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.

45 comments:

Brian said...

I was RIFd in the first round of layoffs two years ago, I have been subbing ever since.

I know the pain and heartache that you are going through and can only sympathize with you. I wish I could offer more, but it is our union that is letting us down. I have had many elder teachers look me in the face and say, "Well, my jobs safe!" and refuse to even hear the words "job action" or "strike."

I believe you paint an accurate portrayal of how it will play out in the end. The pain caused by these few scam artists, sorry "reformers," will hurt generations to come.

You really touch my heart with this article and I will keep you in my prayers as I do all educators in this time of need.

David said...

So the one teacher who has the potential to help every student, every year, is considered expendable. A skilled librarian is the single most valuable and effective teacher on a school campus. Period. Politics may not be on your side, but history and truth will be. Small comfort perhaps as you endure this indignity, but I wish you strength.

John Snowden said...

Norah, this is eye opening and scary - thank you for putting it to eloquent words.

Of what you said, this is a major macro-fear of mine: "It is clear that LAUSD is not trying to provide the best possible services for its students."

I loathe charter-for-profit education as a concept, but on another day would like hear your expanded thoughts about a group of the best teachers - passionate, experienced, and equipped better than others doing the work you love, the work we (as a society) need, the work my (personal) kids must have, and the work you do well without the ideological paradox of being "backed" by an organization that fundamentally disregards its primary task of educating students.

For now, though, I really do pray that your trial (and I can't believe they're even framed as "trials") elicits nothing but the true impact you have on students.

I asked Rachel, "How good of a teacher was Norah? Good? OK? Great?" Her response was unflinching - one the absolute best educators she's seen. This, I pray, is what the judge can hear, and this insanity can stop.

(Can we also talk about de-funding lawyers before libraries?)

DHall said...

Talk about dystopias, Houston is marching toward it along with Los Angeles.

Gary and Gwen said...

Wow. I couldn't agree more! Exactly where is the media coverage of all of this? Or does the public (like you suggested) not really want to know. All of these issues are compounded in a place like Gary, IN. where we essentially have NO higher performing schools, and we have governor who believes that teacher's pay should be based on the test scores of their students (without regard to any other factors).

JanLewJohns said...

I think you have missed an important element of the future. The virtual school has a place in the "for profit" but doesn't work realm. What a sad statement of our world.

Ms.Berube said...

I am also a teacher librarian and fortunately have not been reduced any more (currently at 80%, with a 50% clerical staff). I really feel that LA Unified CTA may need to STRIKE. If there was ever a time, this is it! The entire state will take your lead - you are one of the largest and most influential districts in California. We would all stand strong with you.

Also, may I post a link to this blog on my facebook?

Phaedosia said...

I'm a public librarian and someone posted this article to calix. Wow. Just wow. I knew it was bad, but this is horrifying. Hope it's okay, I'm posting to my Facebook, too. Thank you for shining a light on this.

(My husband got his teaching credential two years ago, and we gave up hope in this climate. He is a stay-at-home dad now. And you're right, even if your job is still there for you, how do you stomach working for such an employer?)

The Light In Chains said...

I couldn't finish reading this, it made me so angry. Kafka would have wept.

Katy said...

I was linked here from a friend's FB post. I am so sorry. This makes my stomach turn. Absolutely disgusting.

Anna said...

I am also so disheartened by your story. I am a nurse pracititoner, and I've seen the same pattern in nursing in hospitals for years, especially the experienced ones leaving and the young ones quickly burning out, and leaving too. This is why we have a nursing shortage---not because too few hear the call, but because too many are forced out despite thier huge investment and compassion for their charges, and have to choose between their patients and colleagues and their own wellbeing and livelihoods. I agree, that there is something evil going on. There are people who not only don't care, but are actively out to sabotage 'the common good,' and are looking for a totally disempowered serf class to endlessly support their greed. They may be the few, but they have apparently effectively hoodwinked enough of the many to gain power enough to drag the whole country towards thier vision. Desparaging as it is.

Jezmynne said...

Get out. Just get out. I lived east of LA and my academic library was closed two years ago and many people lost their jobs. Last year my daughter's school library was closed and the librarian was laid off. I left the state, and I'm better for it. California is going to hell in a handbasket; there's no need to worry about falling into the ocean anymore as California is doing a fine job of self destructing. Best wishes, dear. How awful, and I'm so sorry.

An Observer Of Souls said...

Signs of decline in the world? Mutant frogs and disregard for our children and schools.

Thank you for sharing.

jen v said...

Bravo to you for telling your story. I only wish more pepole cared about this issue.

dkzody said...

All of the business teachers were RIF'd in 2003 in FUSD. The union went to bat for us, and I remember these hearings. Three painful days. Finally, at the last minute the district acquiesced and rehired us. I knew then that the days of the elective teacher were numbered so I started looking for a way out. Last year I retired. This year FUSD RIF'd all of the Home Ec teachers and there looks to be no going back. If it can't be tested, then it's not necessary.

Jamie said...

Hopefully you've seen it by now, but for those who haven't -- Hector Tobar of the LA Times wrote an article in Friday's paper: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0513-tobar-20110513,0,3002882.column ("The disgraceful interrogation of L.A. school librarians".)

This is just ludicrous. =(

Molly said...

Thank you for your personal and honest account of the ludicrousness taking place in LAUSD. As a dedicated educator, I felt my heart break a thousand times as I read the description of what you are all being put through by an out of touch, bullying, and irresponsible district. Interrogating and demoralizing teachers...I, in a state of stunned disbelief, keep asking myself "What is going on??" ... I struggle in trying to even comprehend such overt and reckless senselessness...

You know, it's strange. I had a unsettling dream the other night. In this dream, public education was outlawed, and educators-- armed with their unyielding belief in importance and value of what we're trying to do-- began to teach their students secretly in basements and underground hideouts.

Then there was an all out witch hunt. Educators were being hunted down and villified like regular criminals.I remember the overwhelming intensity-- the panic and fear-- I felt trying to fight for what we know to be so right and so true for the sake of our students, yet screaming without a voice anyone would listen to and with our very lives being threatened.

Upon waking up, I waited for that wash of relief to surface, that realization that it was just a dream to free me from the oppressive oceans of overwhelm and despair ... but it never came.

I will keep all of you in my prayers and thoughts, as I do what I can to take a stand.

Molly
www.saveourschoolsmarch.org

Kathy Kathy Kathy said...

Blogger just ate my long carefully composed post. Suffice it to say that here in the public schools in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, we feel your pain. However, we don't have to deal with your kangaroo court.

You paint an excellent picture of how it works when public money is given to private schools. We have that here.

Very few of our schools will have any certified people working in libraries next year. I am pondering how to close mine out right now.

I am not as optimistic as you are about how this will all play out. This is really class warfare. Certain elements (right wing) will not be happy until they don't have to pay for public education at all. I hope you are right that some measure of balance will return.

We are doing our best here to overturn this sort of sham democracy.

Tammi said...

This brings tears to my eyes. I am so so sorry. I am a teacher librarian and I was RIF'd last year. I miss it beyond words. But to also have had to go through this, I don't know how you do it. Stay strong

Marsha said...

I just wonder how much money the LAUSD is spending on lawyer fees.

Cindy Vernon said...

I am a teacher librarian at another district and so far how survived the first few rounds of cuts but I know it's only a matter of time. My tech was laid off last year and I am not allowed to have volunteers and/or TA's or library students assist because the CSEA contends that they are replacing the tech's job so I run a Library with 28,000 books, 15 computers and a circulation of over 12,000 books and materials by myself.

I do all of the shelving, cleaning, straightening, weeding, processing along with my professional duties. It is wearing and a bit frightening. When I read your story, I cannot imagine the confusion and anger you must feel. AS Librarians we give so much of ourselves into our profession, we have to prove our worth every day and remind staff every day that we are certificated and equal to the other teachers in every way.

I wish you must luck and hope that we can stand united and find a way to validate our profession so that the school library can continue to be a functioning and important resource, support and teaching center for our students and staff.

EGR MS Library said...

Hey, keep your chin up.

I'm still dealing with the ramifications of being transferred from the library back to an English classroom. My transfer also involved a transition to 7th grade, a level I've never taught before.

After 18 years, of teaching, I'm a novice again.

I'm not sure, but people keep telling me it beats being unemployed.

mathteckser said...

Great stuff!! All of us are watching to see what happens in LA as we are sure they are setting a prescient for the rest of the state/country! Hang in there our hearts go out to you!!!

mathteckser said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charlene Chausis said...

This was tweeted by a librarian colleague...@judygressel
Students in programs with more school librarians and extended library hours scored 8.4 to 21.8 % higher on ACT English tests and 11.7 to 16.7 % higher on ACT Reading tests compared to students in schools where libraries had fewer resources. http://bit.ly/lxpw9M

Hope it helps

Cristina Dolcetti said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cristina Dolcetti said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cristina Dolcetti said...

I wish you all the best! Even here in Canada, school libraries have faced cutbacks...

http://mobile.thestar.com/mobile/NEWS/article/991716

Cana said...

So very sorry you all have to endure this. Just read yesterday that the feds cut all money to school libraries and reading programs. Most all money is going to STEM. Maybe it's time for a nationwide name change for our positions to better align ourselves with the new federal initiatives. A position name the lawyers would understand and relates to STEM. Can't think of anything right now as I'm still shaking in my boots over this blog. But...I'm working on it. Hang tight. Lobby your elected officials in Washington to have the Elem./Secondary Act bill to include school library/reading funding.

library.momma said...

Thank you for sharing your harrowing experience with the world. I have limited experience with the mind-numbing bureaucracy of LAUSD through some friends and family and am not at all surprised at what they are now perpetrating upon their employees.
I disagree with only one of your comments, the one about home schooling. I work as a part-time librarian and home school my child. It is neither expensive nor does it stunt a child's social growth. Los Angeles has one the most vibrant home schooling communities in the state if not the nation with an abundance of free and inexpensive educational, cultural and social opportunities. Some of my fellow home schooling parents are teachers, either former or still employed and choose home schooling because they know they can give their children a better education than the one their children would receive in most public schools.
It seems the school district is intent on creating a generation of functionally illiterate adults. How sad for society.

Mizz Murphy said...

Library.momma, I hope you see this. I know too little about home schooling, and I'm really glad you brought it up. The more I've reflected upon it since writing that post, the more I see its merits. Thank you for pointing it out. I think alternative educational settings are where I'm headed. Oh, and my comment about not affording it was just about the loss of income it may cause if I were at home and not actively earning a paycheck. Thanks for reading!

kellybarnhill said...

This is the kind of crap that drove me out of education ten years ago. I'm so angry on your behalf, and on the behalf of your beloved children -because they are the true victims here - I can hardly speak. Los Angeles should be ashamed of itself. Hell, the whole nation should be ashamed of itself.

All I can say is this: I've never met you, but I so, so, so appreciate the work you do. And my heart breaks over this kind audacious nastiness that you have to endure to keep with your mission of educating children - *all* children.

God bless you and keep you. I'm sending all of my love to the librarians of Los Angeles today.

Laura said...

As a librarian in a small, supportive district on the east coast, I am horrified to read this account. Thank you so much for writing it. I must disagree, however, with your ending comments about charter schools. I'm sure you did not mean your comments to be blanket comments about charter schools for they are governed and regulated in very different ways depending on the state. Here in Massachusetts, charter schools have actively made a commitment to recruiting more ELL and special education students. In addition, charter schools are required to follow our students' IEPs and 504s just like any other school. One newly granted charter, MATCH Community Day is an example of a school that is focusing on the ELL population: http://www.wbur.org/2011/03/11/ell-charter
My one complaint about charter schools is that many don't hire librarians, but this is changing in some schools, too.

mlaiuppa said...

"We want to prosecute them all."

I think this says it all.

What are we? Criminals?

If I were called to such a hearing I would be extremely hostile and defiant. I would inform the union lawyer of my defense so he wouldn't be blind-sided. My position would be that my credentials were issued by the state of California and the state of California says I'm qualified to teach and the state and state alone has the power to revoke my credentials. The LAUSD lawyer and the district itself has no authority to nullify or dismiss my qualifications. And that would be the last thing I said. If the union lawyer didn't back me up, I'd be going to fee payer really fast.

I think there needs to be a huge push to make information SCIENCE part of STEM. When I got my MLIS it was in SCIENCE and I was with the rest of the science masters students for commencement.

Library and information science is not an art or an elective. It is a science and as such should be part of STEM.

geekgirrrl said...

Does anyone else notice the similarity to McCarthy hearing tactics of the 1950s? And book burning tactics of the Nazis? What are they afraid of? Too much thinking and authentic learning going on in all those libraries?!!

nobanzhof said...

I am sickened and heartbroken for you, your colleagues and your students, after reading your account of what is happening in LA. I am a teacher with the School District of Philadelphia. I am currently studying for my Master's in School Library Science. Honestly, I am speechless. We too are facing layoffs, etc. which are short-sighted at best, and the so-called "reform" movement, including charters and for profit "providers" are an ever-growing threat to public education, but nothing like what you are experiencing...yet. My thoughts and prayers are with you all.

Diane said...

After a career of classroom teacher and teacher librarian for 26 years in NJ, I took early retirement and stepped away from what I knew would soon crumble. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to experience the joy and satisfaction of performing my duties as an elementary teacher librarian with clerical support and a fair budget but I knew it wouldn't last. 5 years later, clerical support is gone and my collection has been ravaged and shipped around the district. Volunteers were recruited to reshelve what was left and who really needed a librarian anyway because classroom teachers could certainly bring their classes in and check out the books. Because the TL that took over after I left had been reassigned, the replacement (after the Board realized they needed SOMEONE)was a certified 1st year teacher with no library certification or knowledge. I am glad I got out when I did and didn't stick around to experience the death of what had been such vital part of the school community.
What you describe is heartbreaking and unfortunately not unique (though extreme). I have relocated to Maine where home schooling is thriving and TLs in public schools are few and far between. I miss the connections of students and staff, but the tide has turned and it will only ever exist as a memory for me. I am one of the fortunate ones that for 'one brief shining moment' felt I made a difference.

D'Laine said...

Thank you for the article. Anyone read Triblinka recently? (more later)

Do we not understand that this is "Young Goodman Brown"? This is government involvement (federal mostly) that/who, after mandating and enforcing intergration, should have step away and allowed local school districts to govern their own. I can speak with a local official at any time, about any concern.

If you think the local school districts allow some to fall through the cracks, wait until the federal government finishes with schools. Look at our healthcare system! $450.00 for an iv of sugar water?! (Shall I blame the insurance companies?)

The FIRST good teacher that you see RIFed (or whatever), it is YOU. Don't allow this absurdity to claim one more, because when it IS you, there will be no one left to come to your aid.

Has anyone read Triblinka recently? It is a superb study in the sociological and psychological procedures that the powerful use.

That is what is being used here. However, it is not just one single thing. I do not have all the answers. Some things I do know:

Most educated people remember Warsaw. Many others have disappeared.

The plane that crashed in the field was (almost) filled with American Heros - Signers of their own Declaration of Independence, and they gave their lives for others.

We must not go "gentle into that 'good' night (mare)." And I speak to myself in this. All teachers across the country should be ready to come to the aid of other good teachers/librarians - no matter what state.

Lord knows, I'm on 'the list' in my district. Everyone knows how I feel. We have too many closeted, silent protestors... fear is a nasty thing - so is poverty.

Enough! For now I say. Ideology is probably not even the devil here.

Follow the money. There, in this state anyway, is the true enemy.

Anyone recognized me? :^/

D'Laine said...

There is another way of looking at our problem

I will not play my husband in checkers. He has played all his life, and knows all the moves. His grandad taught him, and his grandad did not EVER LET him win. He had to learn it to earn it. Egro, I don't play...I can't win.

My hubby can pull his rook, knight, and 3 pawns and still beat me. He can even beat my dad! (though he pulls nothing, so I'm REALLY bad at chess)

The only thing worse than his beating me this way, would be if he were allowed to change the rules during a game.
I can never win. He has the power to always beat me! He is a game-master. I am not.
So, I just don't play.

However, there is one very sad/bad part about our situation: the students are the BIG LOSERS, and they trust us. My kids love me and they are middlers!

They at least do know how I feel, and fight for them. so very sad...My eyes have been shut to this real madness until the end of last year. I was in the reading classroom for 10 years, went back for masters in library science. I have a DREAM job with DREAM (mostly) students.

What the heck is happening? We have lost control over our lives. We never had it, but NOW NOW, it's truly out in the open, and nothing is done to stop the madness.

My job right now: That "one starfish".

elemental_pea said...

This is what I think. Instead of lining up for humiliation, I think the teachers/librarians should compile all the stats they can and write up a statement to be released to the press. They should bring to light what's been going on, and they should bring their defense to the public. Let them set the terms of what's said and what the public knows. And they should make it known that they are enduring this nightmare instead of striking because they care about the children they teach. Let the public know what will happen if this continues. Get it out there. You shouldn't suffer in silence, or you will lose, and no one will know.

Diana Friedline said...

I began a long description of a similar case, the details of Shapiro vs. Jerod Resnick and the NYC DOE, 2008, in which I was one of 3 "winning" litigants of an original cohort of about 20. Then I realized my description is too long for this space. It would require hundreds of pages, as evidenced by the stack of transcripts now stored in my attic. The 20 got to US Federal Court, Southern District, as 12, then a couple were dismissed by the judge, then we were 10. One was a no-show in court (intimidated?), and then we were 9. A jury heard our cases, on age discrimination, and six lost, three of us, including myself, prevailed, and "won" against the Bloomberg/Klein machine. Of those who did not prevail, several appealed, one won eventually, a couple returned to diminished positions in other failing schools, and several lost the right to ever again teach in NYC, although all came with appropriate credentials, awards and recommendations. I can only assess this as a planned cleaning-out of tenured teachers from a school with the intent of weakening the union, lowering the cost of teachers by hiring less costly newer and untenured teachers, and emptying a valuable real estate property in mid-town Manhattan so the mayor/chancellor and DOE can use the facility for another purpose. What you describe in procedure, tactics, tone and insanity is to the "T" what the teachers in our case endured. After two more years at my school under the same principal, I took early "retirement" and returned to my hometown, where I am jumping through the paperwork hoops to be permitted to "sub" after 22 successful years in the classroom. So I feel for you and the other teacher/librarians, and agree with your assessment of the conspiracy for a business take-over to privatize the schools. Democracy and education are seriously under attack here. Try to stay positive,take care of your own kids, and pray this dark age will pass. That is the best I can offer you personally at the moments. On the brighter side, there are many great teachers still hoping for better schools, and going through education programs, who are waiting for the chance to be in schools doing great work. After the dark cloud passes, it may be a fresh start with better leadership. In the larger cycles through history, we tend to come back and create renaissance periods. We are evolving, and I have to believe this will happen. Best wishes, Diana Lee Friedline

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