in – parents whose children had suffered in this teacher’s classroom. The Roosevelt PTA co-president endorsed me, too. It turns out that her son, too, had been assigned to this teacher’s classroom. None of her efforts to fix the problem were successful.
So, now you know the context of “was escorted by police from Roosevelt High School”.