An EAA teacher talks about teachers persevering for Detroit students despite a culture of fear & control

NOTE: My reporting on the Education Achievement Authority involves multiple posts. You can read all of my coverage of the EAA by clicking HERE.

In the course of my reporting on Governor Rick Snyder’s Education Achievement Authority (you can read all of the posts HERE), one thing has become abundantly clear: the EAA administration has intentionally created a culture of fear and control over teachers that discourages them from speaking out or taking collective action in any way. Beyond just preventing them from unionizing — none of the EAA teachers are represented by a union or enjoy collective bargaining rights for wages, benefits, and working conditions — it has served to prevent them from reporting some of the more egregious things happening in the EAA schools.

The interview below was done over the weekend with a teacher who has been teaching for nearly a decade. They have experience prior to their employment by the EAA in struggling schools in urban areas. As you read through their account, you learn of a shocking level of control being exerted over the EAA educators to prevent them from becoming close to one another and from working together. You learn that they actually pit teachers against each other, rewarding informants who report what are viewed as transgressions; things like saying unflattering things about administrators or having the audacity to teach kids using anything resembling a traditional teaching model. Teachers who inform on their coworkers are given teaching resources that are denied other teachers such as adequate functioning computers or staff support. Some are even promoted and given raises.

What you also learn, however, is how absolutely dedicated some of these teachers are. Despite a work environment that would lead most of us to walk out the door shouting expletives, these teachers stay because of the attachments they have formed with their students and their families. “There’s only one reason why I’m still there,” this teacher tells me at the end of the interview. “I had the best class that I’ve ever had in the many years that I’ve been teaching last year. It was the best class that I’ve ever had. The connections that I made with those students and their parents were incredible…One student in particular, last May she was not going to return for the summer months because her family was going out of town and she looked at me and said, ‘Are you coming back next year?’ And kind of looked at her, because I had no plans to return. I was done…She said, ‘Please come back because every teacher that I have liked, they’ve never returned the next year.’”

This is the sort of dedication we’ve come to expect from our teachers even as we treat them with disdain, characterizing them as greedy, self-serving parasites for daring to want good wages, a tolerable work environment, health insurace, and a sensible retirement benefit. The oppressive culture of fear that EAA administrators have created is the reason that we’ve heard so little about the outrageous things that are going on there and why the teachers that I have spoken with — even those who no longer work there — feel the need to be anonymous.

This is the school district Governor Snyder has created to turn around our worst schools and the school district he wants to spread statewide. Despite these shocking revelations, open enrollment is proceeding at nine of the EAA schools this week.

Please contact your state Senators and Representatives and let them know that this pilot project has failed and absolutely should NOT be expanded statewide. Rather, it should be shut down and either reconfigured with the tools and resources needed to fix the problem and with administrators who don’t rule by fear and coercion or it should be scrapped completely.

You can find contact information for your Senator HERE and for your Representative HERE.


Tell me why you’re reaching out to me, what’s got you bothered?

I work with one of the other people that you’ve interviewed. Looking at that and all of the other people that you talked to that had similar experiences that I’ve had, I decided it was time. I’ve been wanting to share my story for a long time.

It’s got to be frustrating to being going through all of this stuff and not really being able to speak out about it. I’m getting sense from the teachers who I’ve talked to that there’s a real culture of fear that the EAA administration is creating to keep everybody cowed and not saying anything.

Absolutely. I’m in a little bit different situation than a lot of the other teachers because I’ve been teaching for a long time. So I have a little bit more knowledge than the Teach for America (TFA) teachers or the other first-year teachers that they’ve hired. I’ve also grown up in Michigan and in metro Detroit and it seems like a lot of people who have come to accept these jobs through the EAA are people who come from out of state. But, you’re right. The people that run the EAA like [Chancellor John] Covington and [Chief Officer, Accountability, Equity, and Innovation Mary] Esselman — people some people call “The Downtowns” — they definitely do instill fear.

When I have complained or spoken out, I’ve heard things like, “I can file a lawsuit for slander.”

They’ve told you that?

Yes. They have told several people at the school that.

This is coming from Covington and Esselman?

It’s coming through the administration at my school from Covington and Esselman.

How would you contrast this with your other teaching experiences?

It’s horrendous. Not just for the teachers, but for the students and the parents.

