Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bad Reputation

I have already managed to give myself a bad reputation. It took very little, really. All I had to do was grade a few papers and, BAM, I'm ruined.

It's not quite that bad really. There are lots of girls here who like me quite a bit. I think.

Here's what went down:
A teacher asked me to teach a series of lessons. I said yes. I suggested we give a practice assignment that asked students to read an article related to class and respond to it, using paraphrased passages from the source material and including in-text (parenthetical) citations. I offered to grade the papers too. I created a rubric for the students so they would know exactly what we expected. We read the article and discussed it. I taught a lesson on paraphrasing. I went over the grading criteria. Then, we gave them about 4-5 days to write their 1-3 paragraph responses to our writing prompt.

When I graded them, about 80% failed the assignment. Totally fell on their faces failed. Why? Perhaps they didn't ever (not one time!) refer to the article we read together. This meant, of course, that they didn't paraphrase a thing or practice using citations. That's a fail.
Perhaps they summarized the article and never wrote a single word responding to the prompt, that asked for some commentary/analysis. That's a fail.
Perhaps their writing was so bad, so riddled with errors, that it was clear they didn't even bother to spell check. That's a fail.

So, the teacher and I decided to give them another chance. Perhaps they didn't understand what I had taught them (although several students did, in fact, ace this assignment, so I don't know). Perhaps the instructions weren't clear (but I really, really think they were). We let them do it again. For full credit. We gave them another week.

This time around, almost all of the students who bothered to re-do the work got and A or a B. Why? Did I re-teach the content? Nope. Did I dumb it down? Nope. This time, the girls followed directions, took themselves seriously, and did the job they should have done in the first place.

But now. Now the little darlings have spread the word. The librarian is a hard grader. She's mean. She's unfair. She's too tough. We don't want her involved.

On Friday, the junior US History teacher and I are sitting down together to read 50-point research proposals that his students have had a month to write. We've team-taught a series of lessons, presented resources, given examples, and gone over the rubric. Today, they told him they are scared of me. They don't want me to see their papers. They heard this from the sophomores who failed the assignment that was grade by me. The sophomores didn't mention that they got to re-do it, or that they didn't complete the assignment the first time around. They just mentioned how uncool it is that the librarian has anything to do with anything.


Some of the girls like me. I know they do. They've told me.
Lots of the girls respect their tough teachers. I hear them talk about it. The toughest ones are the favorites.
It just takes time, I suppose. I have to get used to the fact that I'm in a new place where there's a status quo. Who am I to barge in and expect people to cite their sources? Who am I to waltz in here and think that college-preparatory students ought to be preparing for college level work?

I would have thought the same thing at their age. And it's not that it hurts my feelings exactly (I learned many, many years ago not to let students anywhere near hurting my feelings). It's just....what? It's frustrating to think that somewhere down the line they've gotten the impression that a job done should get the same credit as a job well done. When did that happen?

The US History in question just stopped in to tell me that he hopes I know how much he's looking forward to grading these proposals together. He says it's a good thing they're scared of me, because the girls are more motivated to do well on this paper than they have been on anything else he's assigned this year. He says that being afraid of me doesn't need to turn into disliking me. They'll get to know me and then they'll love me, like they love the other toughest graders.

I suppose he's right, and I appreciate that he said so. In the mean time, I'll try to smile a lot.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Whole New Ball Game

In order to get a handle on this school, this library, and these girls, I put together a survey and asked 340 students to provide answers to questions about their reading habits, library habits, research habits, etc. The results were very enlightening. Stunning, really. Shocking, in fact.

This is what I found:

  • 64% of students do not check out books from the school library

  • 72% use the library's web page "rarely" or "almost never"

  • the top 4 reasons for visiting the school library are: printing, photocopying, using a laptop, and working on homework

  • the 2 least common reasons for visiting the library are to check out recreational reading material and to ask the Librarian for help

  • only 38% of students say they use the library for their history classes, only 18% for science, only 6% for fine arts

  • 32% say there are no books in the library that they want to check out

  • 51% buy the books they want to read from a physical bookstore

  • 34% spend ZERO time each week reading for pleasure

  • students prefer to read romance, mystery, and realistic fiction

  • 61% do not use a public library

  • 85% turn to Google first when conducting any kind of academic research

So, there you have it. A VERY different scenario from my previous library setting, where tons of kids read avidly, almost no kids could purchase their own books (there is not a single bookstore in that part of South Central), and the Librarian was the first source of information for research.

I suppose I didn't really use my high school library for much either. It was pretty outdated, and I don't have any memory of the Librarian, so I don't think she was a very dynamic member of the school community. I got my books from my parents or the public library. Perhaps I don't need to lament the low circulation here. Perhaps I should focus my attentions on the research skills the girls are lacking and the need to get them college-ready in terms of seeking information. If course, I want to cry when I hear that so many of them spend no time at all reading for pleasure. That, to me, is sad. That I want to change.

Next up, surveying the teachers. I am very curious about those results.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Crime Scene Investigation

My new school has a Forensic Science class. How cool is that? This morning when I got out of my car, I noticed that a hideous and brutal crime had taken place right outside the school's entrance. Luckily, our students are on the case. What do you think happened?

It may be hard to see in this picture, but right above the chalk outline of the head is a long string of pearls, and to the right of that is a tiara. Clearly this murdered young woman was on her way somewhere special. The rose petals make me think she was possibly involved in the Rose Court for the Rose Parade, as are many young women in this part of the LA area. The one thing that really confuses me is how the car that ran over her made it out of the parking lot. If it was coming from the left of this picture, surely it would have crashed into the building after running her over. Unless the driver was so skilled that s/he was able to brake and reverse within inches of the stucco. And why is some of the rubber from the tire on the pavement? What can it mean?

This is what school is all about. Every student in the school is encouraged to submit her theories about the crime. I can't wait to hear the results. I'm a happy librarian.
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Monday, September 19, 2011

Hiatus Over

It's been a while, hasn't it? After my last post, I needed a good, long break from thinking too much about LAUSD. I went to New York with my darling husband. I finished the school year the best I could (which perhaps wasn't the best I ever could, but instead the best I could at that time). I looked forward to the first summer I'd had off in six years. I visited my parents in Illinois. Mostly, I relaxed and released the build-up of stress and bitterness that had been growing in me because of the hearings and all they represented.

True, I still didn't know what my job would be.
True, my principal refused to allow me to transfer to another school where I might have had more job security.
True, when summer started my future was one big mystery.
True, the image of that weasel attorney swam through my thoughts more frequently than I would have liked.

But I hung in there, with the help of my many supporters. And then I made a decision that changed my life dramatically. I decided that there was life outside of LAUSD. It was a radical thought, one that had occurred to me only vaguely before, as something abstract and unattainable. Life outside of LAUSD had never existed for me in Los Angeles. I worked for that school district from the moment I stepped foot in this here town, and I never stopped. Why, I now asked myself, didn't I ever just stop?

So, I began to look elsewhere. In July, most public school districts aren't ready yet to publicly post their job listings for the fall. I would not apply at a charter on principle. So I looked at independent (or private) schools. I looked at non-profits related to education. I just looked elsewhere. And wouldn't you know it, I found a place. A great place. A professional, nurturing, rigorous place where I'm not only challenged, but valued. How 'bout them apples? Valued! Now, I know I was valued to a certain extent in my old position. There were teachers who adored me, and I adored them. It was not a thankless job. But this job. Well, let's just say that it's something of a relief. That's a large part of what I feel. Relieved. It's just a breath of fresh air.

The day I submitted my resignation to LAUSD was both terrifying and exhilarating. To detach from such a formidable employer is not easy. I was advised by fellow educators that leaving LAUSD was foolish, that there are so many advantages to staying that it's worth the mild level of daily torture. But you know, I think they were wrong. I would trade some crazy seniority level for a day of happiness any time. I am perfectly capable of planning for my retirement without CalSTRS. I mean, c'mon. Millions and millions of other people out there don't work of LAUSD either. I know! It's crazy! I didn't realize that either! I began to feel even more at ease with my departure when I went to visit a dear friend and teacher who has not worked for LAUSD for about three years. What I discovered was this. She's fine! In fact, she's better than fine. She doesn't regret leaving one bit.

