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.


46 comments:

Library Slim said...

Nora - my heart is with you. It really is a gut-wrenching situation. To love the job and not get the validation you deserve. It stings. You are a lot more mature about this situation than I would be. Your blog is beautifully written and very professionally done. Kudos to you.

Stephanie said...

Arrggh. I am not doing a good job holding back the tears as I read. You are an amazing woman, Nora Murphy. Amelia and I are so honored to know you as a friend and a teacher. Love ya!

mrsjustice said...

This breaks my heart. I've been following your blog and your story in the papers from the opposite side of the country. As a school librarian in NC, I understand your love for the profession and the students. It amazes me that people could treat us this way. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to hear Dr. Maya Angelou speak at a womens' conference. At one point, she spoke about the importance of librarians and how they are as educated, trained, and vital as heart surgeons. As you can imagine, I had to applaud that. So, I hope you take your training and education and find a place that offers at least a shred of respect for you since your district does not. Good luck to you.

Sparky's Retreat said...

Nora: Don't leave so soon. Wait and see how the whole drama plays out. I, too feel the humiliation and I wasn't even on the stand. In her book The Artist's Way, a spiritual path to higher creativity, Julia Cameron espouses the idea of "brain drain" through the writing of the morning pages. You have been cleansed through the honesty of your words. It is a violation of your privacy to make public those blog pages for such a despicable purpose.

nobanzhof said...

Nora, my heart goes out to you. I am still having a hard time processing the fact that you and your colleagues have had to undergo these "hearings". It it a disgrace, period. I hope that you find yourself in a better place, where you and your talents are appreciated.
Best wishes from Philadelphia,
Nora Banzhof

turtlelearning said...

Nora -- your blog is so wonderful. All I can think is that LAUSD is losing one of the best teachers ever! Shockingly they persecuted you, but I also saw them do similar things to elementary and high school teachers who were testifying to their seniority dates or importance for their schools. Somehow we who work or have worked for LAUSD have never had much control over our work -- we are at the mercy of a system that ultimately does not care about individuals. I admire you for your passion, commitment, and objectivity and the ability to forgive in this last post. I think my anger goes more towards "our" lawyers who did no preparation for these hearings. At least the judge sustained some of their objections.
Nora - you are wonderful!!

Ms. Burke said...

Thank you for being brave enough to step up.

mnemonic said...

For what it's worth, I believe you will find over time that you feel better about having taken on this fight and less bad about LAUSD's lawyers' decision to attack you personally for doing so. It is tough being a witness in a hot seat -- if I had been prepping you, I'd have given you perhaps more warning about this risk than you apparently got. But I'd still have urged you to do what you did.

MadamRenfield said...

I am so sorry you are going through this. You don't deserve it and I have to wonder why an educator can, in this day and age, be so utterly pilloried. I've been there. Stay strong. This too will pass. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

Alicia said...

Your dedication and courage in the face of this tough situation are amazing. We're all pulling for you!

backgroundbob said...

I'd just like to thank you, on behalf of all the many, many children for whom you have been an inspiration, especially the vast majority of them who will never even realise it has been so. As someone who benefited from some truly magnificent teachers, several of the best of whom would probably have faced discipline if their particular teaching methods had been more widely known, I can say from the bottom of my heart that when it comes to really making a difference in children's lives, the gap between doing things correctly and doing things right is a good deal wider than soulless middle-management hacks in suits will ever understand.

My gratitude towards you and everyone who steps up to the plate to do such a difficult and valuable job is immense, and I hope that you never give up teaching. Bless you! May your students always be attentive, your superiors human beings, and your bookshelves full. Good luck, we will all be thinking of you.

JustKristin said...

Nora, I salute you. You are the bigger entity, and I hope to be like you when I grow up. Stay strong, lady.

nathancrowder.com said...

I've never read your blog before, but I've been reading about the situation with the LAUSD for a while now, even though I don't live in L.A. (or California, for that matter). I was raised the son of a librarian, and even considered following the same career path before striking out to become an author.

I am heartsick to read your personal account of the situation in the trenches. I feel that a culture should be judged by how it treats the keepers of that culture. It is clear to me that the general lack of respect for teachers and librarians by those with the purse-strings is a tragedy.

My sincere hope is that you find a place where your talent, your worth, is regarded with the merit you are due. The world needs more of you.

Thank you.

mlm-beta said...

To think of anyone treated like this is horrifying. But to think of a librarian--librarians are nearly sacred figures to me, especially those who take it as seriously as you do--to think of a librarian treated like this is crushingly sad.

Other posters are right. The pain of what they did to you will fade, and you will use it to build something new and possibly even better. You can't keep a good librarian down. Hugs to you.

Brian said...

Heard about this story on Twitter. I feel so frustrated reading it. I can only imagine the level of emotion you are enduring.

While this is a hard time, you sound like a very strong person and will no doubt find a way to turn this into an opportunity.

I've bookmarked your blog and I wish you well. I'm cheering for you!

avatar139 said...

Nora - I found your blog on Twitter and after reading several entries going back through the past few months let me just say I've found your writing really shows your genuine passion that makes you a credit to your profession!

With that said I think there is something I'd like to say in response to your posts revolving around the hearings being conducted.

You seem to assume that Lawyers should/are willing to be "coached" to ensure accuracy about the subject they're contending in court which leads me to believe that you don't really don't seem to understand the legal profession very well.

A lawyer can't question an expert witness about a subject on the basis of expertise that he doesn't have so he uses various tactics to discredit that witness's testimony instead.

Accuracy about the subject of the discussion is one of the factors that weigh into the legal process leading up to a decision but ultimately lawyers people deal purely with the law, so I think the fact that they are engaging in the various tactics you've described have less to do with the LAUSD who hired those lawyers to represent their interests and more the tactics lawyers use try to represent their client's interests in court.

As a result my advice to you would be not to take their tactics so personally by viewing everything that they say and/or do as a direct representation of the views of the LAUSD.

I'm afraid one of the sad truths I've found as I get older is that the majority of court cases stem from people making ignorant assumptions that the law somehow conforms to common sense whereas the truth of the matter is that knowing your rights and at least some basic law will generally get you out of more legal issues before you get in too deep than all the common sense and good intentions in the world ever will... :(

mrcmyoung said...

You are an absolute inspiration to me. Whatever happens with the district, you are the winner here. You stood up for librarians and teachers in your blog (and in a way I'm glad those district lawyers read it) and got the word out - across the country! - about how LAUSD treats its teachers and students. I've always admired how you stand up for what you believe in. I don't think I could have been as strong as you through all of this.

You are allowed to feel bruised, betrayed and beaten up, but I will not stand for you questioning your ability as a teacher. You are without a doubt one of the best educators I have ever worked with. You treat students with such respect and they love coming to your library and interacting with you. I became a better teacher through working with you, and my former students in Los Angeles as well as my current students in New Orleans continue to benefit as a result of your mentoring. You were so amazing at running a school library program that you inspired me to go back to school and change the direction of my career, and I know I'm not the only one you've done that too. In short, you are the best, a natural, and every student, teacher and administrator is better off for having worked with you.

So proud of you.

tinsenpup said...

It's an outrage that you and your colleagues have been subjected to this process. It seems as if you have been treated like criminals for attempting to retain employment. I can't even imagine the detrimental effect all of this will have on the students whose interests the district should be serving. I'm glad that you, at least, are ready to move on to greener pastures.

Richard Moore said...

Thank you for your ongoing testimony on the show trials in LA. Any chance of you presenting at the CSLA/CLA conference in Pasadena in November? I don't find you in the CSLA online directory. It sure would be great to have your voice there.

SafeLibraries said...

What a sad story. I agree with what you said. I too have a blog I've written for about 4 years. Is it WordPerfect? Of course not. Is anyones? Of course not.

I certainly hope common sense prevails and they rule in your favor.

Let me guess, however, that your students have and will always love and remember you. Let me guess if you do go elsewhere, this experience will actually enhance your opportunity. You know, like a "banned" book suddenly gets way more readers.

Good luck. Stay positive. May there be a big silver lining for you. From your writing, I can tell there will be.

Former Director said...

If you are let go, you should also consider contacting ALA's Merritt fund. Here is a link: http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/affiliates/relatedgroups/merrittfund/merritthumanitarian.cfm

Good luck!

ekirk0 said...

check out this animation from RSA.

http://youtu.be/zDZFcDGpL4U

Look for a different way to do what you want.

Brian Chabot said...

This is the contact info page for LAUSD:

http://www.lausd.k12.ca.us/district_directory/

I'd like to urge those who are as offended at their recent actions as I am to please use this as a list of people to contact.

turtlelearning said...

I can only say that I hope you decide to stick with this fight. I guess I'm selfishly thinking of my granddaughter who is five and who deserves to have a passionate and excellent teacher who really cares about her students. What you are being subjected to by LAUSD is part of a nation-wide effort to destroy public education. We need your passion and dedication. Thank you again, Nora, for all that you do.

learningtrek said...

Nora-my heart is tearing as I read about how the district used a personal blog to attack you as a teacher librarian. Your honesty of the process has been widely shared and hopefully assisted the district in examining themselves. Hopefully, the district will realize that losing you as a teacher would be a tragedy. Always best wishes to you. You are not alone in this journey. Kudos to you.

barbara said...

who is more important than a teacher? it's the district's loss that is very clear. i don't know how some of those "people" sleep at night. i guess they dream only of dollar signs and people don't mean a thing.

Susan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan said...

You should know that these "hearings," while they are supposed to be legal proceedings, are really not worth bothering with. Any real attorney will tell you these "trials" are kangaroo courts, shams, and you seldom prevail.

I went through a sham "termination" hearing in Nevada, and it was a total joke. See, school districts don't have to follow the law; they can fabricate charges in order to protect an administrator. These "lawyers" can forge documents, put in false documents, suborn perjury, tamper with witnesses, commit outright bribery of potential witnesses, and so on, and there is NOTHING you can do about it.

You naively believed you have rights. What a fool you are. Teachers have fewer rights in this country than McDonald's workers.

By the way, administrators have NO conscience. It's all about preserving their jobs at all costs, even if teachers' lives are destroyed, as mine was.

Barbara said...

I am one of the Australian teacher librarians have followed your story.

You are one of the eagles with whom I strive to soar.

Kevin Moore said...

This makes me ill. We shouldn't allow our educators to be treated like this. We didn't create these budget problems, these economic crises -- we suffer from them all the same. The real culprits carry on, either in the positions they had when they destroyed the economy, or enjoying their golden parachutes. No prosecution, no jail time, certainly no one interrogating them to justify the millions they earn wrecking our society. Absolutely disgusting.

Thank you for speaking out. You paid a dear price for it, and I am sorry. But you do us all a service by exposing this behavior and not taking it lying down. Best wishes.

penszen said...

I am absolutely horrified by this story. It's like something out of a repressive regime, not the beacon of truth and freedom that the US claims to be. Your journey to teacher librarianship really spoke to me. I am in the process of doing my masters to become a TL and I hope to join that fine profession and continue to be inspired by educators like yourself. Don't let the turkeys get you down. Don't doubt yourself. You're clearly fantastic at what you do. All the best from Australia. Penny

Michelle Kelley said...

Nora, I hope you never regret a word you've said here. They were honest words and ones that have spoken volumes about what is happening in LAUSD - and to some degree, in school libraries across the country. Had you not spoken, those basement interrogations would haver remained unknown events to most of us - instead you brought that into the public light so that we all might witness and rally in support. Thank you so much!

Nacho Mamma's Librarian said...

Nora
You echoed my feelings completely; I too felt completely demoralized after my hearing. I hope you will remember that because you spoke out, you brought the cause of Teacher Librarians and Libraries to the forefront across the nation. We can't pay you Nora, or give you a job, but the TLs in LAUSD love, admire, and thank you for your courage.

myska said...

Nora, you are an inspiration and a hero! This scenario is being reenacted all over the country--librarians, technologists, nurses and teachers are all being "rewarded" for their years of dedication and hard work in one of the most difficult professions around. My thoughts are with you and hope to see you emerge like the phoenix from the ashes of this fire!

Los Angelista said...

This is just heartbreaking. I am ashamed of our school district for doing this.

Mrs. Rogers said...

You're in my thoughts and prayers. You have inspired me to stick with my situation, to speak out for the informational needs of my students.

All I ever wanted to do was teach... since I was 7 years old. I never expected that it would be so hard to deliver quality instruction - that it would be blocked by those in charge.

You have given me courage, and you have reminded me that while I may feel very alone as the only certified librarian in my district, I'm not alone in this fight... and neither are you.

janettrumble said...

Our librarians have not yet been cut, but this year's RIF has been brutal on teachers. It breaks my heart, and I'm scared for all those who will soldier on in classrooms barely large enough to hold all those middle school bodies next year. I know in my heart, librarians are next. I have a year at most to seek a new direction. Best wishes to you!

Marie @ Lemondrop Vintage said...

So well said and reflective. Everyone of us has a moment when we don't shine as brilliantly as others, so you shouldn't feel one bit badly about your reflections on days that weren't your best. You were honest. Kudos and best wishes, and a thump on the head to anyone who thinks less of you for your honesty about the job you've done well for so long.

Mrs. Shorts said...

Thank you for being so brave and so inspirational! We are with you across the country in Connecticut!

The Librain said...

Nora, your story has reached us in the UK too. I have tears in my eyes as I read your blog. You are an inspiration to us all. My very best wishes for your future.

Ms.Berube said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SafeLibraries said...

The following may be of interest as this is from one of the top two librarian bloggers:

"Teachers and Librarians in L.A.," by Annoyed Librarian, Library Journal, 2 June 2011.

Schoolgal said...

I had the library program for one year in a NYC elementary school. Of course it wasn't called "Library" because that would include extra administrative periods as well as a special license. So, instead it was a "Literacy" cluster position, but I still had to handle the immense amount of clerical work that goes along with the running of a library.

When it came to ordering books, I ordered many popular titles in a few different languages. The looks on the faces of the 5-year old students who were happy to have a book their parents could read to them made my day as did the reaction of a new immigrant from China (who just entered the 5th grade) when she walked out with a copy of Harry Potter. I was also grateful for the training I received through the district. I enjoyed new ways to teach research skills and was happy to implement them.

But my principal had other ideas. She wanted my book order in earlier than the deadline allowed. When I told her the Caldecott and Newbery Awards would be released in a few weeks, she didn't care. Then as the school year was coming to a close, she announced the library program would be changed to a writing program--or should I say, "test-prep" program. We argued about it, and I didn't apply for the position.

The teachers told me how happy the students were to come to the library. Even the volunteer who helped me out once a week noticed the difference.

The bottom line is this:
Test scores = principal bonus. Libraries are no longer important.
Making children lifelong learners and loving reading is on the bottom of the list--even in these days of the "reform movement".

You did the right thing in taking this to a hearing. But today budgets (and greed) trump a good education.

Sarah said...

I just saw a link to this blog piece from my FB. I've followed in the LA Times the story of these librarian teachers placed on trial. I'm sorry that you are going through this, sorry about these times, sorry about the fact that this is so utterly unlike anything, anyone can do much about but hang a head in shame. I often feel if this is how teachers are treated we can understand then how kids are treated.

I think your writing no doubt represents your concerns to do good work. If that ruins anyone then I would think it would be the system that "uses" it to do something that just sounds a true mess.

I continually see this the net result of funding the rich, but that's me...again this is such a heartfelt writing it is hard not to want to respond and give support. I hope you come through this ok.

Mr. Cantor said...

Are you working on a book about your experience? Your story needs to be told. School "reform" is damaging real teaching and learning all over this nation. Think about who would play you in the movie...

Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones - The Daring Librarian said...

Oh dear, you are such a class act. It is so sorrowful thinking that such an amazing educator as you had to go through this experience! But born out of fire, someone of your metal can only be made stronger from this trauma. Please let us, your admiring readers, know where you land & that you're happy! Consider coming to ISTE12 next year in San Diego - I'd love to meet you & shake your hand!
~Gwyneth