A first year teacher, fresh from college/student teaching; eager to take control of her own classroom full of bubbly students. Hope and ideas swirl around her as she lines up the desks, pins posters to the walls, and smiles at each student entering the room.
A Principal; seasoned and having only ever taught K-3rd grade, with a reputation for being an unbending, punitive and overbearing leader. If she understands her boundaries and is familiar with all aspects of Arizona’s Title 15 Education laws, she will achieve a perfect balance with this new teacher (and others like her) and establish herself quickly as a guiding force.
This teacher has so much hope for her future. This is her life’s career and what she spent all of her college years studying. She sets up her room to be student-centered. She gives up her desk, knowing she never plans to sit down on the job, and makes it a student supplies center. She studies her rosters as she will be teaching Grade 6 (11 and 12 years old) and they switch teachers for a few classes, to prepare them for middle school next year. She teaches two subjects so has two different sets of classes which equals to approximately 60 total students, every day. The students sit in back-to-back classes, in her room, daily and yes, sometimes there is noise, off-task behavior, and garbage on the floor. She works hard to keep them in line but at times, reaches out for assistance from other teachers. She gets guidance and reminds herself she has younger siblings, has had behavior management training in college, and is very capable of handling this. The students like her but as 6th graders go, they are silly, and often talk out of turn.
She is learning, growing, and adapting but it simply isn’t fast enough for her Administrators. She has her first “Walk-through” Observation in the first week of September (only weeks after school starts) and is quickly flagged for a “Teacher Improvement Plan”. The Administrator had performed the observation at 10:30 AM on a Friday and they are in the middle of a lesson.
Post Observation Conference- Where is the feedback?
She is called into the office before school a few days later, to review her “Walk-through” Observation paperwork. She is nervous and anxious but eager to learn how she can improve on her teaching skills. Sadly, she is only informed of her transgressions, failings, and general lack of ability. She is told very little positive and given a typed document from the 1 minute the administrator sat in the classroom. Her Evaluation paperwork only says this:
ELA Objective Posted: I can organize my ideas for a narrative essay by completing a pre-writing graphic organizer.
Students are taking notes in their notebooks on sensory words
T- “See my examples, bright, colorful, darkness, dull, dim, blurry, sparkling, shiny, reflecting. These are all things you can see. You can add more of your own.”
Students are taking notes in their notebooks on sensory words.
Comments: Thank you for having your SPARK poster (School Discipline Process) up in your room. Please add the steps for re-direction.
Admin cites the following District Approved Objectives which they are focusing on to evaluate this teacher;
2d. Classroom Environment- Managing Student Behavior
3a. Instruction: Communicating with Students
3c. Instruction: Engaging Students in Learning
Noting more is written or noted on paper but plenty was said in the conference.
Thus begins the deflation of a once eager teacher.
Another Vague Classroom Observation
Another Administrator does a “Walk-through” Observation but this time at 2:45 PM, on a Thursday and only stays in the room for three minutes. By November, the administrators decided that the 3 minute observation, along with the other one minute observation is all the proof they need to find this teacher Inadequate and Unsatisfactory, and they place her on a Performance Improvement Plan. For those who do not know, this is sometimes called a “Probationary Employee Performance Plan” and seems to be something which could help. There is a 60 calendar days limit and then the administrator must decide and alert the Elected Governing Board Members if there is enough improvement to keep their job or not enough improvement, and they will not be offered a teaching contract for the following school year.
It might be mentioned that most first-year teachers struggle in some way and usually are assigned an experienced mentor to help them through the initial bumps. This was not done for this teacher, yet she had taken it upon herself to reach out to the seasoned teachers, within her grade level.
Teacher Joins TPAU
At this time, the teacher joins TPAU Membership Organization and we begin attending meetings with her. She was in a state of constant fear for her job/career she worked so hard to achieve. Our TPAU Rep pulled Dysart District policy and AZ State Law (ARS Title 15-537) to ensure the weekly post observation conferences, were done correctly. We had many one-on-one conversations with the teacher so she knew what her rights were and didn’t feel helpless and hopeless.
At the first meeting TPAU attended, the principal was taken aback. She questioned who I was, and even as I handed her my card and explained how the teacher is entitled to representation, she whipped her head around and began rudely grilling the teacher. “Why do you need her?!?” “Why didn’t you come to me if you were feeling like you needed help?” “You should have told me you have representation!” “I need to call our legal department!” She stormed out of the room and when she returned, she was contrite. I guess her legal department told her to back off and allow me to be there, which I already knew.
