Fatima Sader-Aleshaiker spent two years and four months (2014-2016) as a KIPP teacher in New Orleans at KIPP Central City Primary. Beginning as a special education teacher without preparation or experience, at the beginning of her third year she became the sole adult in charge of a kindergarten class with 25-plus children. When she pointed out the unethical, illegal, and miseducative nature of this arrangement, she was marginalized and fired within weeks.
Her voice now joins the growing chorus of former KIPP Model teachers who are stepping free from the shadow of shame that KIPP so efficiently instills in both students and teachers whom the KIPP organization ejects. If you are a former KIPP or KIPP Model charter school teacher with a story that needs to be shared, please contact me at email@example.com
Fatima Aleshaiker grew
up in a middle-class family in Irvine, California, and she was like many other cooperative and compliant
students who do their homework, get good grades, and remain under the
radar. By the time she graduated, Fatima
had achieved a kind of invisibility that helped conceal what she was good at and
what she was interested in.
After graduating from
Irvine High School in 2004, she attended a state college and worked in an after-school art program, where she discovered she had a knack for working with
young children. In 2005, Fatima transferred
to college in London, where she started to really enjoy learning. Even though
she was drawn to the arts, her immigrant parents wanted her to be a doctor,
lawyer, or engineer.
She graduated with 1st
Class Honors at the University of West London in 2009, with a double major in
Sociology and Psychology. Two years
later, she earned an MA in Cultural Studies, again with 1st Class Honors,
from Goldsmiths, University of London.
In 2011, she took a job
in Bucharest as a kindergarten English teacher for a year, where she fell in
love with kindergarteners. She returned
home to Irvine in late 2013 and worked with children with autism as a teaching
assistant at a middle school, while doing private tutoring on the side. She was not certified, and she knew she would
need teaching credentials to be a career teacher.
Fatima was attracted to
the cultural life of New Orleans. When
she looked into teacher certification programs there, she discovered something
called Teach NOLA, which is a local branch of The New Teacher Project (TNTP). Teach NOLA offers an expedited route to
Students in the program
begin their teacher preparation program in May and, after 5 weeks of training,
they find placement as teachers among the dozens of charter schools that have
replaced public schools in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. (The charter conversion is 90 percent complete,
and the last public public high school, McDonogh 35, will become a charter
school in August 2019.)
Having left the U. S. just
before Katrina to attend college, Fatima describes herself as having been “very
naïve” about teaching in the “no excuses”
charter school environment of New Orleans.
She signed up for Teach NOLA and began looking for an apartment.
Teach NOLA’s $4,400
tuition payment entitles enrollees to continue to take courses during their
first year of teaching, so that by the end of the school year, most are ready
to apply for state certification.
As is common among Teach NOLA students, Fatima found employment with
KIPP a few weeks after she enrolled. KIPP Central City Primary (KCCP) hired her
in July 2014 as a special needs teacher for third grade, even though the extent
of her experience and preparation for special education was limited to working
as a middle school teaching assistant with children with autism the year before
Just days after being hired, Fatima got her first exposure to
KIPP culture at KIPP’s
20th Anniversary Summit held in Houston. The KIPP
Summit, held annually in July for all of KIPP’s teachers, includes
promotional videos, vendor exhibits, testimonials, skits, music, recorded
messages of support from celebrities, and professional development meetings. She
described the Summit as “a whole week of KIPP everything.”
Summits are often held in popular tourist destinations such as
Orlando, Miami, or Las Vegas. In 2011, for example, the KIPP Foundation’s 990
nonprofit federal tax return showed that $1,008,633 was paid to Opryland Hotel
in Nashville for hotel and hospitality during one Summit, while almost $4
million was spent on travel that year. Most Summit expenses are paid by the
KIPP Foundation, but then KIPP recoups some of that money from each KIPP
franchise, which must pay up to $30,000 each year to use the KIPP brand name. In
2011, KIPP, Inc., collected a total of $2,050,256 from individual schools in
these licensing fees.
