"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Firing: A KIPP Teacher Speaks of Her Nervous Breakdown and Post-KIPP Recovery, Part 2

At the end of Part 1 of my conversation with Jane, the results for the first interim assessment for the state test had been announced, and the KIPP administration was in crisis mode due to lower than expected scores.  

JANE: So when they had their big crisis . . . . And these kids, honestly, a lot of them don’t have dads. You know? They come from rough families. They don’t have a lot of stability. Some of my kids are exhausted because they’ve had to move in the middle of the night again because it’s the end of the month. And, you know, having stability in their life is important. And when they lost all these teachers [the previous year the school had lost over 40 percent of their teachers by semester break], I think, like, the class of kids that I was teaching, it was hard on them. And, you know, especially in the subject area, which has always been difficult for them anyway . . . because they didn’t really have any consistency in __________ at KIPP. So the School Leader comes in and he teaches the first class. And he taught it before. Some of the kids had, since they were retained, they were, like, we had this. And I don't know how it worked. But a lot of the kids had had these lessons already. And he taught it.

For the first week [of the School Leader's taking over Jane's first period class], I was sleeping. I got to school at a reasonable hour. And, you know, I just felt like this was a break for me. And so I would break things down and I would pay attention. But I certainly didn’t feel that I was in trouble. And I certainly didn’t write every word he said, because I felt like this was supposed to be, like, a break for me to get better. So this goes on. . . . And in all, I counted it out. He taught ten lessons in the morning. He taught ten lessons. And then he designed a test. And he said, you know, this is a test and this is the key, and I think it’s really good. . . . He said, I think it’s a really good test. But some of the questions, when he showed it to me the day before they took it was that, it was, some of the things were specific words that he had said in that first class. And I didn’t say those words to every single class. Does that make sense? It was, like, it’s kind of geared towards first period, not that they had gone off course [in the classes that Jane taught based on the School Leader’s first period lessons], but just even, like, the particular words. And so thought it was a little weird, but OK. So the kids take the test. And a quarter of them don’t pass. And at KIPP . . .anything less than a C is an F. So a lot of kids got, like, 68, you know, that had failed. They were close to passing. So they take the test on a Friday. I grade it on Saturday. On Monday, you know, it’s like  Thanksgiving and all of that. It’s a really short week. The School Leader says he wants to talk to me the next day. And so Tuesday we sit down. . . . the School Leader says, he gives me, the first I’d ever heard of it, a rubric, like an evaluation with ten things that good teachers do, everything from planning to providing a safe environment.
JANE: Pardon me?
INTERVIEWER: Like a checklist or a scoring guide.
JANE: Yes. Yes, exactly. Like, an evaluation, but it was, like, ten things on a scale of one to four. And he’d marked all over it. And he’s, like, this is where I think we are right now. And on a scale of one to four, averaged, I was a 1.5. And I’d already had an evaluation just in October and I was fine. But this one, it was marked all over the place. And he said that if I wasn’t at least a three . . . [before Christmas Break], that I would be fired.

And I protested then. I said, you know, I didn’t think that I was in trouble. I thought that you came into my classroom to help me and for me to get some rest and stuff like that. And he was, like, yeah, that was part of it. But also, like, you could see a master teacher and you could emulate it. And I, like, I’ve learned quite a lot from you. I’ve gotten lots of good tricks and, you know, things are going well. And he was, like, yeah, but you're not . . . point[ing] to the board enough. [And] he was really unhappy with the way that I wrote objectives. And ever since my masters degree, I’ve had a hard time writing objectives, I think maybe because I’m a wordy person. But it was, like, I know what the kids need to learn. And it’s not like math where you can say, student will be able to grasp linear functions ten times independently, or, show that they understand linear functions by graphing five independently. In ____________, it’s a little bit more broad. Like, I wanted the kids to . . . be able to understand . . . And wanted them to be able to draw these conclusions. I knew what I needed the kids to do. I just couldn’t, I’ve never been very good at writing objectives, like, in ten words. It just was always hard for me. And he pointed out that my objectives weren’t student-friendly, or, and then I would work really, so I was spending, like, hours a week trying to write good objectives. And he was, like, no, put your task first. You know? Why don’t you write it like this? . . . . And that’s the thing that bothers me is that he knew that I was addressing a standard. He knew that. But in the evaluation, he’s, like, how do I know when you don’t have the objective written clearly? . . . . it was really, really nit-picky about everything. For instance, providing a safe environment, he said that he gave me a low score because he witnessed kids whispering in the classroom and they could have been bullying each other. And so I didn’t get a good score for providing a safe environment.
INTERVIEWER: Because he didn’t know what’s the whispering about?
JANE: No, he didn’t hear them. He even told me: I don't know what they were saying. They could have been whispering, they could have been bullying. I thought that was ridiculous. But I really think what happened was that he had lost his confidence in me and that he was just very reactionary. And that’s how KIPP was, in my experience. It was all reactionary. You look at one IA test and decide that that kid’s not on track to pass the STATE TEST, when that’s not necessarily the case. You know? They would say, like, what’s your evidence. And I’d say, you know, look at his grades. He’s doing great. You know? He’s fine. And I really honestly think that, at the same time, when School Leader would come into my classroom to take over, we had, like I said, we had really old kids in my class that were really not, really hated being at school for so long. And it was hurting their self‑esteem. And they would say so and all sorts of stuff. But we actually had the police come in and arrest some of my students at school because they had a drug ring where, it was very elaborate where the kids were growing pot in the forest and then shoving marijuana into hollowed out Expo markers and then selling them at school during school times. And they actually narrowed it down. It wasn’t my classroom that they were selling drugs. It was in this other reading enrichment class that we used to have to plan for. And they were in, you know, one of the other teachers. But I really felt like after that came out that they really wanted a scapegoat. It was very shortly after. And if the kids didn’t pass their STATE TEST test that they needed somebody to be responsible. Because otherwise, you know, it was going to be the kids’ fault or the curriculum’s fault or something else, the teachers’ fault. So the kids failed the test. And I feel like I was just fingered for that.
INTERVIEWER: When was the test?
JANE: Their test was November, I’d have to look at a calendar, but it was the Friday before the end of the quarter. . . . .
INTERVIEWER: And when do the scores come back?
JANE: For the IA or for the test that School Leader gave them?
INTERVIEWER: For the test that School Leader gave them right before Thanksgiving.
JANE: So they took it on Tuesday. I had them in the grade book on Saturday. And then on Monday, he sent the email that he wanted to meet with me. And then . . . [when] we had our conversation, how I was a 1.5. And then I’m looking at my calendar now. And December is a really busy month for all teachers. But at KIPP, it’s really crazy. So Tuesday of . . . [of the first week of December] I was told that I was a 1.5 and I needed to be a 3 by the 19th, because that was the end of quarter two. And on the . . . [the following day] we had a parent night. So the kids stay at school until 7:00 at night. And we don’t leave them. So I had the kids . . . from 7:05 in the morning until 7:00 at night. But then the parents hang out. And so I don't leave the campus until 9:00 at night. And then [the following day] their grades go home. So I had to stay up super late making sure that all their grades are in, like, all their homework assignments and stuff like that. So that’s Thursday.

