Join the GOOGLE +Rubber Room Community

Thursday, January 13, 2011

In NYC, Probationary Teachers Have No Right To Work, And Are Not represented fairly by the UFT

Dr. Priya Parmar is so accurate in her assessment of the UFT in her statement below that I think all teachers should read what she wrote. By the way, the UFT treats most tenured teachers the same way.

Betsy Combier
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter

Written by Professor Priya Parmar, Brooklyn College – City University of New York School of Education

Teacher abuse is alive and well in this corrupt system run by the NYC Department of Education AND I would even venture to say the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). The motives of administration in placing hard-working, innocent veteran or tenured teachers in these “rubber rooms” range from personal (personality conflicts) vendettas to political feuds (violation of a teacher’s Academic Freedom). Most of the publicized stories are about tenured teachers placed unfairly and unjustly in these “detention centers.”

Now imagine the treatment UNTENURED or probationary teachers must endure by power-wielding administrators who are disciplined for simply expressing opinions, questioning policies or procedures that simply do not work, or even more egregious, for personality conflicts with members of the administration. The press MUST publicize these untold stories and hold the NYC Department of Education AND the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) accountable for their actions, or lack thereof. Many administrators, not all, have a ‘superiority-complex’ due to their positionality and experience (number of years) in the system. New teachers by virtue of their position as “inexperienced,” “young,” or “new” to the system are devalued and seen as easily dispensable if they go against the grain in ANY way. I am reminded by the poignant statement Senator Barack Obama made in one of his speeches when he asserted, “Longevity does not necessarily guarantee good judgment."

Inexperienced or probationary teachers who graduate from accredited teacher education programs bring passion, creativity, and innovative ideas that have the potential to transform oppressive working and teaching conditions to empowering educational experiences for students, parents, and teachers alike. Probationary or untenured teachers’ naivety comes from trusting an educational system that claims to want success for all of its students and trusting that they will receive adequate support from a union that requires ALL teachers, regardless of rank, to pay dues. They soon learn the hard way that regardless of degrees earned or union dues paid, they have very little power and voice under the tyranny of the NYC DOE. There is a culture of fear that permeates in NYC that new teachers learn quickly: if one conforms and has a “go-along-to-get-along” attitude, s/he will persevere and “earn” tenure. The following is a story from the 2007-08 school year that I am confident many probationary teachers can relate to in some way or another:

I am an assistant professor teaching in a School of Education in the City University of New York. I work with NYC teachers who are often subjected to deplorable working conditions and demeaning treatment by the iron-fisted tactics of their principals. Sadly, many report receiving very little support from their union (the United Federation of Teachers - UFT). I am currently witness to a yearlong battle between a first year, "probationary" high school social studies teacher and his principal in Brooklyn, NY.

We have STRONG evidence that suggests that due to dislikes against his personal character, among other minuscule reasons, beginning close after the day of his hire members of the administration have confabulated and colluded to "discontinue" his services, (or in other words, terminate his employment as a high school social studies teacher, which as I write this letter, they have succeeded – his case is currently under appeal). This piece of evidence I refer to is a scathing email I received from a formerly employed administrator from that school. This former employee (AP of English) received an email from a current English teacher who still works there but is at the principal’s beck and call. She shared her thoughts and CONVERSATIONS she had with the principal who blatantly discussed plans to “excess” (transfer) and “get rid” of this social studies teacher from her school. The writer of this email refers to this teacher as a “piece of shit” and explains how when she informed the principal that the English department has “boycotted” him, the principal simply “laughed” and stated, “He won’t be long here.” Shortly thereafter, this teacher has been subjected to harassing behavior from various members of his administration and unexpected observations that were written up as formal and rated as “U” ratings (Unsatisfactory).

Allow me to briefly explain the gross abuse and disregard of the union contract. According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (contract), probationary teachers are: (1) Required to have pre- and post- observation conferences for formal, rated observations. Due to this teacher’s status as a probationer, he is required to have a minimum four to six observations throughout the school year: two full periods by the AP, one full period by the principal, and one full period by the AP or principal. He was only observed three times - two of those he was not afforded a pre-observation conference; rather, both were unexpected visits written up as formal observations and rated as “U’s”. ONE observation in which they actually adhered to the contract provided him a pre-observation conference and surprise, surprise, he was rated “S’ – Satisfactory - thus reaffirming the importance of providing pre-observation conferences to probationers, a right the UFT fought long and hard to include in the contract. In addition, the principal’s unexpected observation was written up as an “INFORMAL” yet it was rated as “U” and placed in this teacher’s end of year annual rating, which, of course, was a “U”.

