Strategy and Analysis to Defend and Transform Public Education

The ABC’s of Keeping Teachers (no apologies to the LA Times)

School reconstitution.  Last minute classroom reassignments.  Overbooked class-load assignments.  Constant turnover of the best teachers at your school.  Sounds familiar to you?  If so, this post from a teacher at Fremont High captures a lot of what you’re probably feeling.  And, note, that’s Fremont High in Los Angeles because unfortunately these problems are all too common.  Let us know below if this story resonates with you.

The original post can be found at:


The ABC’s of Keeping Teachers (no apologies to the LA Times)

December 23, 2012
After a wonderful hike in Haines Canyon today, I arrived home, checked my email and found a letter to the editor written by Mat Taylor in response to yet another teacher- loving tome  from the LA Times titled The ABC’s of Firing Teachers.  (sarcasm intended). They never learn.  They just never do.  It’s not about firing the few poor ones, it’s keeping the competent ones.  You’d think with us being overpaid and all with “Cadillac benefits” and “three months off a year” we’d have people beating down the doors to teach. Fact is, the district is always short of math and science teachers and forces some unlucky RIF’d teachers to sub their old positions.

“Teachers who appeal their firing are entitled to a hearing before a panel composed of an administrative law judge and two teachers chosen especially for the case at hand,” the LA Times complains. Well, duh.  That’s because only other teachers who have been in the classroom can understand the dynamics of what happens there.

“Appeals often drag on for years — during which the school district must pay the teachers’ salaries and benefits — and almost invariably favor the teachers. Because of lobbying by the teachers unions, a couple of bills to streamline the process, at least in some circumstances, never made it out of the last legislative session.”  That’s because teachers are often the target of false accusations, especially those that demand the most from their students.  It happened to me my first year teaching and the student got another teacher involved who happened to have a relative high up in LAUSD.  Fortunately for me, this student had problems with other teachers and his mom had supported me in the past.  But it almost got ugly.  Without the support of  my teacher mentor- yes Fremont assigned new teachers mentors for about a year (how lucky was I?) – who met with the principal and supported me,  I could have lost my job. I had no protections; I was still probationary.   I had literally completely forgotten the incident but was doing some cleaning and shredding of files over the holiday break and found all the paper work dated 2003.   I was going to shred everything but then remembered that Deasy had said he would have principals open and look at every file going back, well- forever.  Luckily for me, my administrator, a wonderful AP who has since left the district,  said he was just going to put a note in my file that we had talked about an incident.  I don’t think the note ever made it into my file.  The teacher who tried to make trouble for me disappeared a few months later- he was on an emergency credential and because of NCLB could not work without a real one.  And I kept teaching and things improved. By my seventh year Fremont was home- until of course, reconstitution.

What I remember most about Fremont was the striking number of wonderful teachers who just up and left- sometimes at the end of a track, sometimes smack dab in the middle of a track.   It might have been the fact that they didn’t have their own classrooms and had to travel across campus pushing a cart. It might have been being told they were going to teach one subject, and when they got back after being off track, being assigned an entirely different subject.  So they had spent their off track time prepping for, say English 9 and now they are teaching Expository Comp. Most likely they wouldn’t be able to get materials right away, were given no supplies and then given many preps.  I was very lucky at Fremont; my situation was usually very stable, but if any of the above had happened to me, I might have just up and left as well.   Then there were the classrooms with no air conditioning or heat or internet access.

One year we had a 50% turnover.  It was tragic.  I remember so many fine teachers, most of their names escaping me, and no one in administration seemed to care that they left.  I remember  a Ms. Lucas (we had a few). This one was blond and taught English and wore 50′s style skirts.  She left to travel the world- can’t blame her.  We had a fantastic health teacher who came and went in one year- he is now teaching in the burbs. Can’t blame him.  Then I remembered a young Asian teacher who had been at the  Mont for about 4 years.  She had four preps and had been forced to travel period by period the entire year before which was totally against the contract.  I found her the first day of B track in 2005 crying and angry in the quad.  She was told she was traveling yet again and this time had five preps- three different levels of ELD, and English 10 class and an AP class.  What a  morale killer.  Some of us intervened on her behalf and the situation was corrected- but it was too late.  Her husband, who had a good job told her to quit, that he would support her. So just like that, about 300 students got a sub and Fremont lost yet another competent teacher.  It happened over and over and over-and over.

Then, because of Small Learning Communities (SLC’s), Fremont actually began to stabilize.  Schedules became more predictable and teachers traveled less often. Kids became more invested in the school. AP classes increased.  Sounds awesome right?  Apparently the district can’t stand success because Fremont was reconstituted  at the end of 2010 at the height of its stability and quality.  Get the picture?  Then, two new high schools opened in succession, triggering another  mini-reconstitution  at Fremont, that from all reports was even nastier than the last one  Veteran teachers were displaced, regardless of talent or experience. Many had deep talent in areas such as drama but to the young guns, that didn’t matter.  But hey, let’s look on the bright side, at least everyone would have a classroom, right? Nah, the district decided to “renovate” Fremont, forcing many teachers into bungalows.  No conspiracies here of course. Notice that no matter what, there is never any stability for teachers or students at Fremont.

I’ll never convince those who think teachers are in it for the money or the time off that working conditions matter.  Heck, 50% of Fremont’s staff walked away from 4 months off a year, a steady paycheck, fully paid health benefits and a pension. Why? Because working conditions matter.  Stability matters. School management matters. Teachers matter.  Veteran teachers matter.  Not to the LA Times of course.  But that’s to be expected.

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This entry was posted on December 27, 2012 by in Uncategorized.
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