All of this is just to say that it was a really, very, terribly difficult decision for me to leave. But it was the right one. I love my students, all of them, old and new. I love my old school (and my other old school). I love the wonderful people I've met in LAUSD. And now I love my new school. So this blog will change a little, since now I am in an independent high school for girls. What will I say about them, about this? It remains to be seen.

I will leave you today with a humorous little anecdote about LAUSD, one of the last I hope to tell on this blog (although the scathing expose in book form is still somewhere in me).

Even though I resigned from LAUSD in plenty of time, the necessary documents were not signed and processed by the right people and the right time, and I was paid on August 5th for work I had not yet done (and would not do) for the 2011-2012 school year. Since then, I have spoken to Payroll Services FOUR TIMES, trying to determine how and when and where to give this money back so that I'm free and clear.
One woman told me simply to put a check in the mail, but didn't tell me where to send it (Um, this is a bureaucracy people. I am not doing that!). I explained to her that a portion of the money was mine to keep (hours worked in June) and that I needed payroll to calculate the exact amount owed. She said I should just do it myself and it would probably be fine. She also asked me if I had spent the money already, and then advised me against doing so. Thanks. I hadn't thought of that.
Another person "opened a ticket" for me so that the issue would get addresses promptly. That was two weeks ago.
A third woman told me that the ticket was opened incorrectly and so hadn't even been assigned to anyone yet. That was last week.
Today I was told that I could receive a letter about the overpayment "at any time" and that overpayment issues take "a loooong time" (emphasis attributed to speaker).

Don't they want their money back? I want to give it back!!!! Why don't they want it back?

Now, here, in this new wonderland, if there's a problem with my paycheck, all I have to do is walk out of the library, down a little hill, into another building, and talk to so-and-so (whose first and last names I know, and with whom I have shared a potluck meal). She will probably take care of it by the end of the day. Sweet relief. That's all I'm sayin'.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Message Received

In a recent blog post, I wrote that my employer had become my enemy. That was re-posted on The Washington Post's educational blog, The Answer Sheet, and I suppose my employer really took it to heart. At my RIF hearing yesterday, the LAUSD lawyers were armed and ready to take me down.

After an hour of testimony and an hour lunch break, I returned to the stand feeling pretty good. I had answered well and was confident that I would continue to do so. That was until my entire personal blog, 90 pages of posts dating back to 2007, was brought out in printed form and submitted to the court. The lawyers had scoured my musings for ammo, and they found some key posts that did, in fact, make me look like a bit of an idiot for a moment or two. Taken so far out of the context of a school, and particularly my school, some of these posts made it seem as if I was full of it when I testified that I am a competent and active teacher. I wrote about days when I didn't feel much like teaching, or days when I didn't feel that I had taught very much. I wrote about the nature of my job in the library and its clerical demands, and how on some days I felt like I did nothing but shelve books. I wrote about allowing students to watch a movie trailer for Twilight. I wrote about having a slow day in the library. I wrote about times when my teaching practice seemed to be eroding slowly because of the cuts in clerical staff, meetings, etc. I wrote about times when kids worked collaboratively as I stood back and observed, therefore not directly 'teaching'. I wrote about feeling frustrated over the struggle to teach certain content. I wrote honestly and emotionally, reflectively, as one does on one's personal blog.

So, yes, I wrote about times when I wasn't delivering direct instruction, and they claimed this evidence impeached my testimony that I 'constantly' teach. Well, obviously I used the word 'constantly' in the widely accepted usage meaning very frequently (I constantly go to the gym. I constantly go to the movies.) No teacher, not one, constantly teaches in the literal sense of the word. We use the bathroom, we eat lunch, we chat with other teachers, we file papers, we clean the classroom, and yes, we do make personal phone calls sometimes or even, god forbid, answer a personal email between classes.

I failed to mention at the hearing, and I'm still kicking myself for it, that as the librarian, I am at school about 2.5-3 months more per year than the classroom teachers due to our year-round schedule. So even if I did nothing but shelve books or even read the paper for the equivalent of 2.5 months of the year (which I most certainly do not!), I would STILL be meeting the district's requirement of teaching at least 75% of the time in order to return to classroom teaching. Like I said, I didn't think of that zinger until later, so it's now a moot point. So it goes.

On the stand, the fact that the vast majority of what I do is really teaching wasn't apparant to anyone but me, so I looked the fool. Luckily, my lawyer objected to the admission of my personal, emotional, reflective blog into evidence and the judge sustained his objection, admitting only the pages discussed prior to the objection (possibly quite damaging already), and leaving the other eighty-plus pages out. Other than this blog, it didn't feel like they really had much to go on. Well, except for the fact that they suggested I forged a dozen or so letters of recommendation, but the judge didn't buy it. (Can you believe?) I don't know what the judge will rule, and after Friday, I'm not sure it will make a difference to me anymore.

The thing about this that stings is how I feel now, after the fact. I may feel worse than I have ever felt about anything that didn't involve death. They were clearly ticked off at me. I spoke out, wrote an editorial, called the lawyer a weasel in my blog (oops, and I am sorry. That wasn't nice. It really wasn't.), and they brought in the big guns. A top dog from the district (at least, he looked like it) was even there to watch. And maybe they won here, because the way I feel, I just want to get away from them as fast as possible and never look back. I spoke out and I got crucified for it. I'm not sorry I wrote what I wrote, but I am sorry I insisted on having a hearing for a job with a district that is so dead set against having me work for them. I'm sorry I put myself through that particular wringer for the sake of completing a process. I am scared, somehow, about retribution and payback, because that's what that hearing felt like. Like they were going to crush me into a pulp.

So, even though I think I answered the best anyone could under those circumstances, I keep going over it in my head again and again, and I keep experiencing waves of terror that maybe they were right, that I am no good, that I am not fit to work for one of the worst school districts in the land.

Then I remember that I am a great teacher, a really great one, and that they are the ones who are losing here. The children love me and I love them. Teachers love me and I love them. I belong in a school.

Then I have another wave of terror and I just don't know. That they did this to me, made me feel like this, is the worst part of all.

I have less than twenty days left at my school, in my library, with LAUSD. This morning, I don't even want to go back for a single one of those days. Of course, at the same time, I want to go back and work in that school forever. Nine years of my life have been spent there. I've taught whole families of kids there. In my days remaining, I hope to enjoy my students and my library and to prepare that spacious, well-stocked room for whatever comes next, be it clerks or kiosks. And then I will bid LAUSD a fond farewell.

LAUSD, your message was received loud and clear. You are through with me, and you have no interest in working with someone who speaks the truth, and those who speak against you will pay the consequences. However, I would like to take a moment here to sincerely thank you. Thank you for teaching me how to be a teacher. Thank you for coaching me, training me, and guiding me through the world of middle school. Thank you for giving me great evaluations, a few awards, and hiring me for three different, wonderful positions in your schools. Thank you for the eleven challenging, difficult, heartbreaking, mind-altering, life-changing, rewarding, and exhilarating years that make up my professional life thus far. Thank you for all the great teachers you employ who I have had the honor of knowing, and all the great kids who walk the halls of your schools and have changed me forever, for the better. And finally, I suppose, though it's difficult to be sure at this moment, thank you for the opportunity to change my life and grow even more as an educator as I leave your district and find my way in others, or in private institutions, or in non-profits, or pre-schools, or who knows where. I am sure it will be a demanding change, and if there is one thing I have learned as an LAUSD teacher, it's the ability to accept change, to roll with it, to grow with it, and to be better for it. I will not wallow in your rejection LAUSD, and I will not even hate you for your cruelty (for I was unkind to you as well). Instead I will be happy for our time together and think of you (certainly your students and schools) fondly in the future.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Going in for the kill

I have my hearing, finally, tomorrow. It feels surreal, out of place, and after the fact.
Every other Teacher Librarian had a hearing a week ago, before this media blitz, in which I took part. Will that impact my hearing? Who knows?