(2) The annual rating of “U” and recommendation for “DISCONTINUANCE” did not provide information from his principal explaining how opportunities of professional development plans/workshops were provided to assist him in his growth in terms of pedagogy (i.e. - pre - and post observations, buddy teacher system, inter-visitation with colleagues, model lesson demonstrations). On his rating sheet, the category of classroom management or "control of class" was rated as "Unsatisfactory." However, this teacher attended three workshops for the "Classroom Organization and Management Program" and was given a certificate of successful completion stating he was a "COMPetent classroom manager" in March 2008. Additionally, the two COMP trainers observed his classroom on two different occasions and wrote positive evaluations.

(3) Moreover, this teacher was never made aware or even given a written warning from his principal that failure to improve may result in an "Unsatisfactory" rating or discontinuation of probationary service. Instead, he received verbal threats that she could easily get rid of him, statements easily corroborated by his union chapter leader in written letters.

(4) According to the Chancellor's Regulation on the mandate and timing of the annual rating (must be given within the last ten (10) days of the school year and not fewer than four (4) school days prior to the close thereof..) this teacher’s annual rating covered the period from 8/30/07 to 5/1/08 and delivered to him on May 12, 2008 – well in advance of the closing of the school year. He was actually served with a standard letter from the superintendent stating his services as a probationer may be discontinued as of June 10, 2008 BUT IF the teacher wished to submit evidence to refute the rating, he was welcomed to do so ten days prior to the June 10, 2008 decision. The teacher prepared a well-organized packet and hand-delivered it to the superintendent exactly ten days prior to June 10th with strong evidence countering allegations of insubordination and violations of the contractual policies (Article 8J for those New Yorkers who know the contract – no pre-observation conference provided). The DAY before the teacher hand delivered his packet to the superintendent, he received an email from his UFT borough representative stating that he spoke to the superintendent on the phone and the superintendent was steadfast on supporting the principal’s decision to discontinue his services! I was shocked that the decision was already informally made PRIOR to the teacher even submitting his rebuttal. Why bother even submit materials if the decision has already been determined?! So much for due process!

Other evidence of honoring “due process”: This teacher received a letter from his assistant principal instructing him to clear his classroom of all student work and submit student grades by June 10th – the letter was served at the end of MAY, prior to the June 10th decision! Even more astonishing, I made a few phone calls to the Division of Human Resources Office to inquire about the process of appeal and the secretary, in a straightforward yet polite tone, informed me that if a teacher received a letter of consideration to discontinue, services WILL be discontinued as this is standard procedure. Even staff is aware that this notion of “due process” is superficial and administration and UFT representatives simply go through the motions of serving letters, filing grievances, thus giving false hope to grievants, while all the time knowing that the likelihood of winning or overturning these recommendations are rare.

This teacher’s case has gone to the Chancellor’s level in which a representative from the Chancellor’s office hears the case. The UFT representative representing the teacher had a defeatist attitude before even presenting his case! She advised him to stay quiet throughout the hearing because the decision to discontinue him will not be overturned because the hidden message was that administrators tend to stick together regardless if the case has merit. During the course of these hearings, on two different occasions, the Chancellor’s representative asked the principal to consider a resolution that would not discontinue the teacher and the principal, both times, adamantly refused to grant a resolution, citing that since he made her work all year in preparing defenses for the grievances he filed, she was not going to back down. I even spoke to her for a half hour on the phone in the middle of the school year and she clearly had an axe to grind with this teacher telling me he was the first teacher to file a grievance against her and since she was planning to retire in the next year, she had virtually nothing to lose in teaching him a lesson.

Most of the UFT representatives this teacher has reached out to, with the exception of ONE, have defeatist attitudes when dealing with members of the DOE. His chapter leader is "overwhelmed" and gives the "I'm so sorry you're going through this" advice/guidance. This first year teacher and I are so well versed on the Collective Bargaining Agreement that we have resorted to writing our own grievances while he passes it along to his chapter leader to officially file! The district representative is useless as well. He is selective and laconic in how he responds to any inquiries this teacher makes in emails (he consistently misspells his last name – so much for personal care and interest), fails to return most phone calls, and worst of all, is spineless when dealing with administrators. I believe he could be assertive in his dealings with administrators but it is selective depending on whom he is fighting for – biased and preferential treatment seems to be more accurate.

Although the union has granted his appeals in moving his grievances forward to the Chancellor’s level, I strongly believe they are simply going through the motions in fear of possible complaints filed against them to the National Labor Relations Board or the ACLU. It is in the hearings that union representatives are not asserting contractual rights aggressively, thus the defeatist attitudes I allege above. It appears the union has adopted a passive attitude when dealing with teachers whom they have very little investment in. The NYC Dept of Education has created an anti-teaching culture of fear and the UFT fosters that culture. It is a shame because as I stated earlier, first year teachers are dues paying members yet they are not represented aggressively or fairly. I am reminded by another infamous historical quote: “NO Taxation Without Representation!!”

No comments: