Thursday, April 7, 2016

New teacher experiences living hell in inner city public school


TLDR: New teacher quickly learns that he is expected to control his students, yet is not allowed to actually do so. Admin dishes out opposition.

Parents physically threaten teacher for intervening during fight and physically pulling one student off another (because you know, you're supposed to let my kid kill the other one). Teacher faces prosecution for that as well. Found not guilty. Parents then sue teacher for $20 million. Case settled for $90,000.

Too bad the parents themselves didn't get sued for their kid inflicting harm on another student, but hey why should people be present to do the right thing amiright?

'I paid no attention, gave my students the grades they deserved, and patiently explained to every parent that their child's grades would improve once he or she started behaving in class and doing the assigned lessons. For this, Ms. Savoy cited me for insubordination.'

'Ms. Savoy had abandoned all pretense of administrative support by this point. Nearly every student I sent to the office returned within minutes.'

'False allegations against me and other teachers snowballed, I began to be investigated on almost a weekly basis (for separating combatants), parents came to school to berate and threaten me—naturally, without reprisals from the administration.'

Click here for more of the misery.

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  1. I have a relative who teaches high school.

    Principal: "We have to raise the graduation rate."
    Relative: "Doesn't that mean we have to lower standards in order to raise the graduation rate?"
    Principal: "No, don't lower standards, but we have to raise the graduation rate."

    Principal often pushed for infinite re-dos/alternative assignments for excessive absences and failing grades. Well, surprise, surprise, surprise! Graduation rates went up. Were the standards lowered? Not according to the principal!

    My relative is still waiting to hear from the Pharaoh... er... principal on how to make bricks without straw.

  2. OK, I read this wanting to be sympathetic to the guy, and I do believe a number of the problems he points out are legitimate, from the inadequate training he received in the TFA program to the social promotion and lack of accountability. However, a number of things about the tone of this piece didn't sit well with me, and I'd be very curious to hear the students' and parents' side of the story.

    Some of them, granted, are small things -- why the cheap shot about the principal's weight? Given that he's using pseudonyms for all of the kids, why does he consistently give the misbehaving students invented or creatively spelled names of the sort stereotypically associated with underclass African-Americans, while the students that he singles out for praise get pseudonyms that are either not racially marked at all (Joseph) or traditional names that are more commonly used by middle-class African-Americans (Ayisha)? However, the bit that I found truly jaw-dropping was the line "Fortunately, we drew a rational, deliberative judge, unswayed by the case’s racially charged nature: a poor black kid against a rich white Ivy Leaguer." I'm not buying that HE was the one who had to worry about the system being stacked against him in this situation! (And if he genuinely believed it, after a year of working with these kids, I'd submit that he missed something really important about the conditions of their lives, and maybe shouldn't have been so quick to dismiss all that sensitivity training after all.)

    He may very well have been the victim of a frivolous lawsuit, but I'm less convinced that he did absolutely nothing on his part to escalate the conflicts he had with students, parents, and the administration, or that his principal was 100% malicious and in the wrong.

    1. I feel like you don't come from a state with elected judges lol... Lucky you!

    2. I do, as it happens. They are usually white good ol' boy types, and I'm willing to believe that mileage may vary elsewhere, but what I do NOT believe is that the author of the article is the one with the institutional power stacked against him.

    3. I found myself thinking similar thoughts. BUT I also found myself thinking that people commented similar stuff to some of the things I posted here early on(which I learned from, by the way).

    4. Oh yeah, I'd definitely read all of these choices as tone-deafness on his part, rather than conscious racism or classism. But I suspect that tone-deafness (and the unwillingness to recognize it and learn from it) might have been a huge contributing factor to his classroom management problems (although, again, some of the other issues he points to are real and genuine).

    5. @ Fretful

      I doubt that Kaplowitz is the reason why the students at that school are troubled, but it does make things easier to blame classroom management.

      I'm wondering, are you an administrator?

    6. No, I'm not an administrator. I'm an English professor; close-reading is what I do. When a writer does stuff like throwing in gratuitous cracks about the principal's body size (something that has absolutely nothing to do with the substance of his story), I think it's fair to assume that reveals something about his personality and attitude, and to wonder to what extent that attitude was evident in his interactions with students and parents. (Per the update, he seems to have matured quite a bit since then, and he admits that he was a pretty lousy teacher.)

  3. This is actually 13 years old. Just sayin'.

    1. And there's an update to the story. See (and additional stories linked from there).

      At least Kaplowitz has not, like too many TFA alumni, become an "education reformer" of one stripe or another (and he does seem to have grown up a bit, and gained some perspective).

      I have to admit that I might well have considered TFA if it had been around when I was graduating from college (I did apply to various teaching apprenticeship programs, but they were at prep schools, which made some sense, since I had attended one myself, and did intend to teach as a career).

      A young relative is now considering it as an option, and I find myself warning hir away, partly because I suspect it would be a miserable experience, but mostly because I resent the idea that teaching is something you dabble in for a year or two and then go on to other, better-paid things, and feel you've somehow performed a service in the process. I have no problem with people who actually aspire to be teaches putting themselves and their students through those first few awkward years (preferably with much better support than TFA provides), but "volunteer" teaching for a year or two shows a lack of respect for and understanding of the craft of teaching.

    2. Thanks for this update, Cassandra!

    3. Thanks for sharing the follow-up. That was really interesting, and makes me feel a lot more generously inclined toward Kaplowitz.