Since the end of the TL hearings there have been op-eds, radio programs, and nationally publicized pieces about our fight. Will my hearing be changed?
Will the questioning be more forthright, or more cryptic?
Will the judge be more convinced, or less?
Will my editorial and blog be in play?
Will Superintendent Deasy's radio proclamation to keep libraries intact be taken seriously?
Will I be grilled, or will my testimony be par for the course?
Did the district notice that I wrote a number of pieces that did not favor their choices?

I have no idea what will happen tomorrow.
Here's what I know:
  • over 15, 000 people have read my blog on this matter, so people care
  • there are 2, 200 students at my school who care
  • I am extremely qualified to teach, so says the State of California
  • Libraries are essential to the propagation of educated societies
  • Information, and the freedom, access, and understanding of that information, are at the heart of our democratic principles as a society
  • Librarians are the guardians of that information
So, wish me luck, as I will be attempting to say all of this in a highly stressful situation tomorrow. I hope I don't choke!!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Draft, Revise, Edit

Today, an op-ed appeared in the LA Times, written by yours truly. This was the first time I'd done anything of the sort, and the back-and-forth writing process with the editor was really new to me. Over a period of about a week, she and I emailed again and again, paraphrasing, restructuring, cutting, and changing my original draft into what appeared in the paper. Below is the second draft I wrote for this piece. I'm posting it here because some of what I wrote didn't make it into the paper, but I still think it's worthwhile. Since I don't have a length requirement here, I thought I'd just put it out there. Thanks for reading.

In the spring of 2001, I found myself at a crossroads after finishing my first year as a teacher in a South LA middle school. Brought in on an emergency credential, I had been placed in my position with little experience and no formal training. As I struggled with whether I was truly meant to teach, I sought the advice of a mentor, who plainly told me in a fatherly way, “If you can do this, and not very many people can, you must. And you can.”

Over the next several years, as I gained confidence and competence as a teacher, I found myself inspired by Teacher Librarians (TLs), whose libraries were the centers of student and teacher learning. More than once, these librarians guided me towards better, more effective teaching practices that profoundly improved my students’ abilities to achieve.

When I taught 7th grade English, I knew without a doubt it was critical that my students read. A lot. I knew they needed to check out library books and read them at home, that we should read and discuss books in class. What I didn’t fully understand, until a Teacher Librarian taught me, was that I could also discover why students didn’t like reading and then change that. I could read what my students read, and show them how to find challenging, mind-boggling material on related topics. I could do more than plod through classics; I could create lovers of literature. It was a Teacher Librarian who showed me a way to analyze a student’s reading history, to question him on his reading habits, and to pair him with the perfect book that would send him on a quest for more.

I once taught a class of highly gifted students whose curiosity and abilities stretched my limits as an educator. My Teacher Librarian suggested reading with them a memoir, Finding Fish, the story of a boy who overcomes insurmountable obstacles to create a life he has chosen for himself. As we read this powerful book, each student found his or her own inspiration, and we worked with the Teacher Librarian to transform this experience into an exploration of social issues, ethics, and family, until finally the students crafted their own profoundly personal memoirs. These children learned to read beyond the stories presented by authors and saw their own stories within. I could not have done this without my librarian.

It occurred to me then that the librarian is a person who works closely with every single person on campus. This person can improve a teacher’s craft and help students tackle difficult, academic questions. Upon reflection, I found that I wanted to be that person too, so back to school I went, earning a Library Media Services credential and Masters degree.

At that point, my classroom changed from a small, cramped space where 150 kids tramped in and out each day, to a spacious library where I got to interact with up to 500 people every single day, students, teachers, and parents alike. My conversations with students began to include shipwrecks and electric eels, World War II, origami, post-apocalyptic fiction and Captain Underpants. I spend time helping students read difficult passages for their research, helping them select reading material, and teaching them to navigate complicated technology and intellectual property issues. They come individually, in small groups, and as whole classes where I team-teach alongside content-area teachers. I became the queen of all content. As my predecessor often said, “Librarians don’t know everything, but they know how to find everything.” I had the best job on campus, but by no means the easiest. TLs sprint all day long trying to meet the needs of an entire school community. It is wonderfully exhausting.

Soon after I began my work in the library, a teacher came to me about Mario, an 8th grader who said he had never read an entire book in his life. Mario was a struggling reader, an English Learner, and he needed my help. I recommended a title that I had learned about from one of my mentors, a short, funny, mysterious book that appeals to reluctant boy readers of that age. Mario took it home, read it in a week, and came back with a horde of his friends to check out the remaining titles in the series. When he was ready to tackle more challenging content, I started him on a program of listening to audio books while following along in the text, a strategy helpful for building fluency and comprehension. Mario would come to library while on breaks from school (we are a year-round school) and sit for hours, headphones on, reading. I was able to work closely with him to develop techniques for tackling difficult passages and muddling through the strange vocabulary, later transitioning him back into reading the books on his own, no help from the audio. By the end of that one school year, Mario had read 42 books, meeting the Million Word goal set by the state of California for all 8th graders. From zero to forty-two in one short year; Mario was ready for high school. This is the power of the school library.

Since then, I have had students share with me astounding truths about the crucial nature of the library program. Recently one 8th grade girl told me that she would never have learned to love reading if it hadn’t been for a book I recommended to her in 6th grade. She is now on her way to a prestigious college preparatory high school with a nearly full scholarship. Others tell me the library is their favorite place on campus, a place where they feel at home and safe to explore their own, blossoming interests. Some alumni of the school, now attending charter high schools without libraries, come back regularly to ask for recommendations and to beg me to loan them books.

During the 2008-09 school year, LAUSD started a massive layoff process that has finally weaseled its way down to the TLs. Thousands of educators have received RIFs (Reduction-in-Force notices). Some leave LAUSD for the purportedly greener pastures of charter schools and others become subs; some RIFs get rescinded at the last minute. This year, Teacher Librarians with seniority stretching far into the past (in one case, to the 1970s) also got RIFs.

Not only that, it seems that we are barred from returning to a traditional classroom setting as well, even if we ultimately fail to protect our libraries. A new recency rule (or a newly enforced one) states that educators who’ve been out of the traditional classroom for five years or more can no longer return to their original posts. This is in reaction to the utter failure of last year’s attempt to acclimatize teachers who’d been in an cubicle setting for a decade. Returning to the classroom after that long is difficult and should be considered very carefully. But Teacher Librarians have not been in cubicles, but in schools, working with students day in and day out.

I received a RIF last year, only to have it rescinded at the last minute. This year, I was RIFed again, and the recency rule is threatening to take me down for good. Even if my RIF is rescinded and I am able to return to the classroom, there is no indication that the library at my school, or any school, will stay open for the students next year.

I have spent three full days at the hearings in the last two weeks (and my library has been closed, the weeks just before state testing begins). Finally, today, I was meant to give my testimony, but a paperwork snafu caused the court to delay my hearing, if I am to be given one at all.

So, in the basement of the California Mart building downtown, hearings for RIFed educators have been taking place every day since April 25th, undetected by the bustling world above ground. Teachers come to these hearings to defend their qualifications in front of a judge, hoping that someone in the legal system will understand what the students of this city need. Union lawyers attempt to show that we (TLs) teach on a daily basis, that we are defined by our contracts with LAUSD as (implied by the title) Teachers. In these hearings, the burden of proof seems to be on the librarians, although our credentials are valid in every way.

LAUSD’s lawyers, our employer’s lawyers, do everything they can to prove otherwise. They say that using the Dewey Decimal System requires so much math that we are no longer practiced in the teaching of English. They ask us to recite PE standards for 2nd graders, implying that if we cannot, we should not be allowed near elementary schools. One teacher is asked to duplicate a history lecture in order to prove he knows the content. This, in spite of the fact that his teaching credential from the State of California indicates definitively that he has met competency requirements for the subject matter. Is LAUSD challenging the validity of the State of California’s measures for qualifying teachers? If so, it seems that a different conversation needs to be had, and without us on the stand.

If the RIFs stand and the recency rule stands, 87 Teacher Librarians will be forced to leave LAUSD entirely. 87 school libraries will close completely, or schools will be forced to knowingly violate state Education Code to keep them open with only clerical staff , no credentialed Teacher Librarian in sight. My school’s library is home to nearly forty thousand items, from books to DVDs to art prints. A million dollar value serving over two thousand students, this space may go unattended for years. Or worse, it may be slowly destroyed as well-intentioned teachers and students use it without the help of a TL to oversee, curate, and organize the collection.

There is not only the risk of a financial loss here, but an ideological one. Librarians are the keepers of knowledge and defenders of the right to access that knowledge. Without libraries, our students’ access to accurate, quality information, as well as current, compelling reading material, practically disappears. Without Teacher Librarians, our schools are left further behind the curve and behind the times. We should give our children what we know that they need, not just what we can afford, or what we feel like giving them at the time. In a state that ranks in the bottom half nationwide when it comes to student achievement, can LAUSD really afford to ignore what research has proven to be effective time and again?

During this process, I cannot help but reflect on the words of my earliest mentor. I can do this. I must do this. I am being told that I am no longer allowed to do this.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

At What Cost?

Well, the judge ruled today that in order to return to the classroom, a librarian would have had to teach in said classroom as recently as the '06-07 school year. So all that running around I did because we thought the word preceding might actually mean preceding was for nothin'. Dang.
So now my only hope is to get a hearing and testify. The rumor is that the judge will probably make decisions on individual cases, not on librarians as a group. No hearing, no decision, no job.

Of course, then there's the other side of the coin. Let's say I get a hearing and my RIF is rescinded. That would mean I could continue to work for LAUSD as a Teacher Librarian, right? What happens when there are only fifty schools funding librarian positions, but more than a hundred librarians seeking those positions? What happens is, I'm out of a job. There are a good 70 librarians in the district with more seniority, so I wouldn't have a chance. And because of the recency rule, I couldn't go back to a classroom either, so....

Things look bad.

Still, I shall try to get a hearing and I will try to get my RIF rescinded. Perhaps Governor Brown will make good on that $3 billion dollar IOU and we'll all get rescinded. Then these hearings will have been beside the point, which makes me wonder how much they are costing the district in the first place, cause it must be a lot. Is this another one of those expenditures that isn't truly necessary in the end? Wouldn't that just be the kicker?

Some things the district is paying for in order to prosecute its employees include (note: multiply each of these daily expenses by 27 days as you mentally calculate):

  • rental of the Exhibit Hall at the California Market Center
  • furniture rental: chairs, tables, table skirts
  • court reporter's fee
  • court reporter's fee to work after hours to write summary reports for LAUSD officials
  • five armed security guards, 2 in the courtroom and 3 at the entrance, to screen teachers as they walk through a metal detector, to search their bags, and to protect the judge
  • rent for the other spaces (other floors? some say two whole floors!) of the California Market Center that are being used by LAUSD staff to draw up personnel files on all of the employees taking the stand
  • wages for those LAUSD staffers to actually do that work on the personnel files
  • lawyers' fees
  • judge's fees
Wowsa. That's a lotta clams.
Listen, I'm glad we live in a world where people can't always just get fired flat out with no explanation and no recourse. I'm glad we get to have the chance to make our cases and show that were are qualified. I'm glad these hearings might just save lots and lots of great teachers from leaving the profession altogether. Yet when I look around that massive, empty exhibit hall and think about all the waste, I just get steamed. Are there no school auditoriums that could have been used? Are there no empty offices at the Beaudry building? Do we need to have FIVE security guards at the hearings, three of them manning an entrance that maybe two dozen people come through each day? Did the tables really need skirts?

I wonder how many kids in the district could have been given book to take home for keeps for the cost of renting that Exhibit Hall. Or how many of our school's Million Word Readers could have been given a gift card to a real bookstore (I had an 8th grade boy tell me today that he's never been to a bookstore in his life). I'll bet the cost of that room rental is nearly enough to pay one teacher's salary and benefits for another school year, but whatever, that teacher probably wasn't any good anyway.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Stranger than Fiction

Since my last post, a great number of things have happened but nothing has been resolved. Hector Tobar of the LA Times wrote an article touching on many of the topics I wrote about (Thank you, Hector!). I submitted an op-ed for publication in the paper, dozens of people read my blog for the first time, a massive rally took place in Pershing Square, and I was finally called to the witness stand, only to be denied my hearing once again. I am beginning to feel like this would make a better novel or short story than anything else, since the twists the story continues to take are rather hard to believe.

Last Wednesday evening, my name appeared on the witness list for the following day, according to the UTLA web page. I geared up, made sure my thoughts were in order, and dug a pair of little-worn black slacks out of the closet. Back to the California Mart I went, sitting through only two other hearings that morning before it was to be my turn (one highlight was when the LAUSD lawyers questioned a librarian about whether he had a couch in his library).

The UTLA attorney who reviewed my case felt I had a good one. Not only do I have three current teaching credentials, but there had been a new development in their argument since I was there last. As it turns out, the recency rule that was threatening to banish me from the classroom forever says that one must have taught in a particular subject area within the preceding five years in order to return to that position. The word preceding, it dawned on the lawyers, could not include this year, the current year, because this year doesn't precede anything, except maybe next year, but since the rule was announced this year, the preceding five years stretch back to 2005-2006. An AH-HA moment, some would say. And oh, how I wanted to shout, "Ah HA!" at the LAUSD attorneys in that moment, because I had been in a traditional classroom in '05-06, so I would be, I presumed, saved.

When the judge called for the next witness and my name rang through the warehouse-like room, I began my walk to the stand with confidence. That is, until I heard the LAUSD attorneys say, "Your honor, this person is not a witness in these proceedings." Uh-oh. (And also, this person? I’m pretty sure that’s what they said. This person, like I am without an identity but just one of a massive herd, like cattle tagged for slaughter. This particular cow is not fit for consumption, your honor. We suspect unacceptable levels of contamination.)

As it turned out, neither the judge nor the prosecutors had me on their lists. This issue had supposedly been 'flagged' twice in the last week with no response from UTLA. A critical form had not been drawn up, signed by me, and submitted to the judge by a certain date, and so, no hearing for me. The judge accused someone of incompetency (poor guy) and then asked for the next witness.

So, what happened to cause all of this? I was furloughed and out of town when the legal papers arrived at my home and were due back to the district. I appealed to the union to declare me as a late-filer deserving of a hearing. I sent the union all the necessary paperwork. The paperwork was not processed. This took at least an hour for everyone to understand, and by that time the judge had called the lunch break. The UTLA lawyers informed me of two options. First, try to get LAUSD to agree to stipulate that I have recency and therefore can return to a classroom. Second, try to appeal to the judge to give me a hearing, even though the paperwork was not in order.

Before I explain what has happened since then, a few comments on these two options:

Option One: If the lawyers can just decide that I can go back to the classroom without bothering with a hearing, then why is anyone who was in a classroom in '05-06 even having a hearing (or am I the only one?)? If, in fact, the word preceding carries such weight, then shouldn't the court simply state that all librarians who were in a class that year are safe and be done with it?

Option Two: If I were the judge, I wouldn't give me a hearing at this point. After two weeks, they've only gotten through maybe 75 cases. The proceedings are supposed to be finished by June 2nd, for goodness sakes. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, more cases to hear. Why in the world should they add another? I mean, yes, I'd like the opportunity, but it really doesn't make a lot of sense for them to add me back in. And yes, I'm a little ticked off that I did what I was meant to do and a paperwork snafu was my downfall, but I also understand that when thousands of people are filing paperwork through one office that is handling all of the organizational matters for a process like this, the law of averages dictates that somebody's papers get lost in the shuffle. It had to be someone, and it was just me.

At that point I was told that the best thing I could possibly do is show that I taught 7th grade English in 2005-2006 so that perhaps my recency could be officially established. I needed to prove this with some sort of documentation because, for some reason, LAUSD itself is unable to do so. My employer does not have a ready record of my employment. Figures.

The strange and absurd struggle I went through to do this is as follows:

  1. The easiest way would be to show my evaluation for that year. Too bad! I wasn't evaluated that year (tenured teachers are evaluated every other year).
  2. Or, I could have the principal from that school write a statement of my assignment. Sorry! She's retired.
  3. Hey, maybe I could call the school district to see if they have some sort of record that I actually taught English in one of their schools. Nope! IF they do, and they don't promise they do, it would be in storage and take weeks to find and, by the way, no one is going to go looking.
  4. Next idea, go to the school where I taught the elusive 7th grade English classes and track down someone who can help me contact the retired principal. A near success, but she's on vacation and won't be back in town for days.
  5. Perhaps my attendance and grade records are still on file at the school. That would work. But no, they are also in deep storage, or perhaps they've been purged, so try again.
  6. In a random stroke of luck, I discover that my husband actually works with the husband of the current principal of that school who is home on maternity leave. So my husband finds her husband at the food truck outside their building and explains the situation. Her husband calls her at home, disrupting some important mother-child bonding I am sure, and she agrees to call her office manager to see if they can dig a little deeper on my behalf. (Really, I am not making this up.)
  7. The next day, it dawns on me that I still know a counselor from that school, so I call her to see if she can access old records showing students' course assignments, and sure enough she can. She faxes me some student schedules showing I was their English teacher.
  8. The principal on maternity leave verifies my assignment and faxes me a statement.
  9. I take all of this back down to the basement of the California Mart on Friday afternoon where they have adjourned for the day. It takes all my strength to hand over these precious documents to the very people who failed to process the last set I gave them, but since I kept the originals and several sets of copies I made before arriving, I go ahead and do it.
And that, as they say, is that. I am no closer to knowing what will happen to my employment status with LAUSD. No overall ruling has been made about librarians as a group. No statement has been made about whether recency will extend to ’05-06 after all. No one has called or emailed me to let me know if the judge is going to rule in my favor, let me have a hearing, or kick me to the curb.

Now, our best chance as Teacher Librarians may be the media. A truly marvelous number of people read my last blog post and re-Tweeted, Facebooked, or blogged it. Hector Tobar’s article in the LA Times received more than 300 comments (some completely inane, but some truly heartfelt) and has been re-posted on countless other sites. Perhaps I will have an op-ed in place this week, perhaps a Librarian will be interviewed on NPR, and perhaps more and more attention will be paid to the problem.

As this story unravels (and as I unravel along with it), one comment posted on the LA Times article haunts me. The reader wondered why we Librarians think it would be ok for the district to allow us to stay at the expense of 87 other ‘regular’ teachers who would be laid off in our place. It’s a point that many people may feel compelled to make, and I will say this to those who find it to be a reasonable argument:

Teachers and teacher-librarians don’t want to bump one another out of a job. Restoring the TLs to their libraries, or even allowing them to return to traditional classrooms, does not have to cost another teacher his/her job. Of course there are budget shortfalls and of course changes must be made to how we use money in schools. The real question that needs to be asked here is how can the school district prioritize spending that leads to student achievement and eliminate spending that doesn't?

There are so many areas where the district could reduce spending in order to put students, teachers, and libraries closer to the top if its list. Like the $4.5 million dollars that was spent this year to develop a district version of the ‘value-added’ approach to looking at test scores (you may remember ‘value-added’ from the series of LA Times articles last year that caused quite a ruckus). There are already a million existing ways to look at and interpret data; we are swimming in data. That $4.5 million did not have to be spent that way, but it was. What we need to ask is why it was, at this moment in time, when true instructional programming is being slashed and burned?

As we are forced into increasingly tight financial corners, really awful decisions have to be made. So let's ask the questions that may lead to some answers, some actions, that we can be proud of in the end. What do we really care about when it comes to the education of our children, learning in general, and the uses of information? If we don’t care about libraries, if we don’t acknowledge their necessary function in any free, educated society, what will happen as a result?

I know, I know, this is quickly changing from an account of my personal experiences at the RIF trials into a deeper, philosophical rant that I may not even be qualified to facilitate. That is not my intention, but it's awfully hard to avoid.

Have you ever eaten a steamed artichoke? I just had one last night. It takes forever. You spend all this time pealing off leaf after leaf, sort of burning your fingers as you go (if you're like me and are too impatient to wait for it to cool). Then you finally get done with all of the outer leaves, and by that time you're pretty sick of artichoke, but you know that you're almost at the heart. Except then you have to get past all those finicky little hairlike things covering the heart, and they get all over the place, sort of like dandelion fluff, and when you finally get to eat the heart, some of the hairlike things get caught in your teeth and you decide that it's a whole lot easier just to buy a jar of marinated hearts than to do this, even though you know this is so much more natural and good for you. You know what I mean?

I think I'm only about halfway through the leaves of this massive artichoke of a problem and my fingers are scorched. I'm about to give it up and order a pizza.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Settle in. It's a long one.

In the basement of the California Mart building in downtown Los Angeles, one can find a series of bright, cavernous rooms buzzing with the sound of the fluorescent panels that hang from a ceiling of exposed ducts and wiring. In the back of one of these rooms sits three long tables decorated with black table skirts along with perhaps a dozen rows of hard, plastic chairs. The room is exceptionally cold. Footsteps can be heard echoing each time someone makes his way to the restroom or to take a phone call. This is the setting for the Los Angeles Unified School District’s hearings for educators who have received a Reduction in Force notice. In other words, this is where teachers come to defend their qualifications in front of a judge in the hopes that someone in the legal system will understand what the students of this city really need. From what I’ve seen in the last two days, that just doesn’t seem likely.

A bit of a disclaimer, before I dig in. I am not a reporter. I am a teacher, a librarian, and a writer. This account is crafted from my personal perspective, biased as it may be, and combines events from two days observing the hearings. As there were no reporters present, my point of view may be the only one available to the general public at this moment. I do not contend that the events detailed here are exact or verbatim. I do contend that this is the gist of it.

From my cold, plastic chair facing the court, I can observe on my right hand side the attorneys for United Teachers Los Angeles, who are the men that will make my case when the time comes. Their table is laden with binders nearly eight inches thick that are filled with the thousands of documents we teachers have entered into evidence. These are teaching credentials, lesson plans, and letters of recommendation, among other things. Most of this will not be admitted into evidence, or if it is, will be labeled hearsay. What a waste of paper. The UTLA attorneys seem flustered and distracted at their worst, but can be pointed and on top of things at times. They are slightly more knowledgeable about their clients and schools than LAUSD’s lawyers, I would say, but that is not saying much.

On my left is the school district’s table of attorneys. They have a plastic cart filled with evidence binders and their own files of information collected on each of us in what I can only assume was a rather hurried manner. I have come to think of them as evil incarnate. One appears to be content in his role, the other a reluctant but acquiescent pawn who may have trouble looking himself in the mirror at bedtime. They are there to squash the credibility of teachers and librarians without mercy. My employer has become my enemy.

Perhaps the most important thing to note, the most important point of all, is that these legal eagles seem to know very little about education. Pedagogy, current research, and national trends escape them. Their line of questioning is often nonsensical and even absurd, eliciting ripples of laughter among the forty or so educators watching the proceedings. These are the people making the decisions about what will happen, day after day, in our schools.