Every weekly meeting (always before school at 7:00 am) was the same dialog; here’s what you did wrong, here is what you did not do, here is what you said wrong, here is every little thing she noticed in her observation and nothing positive. She nitpicked this teacher to death and always got off topic, getting lost in the minutia.
Our job at TPAU, is to keep things on point, on law and process, and to be impartial. We consistently pulled the meeting back on track, which the principal did not like. A few times she told me to “stay out of it”, and keep my mouth shut. She told me I was not allowed to speak and only the teacher could bring up points.
I complied and began to bring sticky notes on which I would hear something said or asked of the teacher and slide her the note to read out loud.
This worked well until the principal decided even that was too much.
She announced at one of the meetings, “If you want to give advice, you have to go in the hall and discuss it in private”. Ok. Every few minutes the principal would start getting off track and I would tap the teacher’s arm, and we would get up and walk into the hall. We would return, smile, and the teacher would get the meeting back on point. It was actually really cool to watch the teacher gain more knowledge and confidence, each week as she studied the law and policy documents, knowing her rights.
For example, during one of the principal’s post observation notes recitation, she mentioned how the teacher had not noticed one of the students chewing gum. The principal took it upon herself to stop the class, go over to the student, while the teacher was teaching, and discipline the child. She announced to the class how “Billy” was getting a referral for chewing gum in class and the rest of them better watch out.
As the teacher Rep, I immediately pulled the teacher out of the room and let her know that her principal had violated ARS Title 15-537, Section F.1; which entitles the teacher to be observed completely and uninterrupted. As soon as the teacher said something, the principal backpedaled and immediately said her intention was not to undermine but help. She said, she wouldn’t do it again.
The very next week the principal forgot and announced to the class, while the teacher was teaching, that she would give out incentive tickets to kids who behave.
At one of these post observation meetings, the principal spent 10 minutes berating the teacher for allowing a student to leave the classroom to retrieve her pencil which she had left behind in a different classroom. She went on and on about how the teacher should have just given the student a pencil and kept her in the room. The teacher just looked at me and hung her head. On and on these meetings went, being largely about nit picking little things but never discussing the positives or growth.
Week by week this teacher was losing her will to be positive and seriously contemplated quitting. I had to talk to her over and over about sticking with it and I am here to help. Every meeting was 3 steps back and a half step forward. In one of the meetings the principal said one of the teacher’s goals should be; “Moving forward maybe we can have collaborative conversations without an advocate”.
As we neared the end of the 60 days, it became clear the principal was going to drag this process on longer than it should. Through the teacher, we reminded her of the looming final observation date and knew it was going to buttress the date in which contracts were offered to all staff for the next school year.
March 9, 2020 was the final post observation conference and in the meantime, contracts were distributed to all staff except this teacher. When directly asked, the principal would hedge and push dates, directly violating district code and state law. The teacher did not want to rock the boat so, we waited.
Then…Covid-19 hit and the schools were closed.
April 2, 2020 the principal finally sent the teacher her rating report and on April 3, she was offered a contract for the 2020/2021 school year. The deadline to accept was April 13, 2020. Sadly, the principal still had not taken the teacher off the Improvement Plan, which is in breach of district code and law. However, by now, this poor teacher had been jerked around so much and was so defeated by the 5 month process of constant beratement, she was seriously worried her teaching career would be forever marked and she wouldn’t be able to find a job anywhere else.
By April 21, 2020, the teacher was officially removed from the Improvement Plan process and her record was cleared.
As life goes, we at TPAU got busy with news, events, and members and we hadn’t heard from the teacher in a while. In August, 2020 we reached out to see how she was doing. Did she accept her contract renewal? Did she leave the teaching profession? Did she move schools or districts? Would she allow us to tell her story?
Here is what she said, word for word,
“Hi! I ended up leaving and going with a neighboring district. Which is so good because the elementary school is drowwwwnnnnninnngg right now. This neighboring district is actually organized, on top of stuff, and appreciative of efforts. So far. J Absolutely! I would love for someone else to not have to go through what I did! I’d love to read it!
As a teacher I want to fix this broken system that kills great teachers and if my story helps to do that, I’m 100% down! I still find myself thinking of my old principal’s restrictions/methods and even yesterday when I had my first meet the teacher night, virtually, I had so much fear and trepidation. I still carry those expectations/comments. I have to actively shed those mentally, every time they surface (which is often).
When I left my old classroom for the last time I had to just say, ‘I am leaving the PIA (Perf Improv Agreement) teacher here and not taking her with me’. I so hope no one ever has to go through that. Thank you so much for putting in the effort to change this garbage!”
Do we have a teacher shortage or do we have an administration problem? You decide.