And I have to tell you, too. So . . . the School Leader tells me I’m a bad teacher on Tuesday. Wednesday, he says he’s going to have somebody come in and observe me. And someone did, Jim. Somebody did come and observe me. It was a candidate for my job. She was interviewing. That was the only person that had observed me that day. And she didn’t know that it was my job. I was, like, oh, what, you know, who are you? What are you doing here? And she’s, like, I’m interviewing for an English teacher position. And I was, like, oh. And so she watched me. So the day before, I’m told I’m bad and that I might be fired. And then the next day the only person to observe me is someone interviewing for my job. So I have the kids all until 9:00. I’m with their parents and all of that. I don't get a break at all. Thursday, I come back to school and it’s a long day. And I’m being observed. They come in and they point a video camera. The School Leader watches my whole lesson for the first period. It’s not even like he let me get used to the lesson throughout the day. . . .Because everybody knows that first one is not, it’s like a pancake. . . .And then you tweak it. And by the end of the day, you have a really great lesson. He came in first period. He gave me another evaluation that I wasn’t pointing to the board enough, that I wasn’t holding kids accountable. I was letting them off the hook when I called on them, things like that. And so then the assistant School Leader [on the following day] just came in and pointed a video camera at me and just let that camera run all day long. And then --
INTERVIEWER: The camera ran all day long?
JANE: Yeah, all day long. And then more candidates came in throughout the [next] week. So the first day, there was one. The second day, there were two more. So that Thursday, there were two more. And then on Friday, there was another one. And it’s nerve wracking because I feel like I’ve got these naughty kids. You know? I’m being ridiculed in the evaluation that the kids, even if they’re whispering, that I don't have a safe environment. So if I get the kid who likes to pull down curtains or crawl around on the floor, which is not a euphemism. She is actually crawling around on the floor and actually pulling down the curtain rods, you know, that I’m going to be fired. And then, you know, am I pointing to the board enough? They’d mentioned the tone of my voice, that I wasn’t loud enough or strong enough. And then they’d say that my tone was excellent. I just got a lot of mixed messages. So then the next week, it was all IAs. So . . . the kids just took IAs the next week. And then the week after that, they had middle of year field lesson [KIPP’s field trips are labeled “field lessons”]. So in actuality, when the School Leader came in and told me that I was a 1.5 and that I had to become a 3 or I was going to be fired, he was really only talking about four days of lessons. And then he told me on one of them that he still had issues. And he pointed out all of the little things, like pointing at the board and safe environment and all that. And I just knew that I was going to get fired. The thing is, like, talking to my friend and she’s,. . .you know, if you're going to get fired, then just take a break . . . [and] show up at 9:00. You know? What are they going to do about it? And I just couldn’t. I was still hopeful maybe, or, I’d never been fired before. I was a star. I was teacher of the year in ___________. You know? I kept thinking maybe I could pull it together, but I, you know, not. And they said I had until the 19th. But the School Leader sent me an email . . . saying that he wanted to meet with me . . . . And then I was fired [the next day]. So that was it.
INTERVIEWER: And how did you feel about that?
JANE: You know what? Getting fired was, I expected it. You know, they’d been really clear that they didn’t want me. They had the people, the candidates coming through. They’d given me an evaluation in-between that said that I was doing poorly. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was still crushing. And I’m still dealing with that, like, how crushed I felt. But you know what? Been a total blessing. It has been, getting fired from KIPP was probably the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life. And I don’t say that lightly. Like, at the moment, one of my friends is a lawyer. And she’s, like, what they’re doing to you is illegal, blah, blah, blah, you know? And I was, like, oh, I would never sue them or anything like that. They’re doing good work for kids. And being fired collapsed my spirit. I didn’t realize how far I’d come. I isolated myself from my friends to do this great job. I isolated myself from my family. I moved across the country. And all I did was work. I made no new friends and I wore myself out to the point where I was unhealthy and sad and completely isolated. And I got fired. And then I had nothing. I didn’t even know anybody. I would go to the, when I first got fired, I’d just go to Target every day because the cashier would talk to me. And I didn’t have anybody to talk to me. I had nothing. I was completely alone. I hadn't made one friend. But since then, it has been the best thing ever. I was a really nice girl. I, even, like my mom would say, you know, towards the end, she was, like, just leave, just, you know, quit now. And I thought, no. Like, I think I might be able to qualify for unemployment. So I went to work and I did my best and all of that. And now I’m on unemployment. You know, I look for jobs. But even the unemployment people, they sent me this letter saying, like, I had done nothing wrong, no evidence of any misconduct and that there was no reason to think that I would be able to get another teaching job this late in the school year. And so it’s given me benefits until next school year, I qualify for benefits. The lady on the phone was, honey, look for jobs. They already know that you're not going to get one. Go to yoga. Take care of yourself. I really didn’t realize, like, how badly I needed that. I haven’t worked since December ____ and I still cry every day.
INTERVIEWER: Are you seeing a therapist?
JANE: I see a therapist now. And she is the same one that the School Leader recommended. You know? And I think it’s funny that he recommended her because she hates KIPP. I don't. You know? I don't. I really wanted to be a great teacher. I wanted to be a great KIPP teacher. . . .

The School Leader recommended this therapist because she had helped another KIPP teacher. That KIPP teacher had a nervous breakdown and then was able to return to work the next school year. And at the time, I thought, well then that’s the teacher for me. Like, she could help me and I could return to this mission. And I went and saw her. And I think it’s a little bit ironic because she hates KIPP. She hates it all the time. And sometimes, like, I’ll have a problem, not related to KIPP at all, or I think not at all. And she’ll point out, she’s, like, no, this is, Jane, this relates to the way that you were treated at KIPP, you know? . . . . And life has not been easy for me. I’ve had, life has been hard. And I think that’s something that’s made me a good teacher because I’m empathetic, and because I really do understand . . . . And I put myself through school. So when these kids would say, like, they had a hard life, I’d say, you know, you can do this. And I know enough to make that statement. You can do this. And kids trusted me. And, you know, I would go and the therapist would say, you know, this is an abusive relationship, isolating you from your friends and your family, making it so that you have to rely on them. And they [the KIPP administration] would tell me, like, you know, if I didn’t do a better job, that the kids would suffer. And they needed me, and that no one else was going to take care of these kids like I was, you know, that if they went to __________[the local public schools], that those kids would suffer. And I really did feel like I needed to do better. And the School Leader even told me once . . .[that] effort does not equate results. Just because, we know you're working hard. But that doesn’t mean it’s good enough.

In Part III, Jane reflects on her experience and continuing recovery.

1 comment:

  1. this is painful to read it is an abusive relationship indeed Jane

    the teachers and students are being abused and it's a toxic environment
    you helped this woman by providing her with the knowledge and the context for this situation she is in
    out of the cave into the sunlight is a painful process