The hearings crawl along at a snail’s pace, each attorney and the judge rifling through mountains of documents and then discussing which belongs in evidence and which does not. The respondents wait on the stand, suddenly unsure of their own skills as teachers after long and tiresome rounds of questions that mean nothing to a person who spends her days inside a classroom. The students are almost never mentioned by the attorneys, except to ask whether we take attendance for them or enter their into grades into a computer system.

Sometimes a hearing becomes riveting. I find myself perched on the edge of my seat, waiting to hear what shocking question will spill out of the LAUSD attorney’s mouth. The first of these concerns a teacher named Mrs. Cook, a lovely, well-dressed woman in her early forties perhaps. As far as I understand, Mrs. Cook has taught Advanced Placement Government, Economics, and World History at So-and-So High School for a number of years, but not that many. She was laid off by the district because her seniority date did not reach back far enough into the past for them to consider her truly qualified.

Mrs. Cook was there to contest her RIF on the following grounds: One, she was the only of the three History teachers at her school both willing and able to teach Advanced Placement coursework. Two, in the years she has been teaching the AP classes, the passing rate on the AP tests has gone up nearly forty percent, helping many of her students gain credit, admittance, and scholarships for college. Three, depriving the school of their only AP History teacher simply because of a seniority issue creates an inequity of services for the students in that community and her RIF should therefore be rescinded.

Well, duh.

The attorneys from LAUSD asked Mrs. Cook a number of questions, but the really juicy stuff came near the end of her testimony.

LAUSD: Mrs. Cook, didn’t you testify that there are two other credentialed history teachers at your school with more seniority than you?

Mrs. Cook: Yes.

LAUSD: So, if you were no longer a teacher at that school, there would be two other teachers who could teach the AP classes?

Mrs. Cook: Technically yes, but as I said before, each of them has stated that he will not accept a position teaching AP coursework. In addition, they have not received the training required to write an AP syllabus that would be acceptable to the College Board.

LAUSD: But they could, isn’t that correct?

Mrs. Cook: Well, I suppose, but they’ve said that they will not.

LAUSD : Please, Mrs. Cook, just answer the question I’m asking. These two teachers who have more seniority than you could teach the AP classes in your place. Is that correct?

Poor Mrs. Cook: Yes, that is correct.

Unbelievable. Here is how this translates in my mind: The Los Angeles Unified School District does not give a rip that the students at So-and-So High will no longer have a qualified AP history teacher. They do not care who the most effective educator might be. They do not care if the students go to college. They. Do. Not. Care. They have instructed their attorneys to go for the jugular, and to do so, they are ignoring years of mandates that have required teachers to jump through hoop after hoop to become highly qualified. No longer does one need to be trained to teach Advanced Placement. One just needs to be old enough and to be present.

These thoughts are occurring to me for the very first time, even though we are in the third year of massive teacher layoffs. Before sitting in on this hearing, I was under the impression that my large, mismanaged school district was more a bumbling idiot than a conniving schemer. Now though, I have been given a glimpse of the truth.

Some background is necessary here, I think. Two school years ago, LAUSD initiated year one of the Reduction-in-Force (RIF) movement, pleading budget shortfalls. We accepted this as an inevitability of the global economic crisis. It was unfortunate; we protested, we passed out leaflets, but we did not strike. My school lost many wonderful, bright, talented educators to charter and private schools, as well as careers outside of education. Many decided to return to law or medicine, the careers they had dreamed of as children before discovering the nuanced beauty of pedagogy. We persisted with substitute teachers in classes where no one would accept a position. We worried about what would happen next. And then it did.

One school year ago, we experienced another round of layoffs, again reducing our pool of energetic, innovative teachers and replacing them with people who were shuffled around from school to school, or office to school, who didn’t really want to be where the district was placing them. Many stayed only a month or two before fleeing for greener pastures, and the students suffered. The ACLU took action against the district for the inequitable layoffs in schools in impoverished areas. Forty-two schools were declared exempt from year three’s layoffs (in the event they would happen, which of course they did), but mine was not among them. Even though we had nearly thirty teachers who received RIFs each year (many more than in schools in areas with higher socio-economic indicators), even though our school is in an impoverished part of Los Angeles, we were not put on the exemption list because, and here’s the kicker, our test scores were too high. We were, essentially, punished for succeeding.

This year, once again, thousands of teachers went home to find the dreaded notification of a certified letter at the end of a long, taxing day in the classroom. Many didn’t bother to pick up the certified letter, knowing what it would say (side note: how much money was spent sending thousands of certified letters?). Nearly five thousand people, most of them tenured this time around, received the notice and started the wait. The wait consists of three months (at least) of psychological terror during which one does not know what will happen to one’s passion and commitment, income, mortgage payments, and general livelihood the following school year.

Last year, members of the union voted to accept seven furlough days in exchange for hundreds of jobs. This year, LAUSD wants twelve with no solid indication of what will be saved with that sacrifice. We have yet to strike, and this battle is being fought relatively quietly and within our own ranks. It is, unfathomably, not yet part of the general public’s consciousness.

So here I am, in the basement, the light panels zapping my brain as it dawns on me that these hearings are no innocent byproduct of a global economic collapse. Something sinister is happening, but I can’t yet put my finger on it.

On and on it goes, teacher after teacher getting pummeled by bullies who are dumber than dirt when it comes to education. Law, they seem to know ok. Or maybe it’s not law, but something else, like badgering and stalling. That’s how it feels as I watch.

I’m not here just as an observer. Soon I will be under that gun, so I want to see what I’m in for while I can still prepare. The real show for me begins when the Teacher Librarians (TLs) begin to take the stand. TLs are being eliminated by the district, or so it seems. I do not approve of this, nor do I think it will result in any real monetary savings in the long run, since the amount of money that will be needed for intervention later in order to make up for the lack of reading skills this causes will be phenomenal. However, the squabble the TLs are having with the district at these hearings is not even about the closure of dozens of libraries across the city. What we object to now (after having reluctantly and not fully conceding the point about libraries in general, since it has proven nearly unwinnable) is the recency rule that says were are no longer qualified to teach in a classroom setting in our other teaching credential(s), which means we are flat out fired no matter what our seniority dates might be. Twenty-five years as a teacher? If you made the mistake of transitioning into a Librarian position, too bad! You are no longer qualified.

The logic behind the recency rule seems to be based on poor decision making from last year. LAUSD sent scores of people into classrooms who had been sitting in cubicles for ages. These were people with dusty old teaching credentials, waiting for retirement in the cool, air-conditioned Beaudry building in downtown LA. (To be fair, many of these people did real, important work in their office settings. I personally know people who may have been in cubicles, but remained good teachers in spite of not spending their days in schools. A generalization is made here only to drive home a point. You will recall that I am not a journalist presenting the cold hard facts, but a teacher attempting to provide a synopsis of a cold, hard process. ) When layoffs began, these educators were saved because of their time served, but their office positions were cut and they went back to school for the first time in who knows how long. This did not go well. Everything had changed. The research, the curriculum, the technology, the furniture, the processes, the policies, the basic and fundamental understanding of how students learn.

An epic failure, test scores took a dive as unruly and bored children rebelled and administrators struggled to reacclimatize these cubicle-dwellers with slow, low success rates. So this year, LAUSD got wise. Make a rule that says that if you haven’t been in a classroom for five years, you can’t be in one ever again. No more problem, right?

Here’s the rub. The library is a classroom, not a cubicle. Teacher Librarians perform all of the functions that classroom teachers perform on a daily basis. TLs know the content well. TLs attend faculty and department meetings, have conferences with parents, plan lessons, deliver instruction, evaluate student work, and, by the way, are defined by their contracts with LAUSD as……Teachers.

So here I am in this courtroom day after day, waiting for my chance to prove that I am a teacher, and that this recency rule that was applied like a wet blanket over all of us should not stand. When the TLs got on the stand, thing got tense. And so tedious I cannot even describe how badly I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs. The best way I can think of explaining the vicious humiliation doled out by the LAUSD attorneys is to describe four scenarios that illustrate their flawed but deliberate reasoning for taking us out of the schools forever.

Scenario One – What Dewey Teach, Anyway?

A TL whose original teaching credential is in High School English takes the stand. Let’s say he’s been working for the district for, oh, fifteen years, the last six or seven in the library. He is attempting to show that he is familiar with the English Language Arts content and curriculum. LAUSD wants to prove he is not.

LAUSD: Sir, are you familiar with the Dewey Decimal System?

Laughter from the peanut gallery as the TLs in the room reflect on the idiocy of these proceedings.

TL: Uh, well, yes. Of course I am.

LAUSD: Could you please describe to the court what the Dewey Decimal System is?

TL: It’s an organizational system used in the library to catalog and locate the books.

LAUSD: And is the Dewey Decimal System an alphabetical system?

TL: Heh. Well, no sir, it’s a numerical system.

LAUSD: So, the Dewey Decimal System uses numbers, is that correct?

TL: That is correct.

Let me just add that in this moment, we are all on the edge of our seats. Where could this be going? Is the LAUSD attorney just stalling? There is no reason we can possibly imagine that he would be asking about dear old Melville Dewey.

LAUSD: Would you say that in the course of your day you use numbers?

Gasps from the audience. What does this even mean?

UTLA: Objection. Vague.

Judge: Sustained.

LAUSD: Sir, would you say that using numbers is an important part of working in the library on a daily basis?

UTLA: Objection! Vague, your honor. Numbers? Where is this going?

LAUSD: Your honor, I am simply trying to establish that Mr. So-and-So does NOT spend at least 75% of his time working on the English content that he claims he is competent to teach.

UTLA: Your honor, the Dewey Decimal System is an organizational system, not a mathematical concept. This line of questioning is irrelevant.

Judge: Sustained. Move on.

So, here is my interpretation of this scenario. LAUSD wants to claim that the Dewey Decimal System is a numerical system and therefore we TLs use so much math in our daily practice that we can’t possibly be teaching much else. Well then, why don’t they put us all in math classes? Riddle me that, why don’t you?

This is, of course, absurd on many, many levels. Our lawyers, the UTLA lawyers, really should have been coached on these matters. The answer to this line of questioning ought to have made clear that all content area teachers are familiar with and use the Dewey Decimal System, as all content area teachers utilize the library’s resources in the course of their teaching, and therefore the Dewey Decimal System is as ubiquitous on a school campus as is any other regular function that teachers perform and is not related to any specific content area. It is akin to using a table of contents, index, or glossary in a classroom textbook to locate needed information. I would have also liked to point out that the use of said system is embedded into what we do in such a seamless way that there is not a chance in hell that we spend 25% of our time on it. If that were the case, it would take an hour to find a book on the shelf that it takes only seconds to do in reality.

Scenario Two – Left Hand, Right Hand: Which is Which?

In this case, LAUSD made an argument opposite to the one above, in terms of the use and practice of content area instruction. This TL holds a Multiple Subject teaching credential, qualifying her to teach elementary school and some middle school. She has been teaching as a middle school Teacher Librarian for a decade. She was an elementary school teacher for a decade before that.

LAUSD: Are you familiar with the California mandates for Physical Education in the first grade classroom?

TL: Do you mean the standards?

LAUSD: Yes, the mandates as set forth by the state of California.

As an aside, no one calls them mandates in the world of education. He meant standards, but he didn’t know it. If he meant mandates, he might be asking how many minutes of PE are required per week, etc. These are not things teachers need to know, but are the realm of school administration. Of course, even though he works for LAUSD, no one told him the difference.

TL: Well, no, not off the top of my head.

LAUSD: So, you don’t know the Physical Education requirements for first grade?

TL: No, not off the top of my head.

LAUSD: Don’t you hold a credential to teach elementary school?

TL: Yes, I do.

LAUSD: If you were to be placed in a first grade classroom position, who would be responsible for making sure the students received the state mandated PE instruction?

TL: I would.

LAUSD: But you don’t know what those mandates are?

TL: You mean the standards? No, not off the top of my head.

Here, the LAUSD attorney wants to require us to have memorized all content area standards for grades in which we have not worked for a number of years. They want to say that we are unqualified if this question stumps us, if we have not honed in on one content area for 75% of our time (the opposite of the argument from scenario one).

Here is what I would say to this: LAUSD, the very district trying to prove we are not capable of adapting, has required each of us to adhere to an ever-changing professional development program for as long as we have been in the district. We meet at our schools, at the district level, and are sometimes even sent to state or national conferences in order to incorporate new concepts, content, and strategies into our daily instructional practice. We have been taught by the district to adapt to new curricula and assessments that are thrown at us every couple of years. We have been taught to learn, and it is LAUSD who has taught us to do so. If I am truly incapable of reading the first grade PE standards and using my many pedagogical skills to create lessons to teach them, then yes, I am an unqualified teacher. Knowing the standards off the top of my head has nothing to do with it.

Here are some examples of the first grade PE standards:

· Kick a rolled ball from a stationary position

· Identify the right and left sides of the body

· Explain the importance of drinking water during and after physical activity

This is not calculus. I think I could manage to incorporate this into my daily teaching routine without have to return to university for an advanced degree. I already have an advanced degree, by the way. It’s in Education, which means that I know how to deliver instruction about pretty much anything, as long as I understand the content. I know how to do all of the things listed in the first grade PE standards, so….

Scenario Three – Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

In this scenario, the TL has worked for LAUSD since, I believe, 1977. He holds multiple teaching credentials, one of them qualifying him to teach high school Social Studies classes, although he has never done so outside of the Library setting.

LAUSD: I see that you’ve submitted a lesson plan into evidence for a research project on various countries.

TL: That’s correct. The students were assigned a country and then did research on the history, culture, politics, etc. of that country.

LAUSD: So, you taught them research skills?

TL: Yes, and I also taught them about the countries they’d been assigned.

LAUSD: So, you taught them about the history of those countries?

TL: Briefly, yes. As you can see, there are about twenty countries on the list.

LAUSD: So, you taught them about the history of Armenia?

TL: Yes, briefly, I did.

LAUSD: Could you please tell the court what you told the class about the history of Armenia?

TL: You want me to give a lecture on Armenian history? Now?

LAUSD: Please, if you wouldn’t mind.

The TL then proceeded to give a 3-4 minute lecture on the history of Armenia. He was spot on, and I think the LAUSD lawyer may have been a bit disappointed. The disrespect for this man’s credentials here is egregious.

Again, why weren’t the UTLA attorneys coached? Several points that I would have made are:

One, research skills are a part of almost all content areas at the secondary level, so why is LAUSD treating them as the bastard stepchild relegated only to the library? Two, research skills cannot be taught in a vacuum; content is imperative or the research is meaningless. And finally, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, when issuing a credential to a teacher, verifies that the teacher has met subject matter competency requirements. If LAUSD takes issue with the CCTC’s definition of subject matter competency, then that should be a discussion between those two organizations. End of story. The TL should not have been made to prove to a panel of lawyers with no pedagogical training (and, by the way, perhaps zero knowledge of the history of Armenia?) that his valid, current teaching credential is actually valid.

Scenario Four – Gotcha!

In this scenario, the LAUSD lawyers just got plain old nitpicky.

LAUSD: How much of your school day would you say you spend teaching?

TL: I teach all day long.

LAUSD: You teach all day?

TL: Yes.

LAUSD: Do you ever catalog books?

TL: Yes.

LAUSD: Are you teaching while you are cataloging books?

TL: (pause) No.

LAUSD: Do you ever write purchase orders for library materials?

TL: Yes.

LAUSD: Are you teaching while writing these purchase orders?

Ack! UTLA lawyers, where are you? First, teachers have conference periods. That’s when they take care of administrative and clerical tasks. Second, TLs do all these things in the moments between classes, or after school, or when a class cancels its appointment because of district-mandated testing, for example. If this is the kind of thing that’s going to persuade the judge to rule against us, I will have lost my faith in judges.

At the end of the first day of the hearings I attended, the judge was visibly frustrated. Twenty TLs had been on the docket and only four had been heard. Each of us brought a mountain of evidence that the attorneys would argue about, one page at a time. The judge asked the attorneys to come to an agreement, to make a deal, to expedite the process. It was clear that she believed the TL testimony would be the same thing over and over. Yes, we teach. Yes, we evaluate student progress. Yes, we are familiar with the content. Blah, blah, blah. On and on it would go, unless the lawyers agreed to something that would put an end to this. Perhaps lifting the recency rule for all TLs would do it. Perhaps rescinding our RIF notices. Perhaps allowing us to have a single spokesperson testify on the behalf of the group (we had chosen such a person and she was prepared).

The lawyers conferred and we murmured to each other while sending out a prayer and crossing our fingers. As a group, we had been pummeled pretty hard. We were tired and no one wanted to come back for another round of this the next day, much less for the weeks it would take if they heard us one by one. We had coffee jitters and our toes were cold from the air-conditioning. We were angry and humiliated, scared of what might happen, frustrated by the snail’s pace and inefficiency of the proceedings. Please, oh please, just make some sort of deal.

The lawyers returned to their tables.

UTLA: Your honor, we were unable to come to an agreement.

LAUSD: Your honor, we want to prosecute them all.

Ouch. Could that be what he really said? Prosecute them all? It was; I was sitting just behind him and heard it quite clearly. So, back the next day, and the next. The same thing over and over again with the same results. I believe that’s the definition of insanity, is it not?

So many questions arise as I think about this process. I have answers for none of them, although I do nothing but speculate as I try to fall asleep, as I drive to work, as I shower. What I think is this:

LAUSD does not want to pay for the TLs because we are expensive. Most of us have been teaching long enough with enough advanced degrees that we are at or near the top of the pay scale. If we were allowed to return to the classroom, our pay would be the same. Better for LAUSD to discredit us and replace us with young teachers on emergency credentials who will make little more than half of what we do.

It is clear that LAUSD has instructed its lawyers to do whatever they can to prove were are unqualified, even though we have satisfied every single requirement for qualification that LAUSD had asked of us for years, not to mention the state itself.

It is clear that LAUSD does not give credence to the massive volumes of research that prove that school libraries are directly linked to student achievement. Perhaps LAUSD is not aware of this research, but I imagine it is just being ignored.

It is clear that LAUSD is not trying to provide the best possible services for its students. The AP history teacher is a case in point. Student achievement is not LAUSD’s highest priority.

What is not clear is what will happen next. Will the libraries be closed and locked? Will the district violate state Education Code and keep the libraries open with clerical staff but no credentialed Teacher Librarians? Who will be the teachers in the coming years, when thousands of qualified and tenured faculty members have been released while the Board of Education announces a massive teacher shortage? Why is there no media coverage of these hearings, and does anyone even know we’re down there in the basement, defending ourselves? And on a personal level, can I continue working for an organization that wants to prosecute me? Even if the judge rules in my favor, can I stomach the thought of taking a paycheck from a school district that will just keep trying to push me out?

On Friday, I returned to my school. It was a pleasure to see the children and to work as a teacher, but it was a bittersweet feeling after having been where I had been. The truth is, there is little time left to make plans for the library’s future. If it closes, if I’m released, what will happen to that room? My library is one of the largest middle school libraries in the entire district, with over 35,000 items in its collection. There are twenty-five computers, three printers, an LCD projector, and shelves of multimedia resources. The value of that library is well over a million dollars. So what will happen to it after June 30th of this year, if I am gone and my clerks are gone (yes, they were laid off as well)? Will teachers and students just come and go as they please, taking books willy-nilly? If so, why is LAUSD not concerned about the financial loss implicit in that scenario?

Today I am furloughed. Tomorrow I go back to the hearings to plead my case. I do not want to. The next day I go back to school to prepare the library to be closed forever, or to be run a few hours a week by a reluctant clerk, or to be ransacked. The questions continue to pile up, but no answers are forthcoming. Stand by for further developments. Hurry up and wait.

At the bottom of all of this is a political reality that I find so daunting, so dark, that to enter into a discussion of it strikes fear in my heart and nausea in my belly. I believe that this is part of a larger movement in our city (and state, and finally, nation) towards a for-profit education model that takes pressure off of elected officials and puts money in the pockets of clever financiers.

Charter organizations are sweeping the nation, taking over school after school under the guise of a reform movement that doesn’t exist. I believe that LAUSD is in cahoots with this movement. Perhaps it is not LAUSD as a whole, but instead the unseen, rarely heard politicos that move the gears inside the machine, like the Wizard of Oz. The collapse of LAUSD will accomplish some big things for a few people.

A Prediction in Ten Simple Steps:

  1. 1. LAUSD proves that its teachers are awful and should be fired.
  2. 2. The school board allows charter organizations to take a crack at running the schools.
  3. 3. Charter organizations receive public funds meant to finance the education of children (just under $7,500 per student in 2009-2010), but are not required to fund libraries, provide special education services, or pay teachers union wages. This means that charter schools can pay for services that cost only three or four thousand dollars per student, let’s say, and pocket the rest.
  4. 4. Charter organizations are allowed to remove students from their schools at their discretion, sending low-performing students back to the public schools just in time for state testing. What luck! Schools with no special education students, few English Language Learners, and the ability to remove low-performing students prior to state testing show, according to the only measures we seem to care about (tests), improvement and success, thus lending credibility to the reform ruse. (Note: Although people believe that charters’ test scores are higher than public schools, in many cases a direct comparison shows otherwise. Why aren’t they higher, I ask you?)
  5. 5. Charter organizations (run largely by financiers, investment bankers, etc who are making a nice profit) gain legitimacy as an educational reform model, making inroads in districts across the nation.
  6. 6. Mayors, governors, and other politicians get a nice break from answering for their failing school systems.
  7. 7. Qualified teachers move on to other careers, while inexperienced, underpaid teachers are worked to the bone and burn out after only a few years.
  8. 8. This goes on and on for years. Few people notice, because few people think about schools unless they have school-age children. In a state where people elected not to pay an extra $18 on their car registration in order to fund state parks, who would expect any different?
  9. 9. Consumers begin to wonder why the clerk at the Gap doesn’t understand how to calculate the 40% discount on last season’s khaki capris when her computer is down and her manager is on break. This seems outrageous. Eventually, people begin to take note that nearly half of the students entering college need remedial classes, teachers are leaving the profession after just a few years due to burnout, dropout rates increase, and students are faced with huge inequities from campus to campus.
  10. 10. Finally, the public demands yet another overhaul of the school system. The charter organizations are evaluated using the same criteria they imposed on public schools years ago to prove their incompetence. The charters are proven incompetent. Local governments reestablish public school districts and states spend millions of dollars for intervention consultants, trainers, and curricula to swoop in and repair the state of affairs. Libraries are re-stocked and re-opened. New teachers are recruited and trained. And we begin again, from the beginning.

As this happens, I will be raising my own children. I will not be allowed to participate in these movements, and I will not be a teacher. I will grapple with how to educate my children and will be forced to forsake my belief in free education for the public, because that will no longer exist. I cannot afford private school for them, and I do not believe home schooling is a good choice in terms of social-emotional development (plus, I cannot afford it). As a person who has devoted her life to the art and science of teaching, I will be faced with no acceptable choice for my children.

Yes, I would like to continue work as a teacher and librarian. People who are teachers, real teachers, cannot imagine doing anything else. It’s a knack, a calling, like a painter or writer or brain surgeon may feel. If not allowed to teach, what will we do? More than this though, I’d like the children, all of the children, to have teachers who are supported, respected, and assisted, not attacked, discredited, and humiliated. I’d like the children to be given what we know that they need, not just what we can afford, or what we feel like giving them at the time. Maybe it’s hard to say what they need or how to give it to them. What is abundantly clear to me, however, is that what they don’t need…is this.