Have you read Dr. Covington’s response to the first piece I posted?

Yes, I did.

And what are your thoughts about that?

I have a number of problems with his response. First, he talked about the assaults by staff members against students. I myself have never witnessed an administrator or other staff member abusing a student but I do know people who have and they’ve okayed me to share this with you. One of the things that I read on your blog was the person who talked about rulers being used on hands. I have heard this from several people. At Bethune elementary school the administrators refer to it as “hand sanitizing”. When the student came to their office for discipline, they would slap the student’s knuckles and hands with a ruler and then make them apply hand sanitizer so that it would burn. I have heard that from teachers that work at Bethune and I have heard that from support staff that go to Bethune to work with students, as well.

Another school, Nolan, which is a K-8 school is sort of like the EAA’s baby because the principal at Nolan came with Covington and Esselman from Kansas City. That’s Angela Underwood. They sort of use her school for whenever Governor Snyder comes for a visit or when anyone from out of state comes to see the model, they use Nolan for the site visit. I have been told by several teachers that work at Nolan that the bathrooms are not in the classrooms at that site like they are at some of the other elementary schools. So, when visitors are coming, the students are not allowed to use the restrooms because they don’t want them in the hallways. They had a major problem at the end of last year and the beginning of this year where students were just going to the bathroom in their pants because they were making them wait 5-6 hours to use the restroom. Again, I’ve heard that from several teachers at that site.

That’s an elementary school where there are a lot of younger kids, right?

Yes.

At my school I’ve heard that our principal has used a belt on a student with parent permission but I’ve never seen that. I’ve heard a couple of teachers say that they’ve heard it going on in the classroom next to theirs but I myself have never seen it.

Did you say “with parent permission”?

Yes, the teacher that I spoke with said she thought the child’s parent had given the principal permission to basically “give him a whuppin’” if he got out of line. I know in some states that’s allowed but I don’t think it’s okay in Michigan.

I don’t think it’s okay period! If you want to beat up your kid, do it yourself. Don’t have the teachers and principals do it for you.

I agree. I agree.

In terms of violence against staff by students that I have witnessed and the reports that Covington had in his response — you know how he went to each different school and I could see the responses — it’s pretty much common knowledge among the entire staff where I’m at. I’ve watched a teacher get her hair pulled out. I was there when that took place. The choking incident that was in one your first interviews, that was witnessed by something like ten people. That absolutely happened. We’ve had police there so a report would have had to be made.

One of the other teachers that I spoke with mentioned having the police at their school so, you’re right, there’s actual evidence that these things are happening.

I have personally been closed-fist punched in the back of the head by a student twice in the middle of breaking up a fight because we only had one security guard available last year in our school which houses K through 8th grade. It was just absolute chaos. An upper elementary school fight broke out in the cafeteria and I happened to be the only teacher in there because we’re so short on staff. I was hit several times. The student did get a 45-day out of school suspension for it so there’s documentation that I have been assaulted. I know it’s in the computer system so Covington could easily have seen it if had checked.

Right, if he had actually gone looking for it instead of asking principals if it was going on in their schools.

Yeah, absolutely.

With regard to class size, I had 41 students in my class with no paraprofessional and not enough computers to suffice for their digital curriculum. I had 29 computers for the 41 kids that I had last year.

That’s the basis for the entire curriculum, right? The use of computers?

Right.

That’s the thing that blows my mind the most about this. They’ve created this entire program based around the use of computers and then don’t have enough computers for the kids. It just blows my mind.

Yeah, it’s absurd. They’ll try to get around it by saying, “Oh, you can have the kids work in pairs” or “You can have them do something else”, but, meanwhile, any time I’ve had an administrator come into my classroom when I’ve had students working in pairs they say it’s not “individualized instruction” which is what model is based on.

That’s the whole concept, right?!

Absolutely. So, what’s my only other option because my school doesn’t have any manipulatives or supplies for students to have hands-on experience? I’m giving them worksheets or books, anything I can use to fill the time so that we’re not having problems. Because I don’t have the time to meet with every student individually who is not on a computer. And then I’m threatened that I’ll be written up for it. It’s crazy.

There’s a teacher that is in my hall that has 40-plus students in two of her classes and they still don’t have enough computers. At last check they had maybe 20 functioning computers.

Unreal.

Two of the middle school teachers at my school only have five computers in their class.

How big are their classes? Are we still talking 20, 30, 40 kids?

Oh yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. They have high numbers of students.

I read in Covington’s report that we had enough computers last year but they’re not working now so they’re being serviced, but that was never the case. We never had a teacher with a full set of computers in their classroom last year. Never.

The fact that they have to buy 3,000 new ones tells you that they don’t have enough computers.

Absolutely. It’s disastrous. I don’t know if anyone has shared this with you but, at our location, the internet connection is still run by Detroit Public Schools (DPS) so occasionally our internet would go down for a day or two at a time. I was told by an IT person that it was just DPS doing it to mess with us. They were just so irritated that they would just cut it. I’ve heard that from our IT person and a couple of teachers and staff members that I have connections with who are IT types said the same thing.

So there’s animosity between the DPS people and the EAA people then?

Oh, absolutely. If I ever encounter somebody out of school, at a function or through friends, who is a Detroit teacher, I never say I’m from the EAA. I never do. It’s just become embarrassing.

Why do they have such a negative opinion of you? What don’t they like about EAA teachers?

Well, when they formed the EAA, they let most of the staff at those schools go without letting them re-apply for their jobs. Even the ones who had shown progress in their classroom, they pretty much said, “You have to go.” I only know a small handful of people, a couple of them at the high schools and maybe one or two in elementary schools, who were actually offered a chance to come back and work. They just kind of came in, took their jobs, and said, “See ya. You’re not doing the job you’re supposed to be doing.” Except that just wasn’t the case for a lot of DPS teachers. There were a lot of great DPS teachers who were let go.

So the animosity stems from the fact that the EAA fired their coworkers and their friends?

Yes, exactly. And they aren’t particularly thrilled that so many of these new teachers came in from out of state like they were going to save the day. A lot of the DPS teachers have lived here their whole lives and have close ties to the community. There were a lot of disparaging remarks made about the city and the schools and I think they just offended a lot of people.

With regard to the training that we received, we got together at the beginning of the school year in 2012, in August. The “student centered learning” model that they wanted everyone to teach, they had no idea what it was. They would throw us into brainstorming sessions and ask, “What does ‘student centered learning’ mean to you?” and then they just sort of ran with the ideas from teachers they thought came up with the best ideas for servicing students on an individualized basis. It was just ridiculous.

And this was one month before school started?

It was one month before school started. I didn’t come away with anything from those trainings. And, like I said, I have teaching experience so just imagine the teachers who didn’t.

In a piece I wrote last week, I showed how, if you go to the website of Agilix, the company that makes the BUZZ computer platform that’s used by the EAA, they say that BUZZ was created specifically for the EAA in conjunction with Esselman and Covington. So, this was its first deployment. They had never tested it anywhere. You guys are basically the beta testers for this new software platform.

I have heard that. I have also heard, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the educational programs Imagine Learning or ALEKS or ST Math? The EAA administration calls these researched-based programs and they’ve told us we have to use them. I have been told that a person involved with creating the EAA is involved with the companies that make these computer programs.

Another thing that Covington mentioned in his response was the Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for special education students. Last year, we had to wait a significant period of time before we received the IEPs. We didn’t get them until maybe 3 or 4 months after school started. It took that long before we got legitimate IEPs for students that needed special services in our school. Last year the special education teachers’ caseloads were WAY over the legal limit. The special education teachers would complain and say stuff and they weren’t getting any responses.

Students in the middle school where I am this year are NOT being serviced. Not at all. There are a couple of kids that we’re pretty sure have not seen one resource teacher or one teacher in a co-teach model at all to accommodate their needs. And I have been told that by one of the paraprofessionals that works in that area.

Has the situation with access to IEPs improved this year?

In a few isolated cases, yes but, in general, no. I would say not. Absolutely not.

So they’re still having issues with that.

Yes. Yes they are.

Another thing that really bothered me was that a lot of the students at my school have IEPs that say they get small group testing accommodations. To me, with my experience, a small group is where you have maybe three to five kids in the room at a time. Our administrators have tried to tell us that there is nothing wrong with having 17, 20 kids in a small group setting.

Well, you know, compared to 40…!

Yeah. And that’s exactly what his words were. Those were his exact words.

Unbelievable.

I know. My mouth was just dropped open. That’s something that I’ve been pretty vocal about and I’ve been pretty much shot down or intimidated to close my mouth. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, we’ve got it handled…”

MEAP testing was disgraceful this year. With most schools there’s a secured testing room where they house all of the MEAP materials. I know from previous experience in schools I’ve taught at that those materials cannot be accessed by the entire staff, they must be in a locked room. At my school, that room was wide open for two weeks before the test was administered. Everyone was in and out of there.

Half the students that weren’t supposed to take the MEAP and were supposed to take the MI-ACCESS test were taking the MEAP anyway even though we were yelling that they weren’t supposed to be taking the MEAP and they were arguing back with us from the administrative level that we didn’t know what we were talking about.

So do you think there were teachers in there having a look at the MEAP ahead of time so that they could help their kids out? What’s your thought on that?

I think that definitely the administrators and possibly some teachers or the instructional coaches were checking things out. I mean who wouldn’t?

Especially when the stakes are so high to get good results…

Yeah. I wouldn’t have put it past someone to go in there. Me, since I’ve been a teacher and have had it ingrained that if you get caught doing that, you lose your certification, I’ve had that in the back of my mind. But you look at teachers who haven’t had that traditional school training like I have, that might not be drilled into their heads or gone over with them. We never had a MEAP meeting beforehand to address that issue.

It’s so much more of a high stakes thing now with people’s bonuses and the ability to be promoted dependent on test scores. It’s a different environment where it could encourage people to cheat. Even if just a couple of them do it, it ends up being a big giant scandal. That’s why you secure that stuff, just to avoid the whole question.

I agree. I agree. Like I said, in the previous schools where I worked, there was just one person in control of that material. They even took the keys away from the custodial staff.

As far as BUZZ goes, the software from Agilix, it does not work. There were so many times when I had uploaded curriculum onto the BUZZ site, then the kids would go to access it and it had completely disappeared which is upsetting because maybe that weekend before I had spent three hours putting it in because it kept shutting down on me at home.

One of the things that a lot of us did was that we would create our own teacher’s site on free websites so that we could use it as a back-up in the event that BUZZ wasn’t working. It would be a place where the students could go. We were told that we’d be written up if continued to use our own classroom website.

So you guys were getting hammered for that even though you couldn’t use BUZZ? That’s just awesome.

Nope, nope. It was, “We don’t want you guys using your own websites. If it’s not BUZZ, we don’t want to see you on it.”

The another thing that’s happened with BUZZ is a bit more recent at my school. And a few other teachers that I’ve talked to at other schools have experienced the same thing. The students are put on individualized learning plans and they’re told to work at their own pace. So, for instance, if I was teaching sixth grade but my student was having trouble mastering second grade material, I would give that student material at the second grade level until they passed and keep moving up, until I could get them on grade level material. A lot of the students in the BUZZ program, which is where we have to house our grade book, one student might have two grades, but if it’s a special needs student who is still working on their alphabet, they wouldn’t have passed it yet. But I’m supposed to let them go at their own pace and not rush them whereas another student might making gains faster so you’ll be seeing more grades.

So, our admin team went into all of our grade books and we all received emails that we needed to put more grades in for every student. When people that I worked with responded, they were told, “Just figure it out and put something in so it looks full.”

Explain to me why there might not be enough grades in there for some students to make the administration happy.

We were never given clear guidelines as to what had to be in the grade book because the students in a SCL environment are encouraged to choose their own assignments and their own learning path. So, if I were teaching a math concept and one student wanted to write about it, I would have evidence. Or if they wanted to make up their own problems, I could file that. But maybe another student wanted to have a discussion with me about it and I would show that they were learning that way. We were always told that was acceptable and I would just make a note in their BUZZ that they had mastered that concept that way. We use a “1-2-3-4” system. We’re not allowed to use letter grades. 3s and 4s are considered mastering a concept and they’re passing it and 1s and 2s are not considered okay. It means that the student is working toward it but they haven’t mastered it yet. So, I may put in a 3 or a 4 for a student but not have anything on paper other than a note that I had met with the student.

Well, all of a sudden, that wasn’t okay last month even though at the beginning of the year, it was fine. I don’t know if someone came down on the EAA for not having enough proven work or what. And, for some students that weren’t doing well, I’m not going to lie about their grades. If they’re not mastering something, I’m going to give them a 1 or a 2. A 1 is basically “they don’t really know it” and a 2 is like “they’re trying but they still haven’t grasped the concept yet.” So, I had a number of students with 1s or 2s and all of sudden it was, “You can’t give 1s anymore.” I argued this with them. I said, “Why wouldn’t I give a 1 if a student hasn’t shown me anything on it?” and they said, “Well, we don’t want 1s in the grade book. You need to go back and change that.”

You said that they wanted you to put more grades in than you were and you mentioned special needs kids. Why would they have less grades in your grade book? Is it because they aren’t progressing as fast?

Yes, because they aren’t progressing so they aren’t completing as many assignments. Especially if you have an autistic student, for example, that maybe doesn’t do well with the computer or written communications, they’re lacking those skills. That student may still be working on his or her alphabet and maybe they’ve only mastered the first couple of letters. So they would be working at a much slower pace and they’re just not going to have as much material complete. And that’s backed up by their IEP. Obviously it’s going to take certain students a lot longer. But that’s not okay for the EAA. They really don’t care if it’s in the IEP, they want grades in so that it looks like the students are really moving quickly and making gains.

So their mandate is asking teachers to push these kids in a way that’s not spelled out or even allowed, in some cases, by their IEPs.

Yes. And it seems to change monthly. We get different information from different people all the time. So I’m not sure that they know.

Are you familiar with the performance series testing that the EAA gives?

Only a bit. Explain what that is.

Performance series tests are what the EAA uses to show that the students are making gains and showing growth. Since I began last year, it has been drilled into us that they consider these tests more important than the MEAP. They are given four times a year in reading, language arts, science, and math and they show if the students are mastering the content and if we’re meeting them at their level vs. their grade level, the traditional level. So, we’re supposed to treat these like a secure testing environment. You have to fill out testing verification forms and proctor forms declaring that you made sure the students were on the computer, not talking, just like you would do for the MEAP. What we have recently been told is that if a student from the last test actually went down more than 100 points, they want us to retest those students the next week. My argument is that, if they are using this test to show growth, and I know that this what Covington refers to when he’s on the news or writing about our our schools, why would I go back and retest a kid if that’s how that kid did?

I didn’t get any answers to that and they still said, “We want you to retest these students and we would like you to go back on your proctor forms and write in that the student on the original test date had ‘bad day’ so we can officially retest them.”

So they basically wanted you to keep testing these kids until they got the answer they wanted?

Pretty much. Until it showed that the student had actually learned something.

I assume they’re not retesting the kids that did unusually well?

No, no! If they show growth or moved up, they’re good to go until the next test which will be in April. But, if they went down, they need to be retested and you need to document that they had a bad day the first time, which I’m refusing to do. My argument is that last year I was able to get away with more traditional teaching methods vs. completely student centered learning methods and all but one of my students showed growth. This year I focused on using their BUZZ program and their SCL and now I’ve got students that are dropping.

So when you went from a more traditional teaching model to their new one, things got worse for you in terms of student outcomes?

Yes, they did. And quite a few teachers in the EAA will tell you the same thing.

And that’s something that the TFA teachers and some of the other first-year teachers are never going to know because they’re not trained in these models.

Right.

Another thing that’s been talked a lot about is the “Count Day” that we had back in October. In my previous experience, Count Day is pretty official. When you document a student being there, they have to physically be in your classroom because Count Day determines how many funds the schools is going to get because it’s done per student. There were students that weren’t there that day and we were being told by our administrative team that we were to write them on the paper anyway.

So they were fudging the Count Day numbers?

Yeah. It was ridiculous. I know that some of the schools were driving to the students’ houses to pick up students that didn’t show up that morning. If was a student that had rotating classes with different teachers for different things, they may have brought a student in that was sick, for example, and shown her to one teacher and said, “Okay, you can show her on your count sheet as ‘present’ for reading. And then, if they took the student back home because she was sick, they would tell her other teachers, “The student was here earlier so you can write her down” which is NOT what you’re supposed to do.

No it’s not! I wonder how much of this goes on non-EAA schools?

Well, like I said, in schools that I’ve been in before, absolutely not. Absolutely not. And I’ve always taught in Title I schools, urban environment schools. So it’s not just because we’re in Detroit that that’s okay to get away with at the EAA.

Where is this coming down from? Do you think this is coming down from the level of Covington and Esselman?

I have never heard of anything regarding Count Day from Covington or Esselman. They sent somebody named Phillip Caldwell [EB note: Caldwell is the Director of Assessment and Accountability at the EAA] who is on the EAA, one of the “Downtowns” as we refer to them. He’s the one who comes down and gives all of these directives.

So it is coming from upper management, one way or the other.

Yes. Yes. Definitely. Definitely.

Another thing I wanted to mention was in regards to student supplies. We don’t really get any because it’s all supposed to be a digital curriculum so they don’t really see the need for paper and pencils.

Really?

Yeah. I have to buy everything. I’ve had to buy…tape. I mean we don’t even get tape half the time. I have to buy my own printer ink to print with. None of that is available.

REALLY?!

Mmm hmm. We have been told by our the administration team at our school that, if you want us to start buying you stuff and you want — Dr. Esselman’s name was dropped — if you want Dr. Esselman to come in and give you the things that you need, you need to make sure that the SCL model looks good when she visits our site.

Wow.

I think this is backed up well because Nolan elementary is like her premier school, her baby school, they get the stuff they need. So, it has to be true because those teachers are getting what they need to function on a daily basis and we’re not because we haven’t fully implemented the SCL model to meet her demands.

Ah. Okay, gotchya. So you don’t get supplies until you start doing it right, is basically the threat.

Yeah. And what is considered to be “doing it right” changes on a monthly basis. You will be told by Esselman if she comes into your room that she doesn’t like something but the day before your principal came in and he or she said, “I like that.” So there’s definitely a lot of confusion about what’s okay and what’s not. It happens to us all of the time.

There was a teacher that I know who was told by her principal that, if Esselman comes into your classroom and she doesn’t like something, I’m writing you up for it. Those were their exact words. Her response was, “Well, when you came in and did my observation yesterday, you said that that was a great way to demonstrate that students are showing progress and learning.” And they said, “That’s not my problem.”

Wow.

Another thing that I wanted talk about is what we, and when I say “we” I mean a group of us EAA teachers, what we call “the promotion of the tattletales.” They have made it a point in EAA schools across Detroit that they will make teachers coaches or instructors – give them that pay bump and a separate title – if they are willing to rat out other teachers for not implementing the SCL model to the best of their ability or if they are caught complaining about something the administrators have done.

So that’s part of this culture of fear that they’re developing. And now they’re pitting you guys against each other. That’s brilliant.

Oh, they are absolutely doing that. And it’s not just at my school but at many of the other schools, as well. It’s almost become a way of survival that, if you have friends at school, you don’t act like it. Because the minute they see a team, like a hallway team getting along, or if they see teachers from other grade levels working together, they sever that relationship. Whether they call you in and tell you that that person is talking about you in a negative way or they move your position completely. I have seen them take one teacher being successful in a hallway, being successful at what he or she needed to do and then, all of sudden, they are put into another grade level.

Just to get them away from somebody who was a friend?

I would definitely say that, in my experience, that a big fear among the EAA leaders is the staff rising up because I think that they are starting to see it at a lot of the schools. So, when people are getting together and talking, it’s a threat.

One thing that I have experienced is that we have one teacher in particular that I know who was given a promotion at our school and this particular teacher was actually caught not doing his or her job on several occasions. This teacher was also caught signing in for days that he or she was not present at school by administration and nothing was done about it.

Was this one of the people that was working with them?

Yes. He or she was willing to… if he or she overheard a conversation between two teachers about something that an administrator did that they didn’t like, this person was running right in there to let the administrator know.

This is like what happens when an army is occupying a city or something and they reward informants for informing on their friends and neighbors…

It’s crazy. When I speak to friends of mine that are educators or my family, they think that I’m making this stuff up. I mean, I have never, ever worked somewhere with this much craziness in my entire life.

It was tough for me to believe it at first, too, but now that there are so many of you speaking out about it, it’s clear that this not just being made up. This is really happening. I’ve mentioned in some of my writing already about this culture of fear that they’ve developed and what you’re describing really brings that home. That’s the kind of thing that creates a situation where you don’t hear about this stuff and we’re cracking that open a little bit with these interviews and I think that’s a good thing.

Right. I agree.

We’ve talked a bit already about the threat of legal action and, like I said, some of the teachers who have spoken out or tried to contact people “downtown” for help, they have been pulled in by administrators at the school and told that “this is slander” and “this is discrimination” and “we can seek legal action against you for doing this”…

You’re talking about complaining to their superiors about what is happening?

To HR. If you’re caught going to HR, that’s slander, which is obviously not the case at all.

No. Of course.

Our argument has been, “Well, isn’t that what an HR department is for?” and we just haven’t had any response.

One teacher that I know from another school, she was a TFA teacher, she was wonderful. She would have made an excellent teacher. She has left and you know when a TFA teacher leaves without completing their two years, they’re done teaching unless they go back to school for four years. She was just fabulous. She did an excellent job making connections with these students and she worked her butt off to learn curriculum development from teachers that had been around a little longer. But, administration saw a happy teacher with a “willing to do anything but won’t do something that isn’t right” attitude and they moved her around to several different positions around her school. She’d get comfortable with a class and they’d be like, “We need to break up that class and we’re going to move you somewhere else.” She would get no instructional support. We’re supposed to have instructional coaches at our school to assist, especially the TFA teachers and the new teachers that they hire, to help them with things like behavior management. They never went in to assist her. She couldn’t get supplies and her class size … I mean she taught a lower ell class and those numbers should be lower because dealing with K, 1, and 2 is difficult enough but when you’ve got 35 of them in your class, that’s really tough. So she recently left and the administrative team at her school tried to intimidate her and tell her that they would not pay her if she was taking off and leaving that day.

She ended up calling their bluff, I’m not sure what she did, but she was told later by the principal, “Never mind, we can’t hold your paycheck.” But, now she’s just sitting at home trying to figure out what to do. She loved being a teacher for the few months that she was there but now it’s just not an option unless she goes back to school. It’s sick.

The administrators at some of the EAA schools like to pick a group of people to become their eyes and ears, like I said they’ll give promotions to someone who will sort of “tattletale” on others…

Informants.

Yeah! Informants. I have overheard an administrator say, “Tell us who is a troublemaker. Tell us who is not doing this or that… and we’ll do this for you.” You know, they like to make promises. “We’ll get you more computers. We’ll try to hire another teacher for the classes so that you don’t have 50 kids but we need this out of you. We need you to let us know who isn’t conferencing with their students, who’s not using BUZZ in your hallway. Who’s coming in a minute late to your meetings…” Like a hallway meeting.

It’s a disgusting culture that they have set up.

It is. It is very disgusting.

It’s sick.

There is one other things that I wanted to talk to you about. One involves the Title I funds. At the beginning of this year, I was asked to make up sign-in sheets from the year before that would support reasons why they would use Title I funds for something [Title I funds are used for “improving the academic achievement of the disadvantaged”]. Title I funds are given to schools in a low socio-economic situation. So many of your kids have to receive reduced-fare lunches, for example. I know that schools will get funds for particular things. But the guidelines for what you can use Title I funds for are very specific. So, there had been something that had taken place the first year I was there and apparently it was supported by Title I funds. When you use that Title I money you have to have people signing it and have specific agendas and notes taken, but the administrator who had put on this event didn’t know that. The new administration team that came in, they wanted to cover the butts of the EAA so they were asking me to do that. They said, “Can’t you come up with something to support it?” I walked out of the meeting and said, “Absolutely not.”

So they basically wanted you to forge documents?

That’s exactly what they asked me to do. They would not say the words “forging documents” but what else were they going for?

I also know that at one of the school sites they are hiring people to start managing their Title I funds. And, at one school, they have hired this outside group to make sure that the money is being used appropriately and that the documentation is being done and this person who is handling those Title I funds has actually brought in his own business. He does his own tutoring and behavior management type things for schools which I believe Title I funds can be used for. But he’s managing the money so he’s literally paying himself through this company. And he actually told someone that I know, “I’m pretty sure that this isn’t ethical.”

He told them that what he’s doing isn’t ethical?

He told one of the teachers that. She kind of asked him, she said, “You know, is that okay for you to be organizing and running or distributing those funds and be distributing it to yourself?” And he said, “Yeah, I know. It’s pretty much not ethical, right?”

Wow.

So, I have to ask, why are you still there?

There’s only one reason why I’m still there. I had the best class that I’ve ever had in the many years that I’ve been teaching last year. It was the best class that I’ve ever had. The connections that I made with those students and their parents were incredible. And I was able to have a lot of those students back again this year because they split the grade levels. You know, it’s not traditional so they split it by age bands so you see a lot of the kids for two years at a time. One student in particular, last May she was not going to return for the summer months because her family was going out of town and she looked at me and said, “Are you coming back next year?”

And kind of looked at her, because I had no plans to return. I was done. And last year was hard, but wasn’t as crazy and threatening and chaotic as this year has been.

She said, “Please come back because every teacher that I have liked, they’ve never returned the next year.”

It broke my heart. I talked to my spouse about it and my family who thought I was leaving and said, “I have to go back and see how year two goes.”

I have mixed feelings about it. It sickens me to my stomach that I’m stuck here in this position every day. But, at the same time, I get to see all of these students every day and having them for a second year and seeing the growth emotionally and socially since I first met them in 2012 has been phenomenal. Just to have that ability, you know?

Other teachers that I’ve spoken to have expressed the same sort of feelings, about how hard it is to leave these kids who are so challenged…

It is. And a lot of my kids are in foster care so I’m the most stable adult that they’ve known since September of 2012 for a lot of them. Like, I said, I love the community. The area in which I work, I have no complaints about those parents or students. Can they be violent? Can they be difficult to work with? Absolutely. But, I have been supported 100% by the parents that I have gotten to know.

But, I know that, for my own well-being, I have to get out of here at the end of this year. I just can’t take it anymore. It just breaks you down.

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  • judyms9

    Implementing a snitch culture is the work of a weak and inefficient administration. Administrators are supposed to know what’s happening in their schools without establishing spy systems. But “Divide and Conquer” is the method of choice by those who are control freaks who can’t survive without fixed and artificial outcomes.
    I feel bad for the students who will lose this dedicated teacher at the end of the year, but the teacher is right to resist the toxic programming going on at the EAA schools.

  • TeacherPatti

    This is interesting for so many reasons. First, Detroit is a “no snitch” culture if ever there was one. Interesting that the management is using this tactic at its schools. Next, didn’t I say something the other day about this whole thing sounding like how spousal abusers control their victims?

    The thing with IT concerns me. When I taught in DPS, I would dutifully put in a ticket the first week of school. I would ask for my computers to be hooked up to the internet and for general technology needs of my students (who were visually impaired and/or learning disabled and needed tech to be in their classes). One year, they showed up right before Christmas break, another I think was in January and another time they never showed up. (To be fair, I did get them in in October once). Whenever they would show up, inevitably they could not fix the problem on the spot and another ticket would have to be opened. Keep in mind that sometimes one’s laptop would just decide to no longer connect to the internet and one would have to open a ticket and wait. Also, note that my school was wired for wifi one summer but no one ever was given the wifi password so we just kept plugging in. (The guys would come out and check that my blue wifi light was on though…they would show up every few weeks, check it and leave).

    I am not blaming individual IT workers for any of this as they were as bogged down in the mire as we were. But reading this teacher’s words gave me flashbacks of how awful the whole technology scene was.

    I am telling this information to say that I cannot imagine how frustrating and stressful it would be to be *required* to have kids on technology under these circumstances. I was able to work around things–I would read the books or the websites, record my own voice, let them use my laptop, print stuff at home, etc. I just can’t imagine this situation….

    As I was driving home I wondered how on earth they would continue to get teachers to teach at these schools. But then I remembered how the false teacher shortage myth has led to a huge, huge surplus of teachers in this state. Since they are still getting certified at an alarming rate, there will always be teachers who will be stuck in these horrific circumstances. But that’s another post….

    • http://eclectablog.com Eclectablog

      Great comment. Thanks.

  • jcavanaugh

    I know exactly who this teacher is and she was a total bully to parents, students and colleagues.

  • Lisa Michelle

    is there a way to contact you? i am a former teacher who has some interesting things to add

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