During a general session at the KIPP Summit, Fatima remembers several
thousand teachers being asked to self-identify their years of teaching
experience. She estimated that “more
than half the stadium” stood when asked which teachers had zero to one year of
teaching experience. As the number of years of experience got higher, however,
fewer and fewer teachers stood, so that just a handful acknowledged ten or more
years in teaching. She would soon come
to understand in very painful ways why the average KIPP teacher has only two
years of experience.
Fatima describes her KIPP summit experience as the “beginning of
me getting KIPP-notized,” an immersion into an intense acclimatizing process
that indoctrinates new teachers in the core beliefs and attitudes of KIPP. She returned from Houston at the end of July with
the other New Orleans KIPP teachers to begin “Culture Week,” a time at the
beginning of the new school year that initiates the students’ own KIPP-notizing
During Culture Week, Fatima learned that every student movement
has to be regulated with maximum efficiency, which means that hand signals come
to replace language whenever possible. She learned to write down her routines so that
students come to “know exactly how to maneuver their bodies” and to position
their feet and hands” with “hands by sides, walking feet, eyes forward.”
Controlling their voice was a central goal, too. Older children at the K-4 KCCP
were told, “voices off, eyes forward.”
Fatima learned about the student “lines” that are strictly
monitored in the hallways, and she learned that KIPP teachers judge other teacher’s
effectiveness by the degree of perfection in the “lines.” If the prescribed distance
between single-file students falters, or if students waver from the tape guide
on the floor, more practice is required until all errors are erased:
I remember I was spending such a long
amount of time working on my lines. I
would do line practice back and forth.
Back and forth, back and forth and it’s like I know how I’m supposed to
see it. I know how it’s supposed to
look, but it doesn’t look like that. . . .when you walked through the hallways
other teachers can see your class and they can gauge how effective you are as a
teacher based on your line. And if your
line is really noisy, sometimes you’ll have teachers saying, you better get
your line in order.
During “Culture Week,” Fatima also learned that every
non-compliant student behavior must be corrected immediately, and that failing
to do provides another indicator of ineffective teaching. KIPP supervisors with their clipboards often
enter classrooms without speaking and record head counts of students who are complying
with teacher commands, such as “eyes on me.” The percentage of non-compliant
students is recorded, and teachers are later provided with follow-up reports on
the need for corrective action.
DougLemov’s Teach Like a Champion, which serves as the No Excuses “school
Bible,” includes Lemov’s zero tolerance Technique #36, 100 Percent: “There’s one acceptable
percentage of students following a direction: 100%. Less and your authority is
subject to interpretation, situation, and motivation.”
Model aims for total compliance among students and teachers, alike, and
questioning rules and methods cannot be tolerated. Fatima’s experiences at KIPP Central City
Primary (KCCP) substantiate this reality.
noted that it’s as if KIPP is “presuming that these kids come in with no
character, come in with no discipline and no work ethic, and that we have to
instill this in them and teach them that only a good work ethic is going to
give you success.”
leaders of KCCP said they valued “truth over harmony,” Fatima found that
questioning KIPP practices and value was risky behavior. Not only was Fatima eventually fired for
insisting that adequate resources be provided to her students so they would not
fall further behind, but she had experiences, too, of being ostracized for
speaking out against excessive control.
When second grade teachers, whose pupils were ending recess just after
kindergarten recess began, came up with a plan to restore order by blowing a
whistle and yelling “freeze,” Fatima’s resistance earned her a growing mistrust
among other planning team members:
All the kindergarten
teachers were resistant to this practice because it was kindergarten recess,
and our students needed this time to run around. Try making 100+ 5-year olds freeze while
outside on the playground in the middle of playing. This was also extra (unnecessary) work for
teachers. Even though we were on duty supervising students, this was
essentially our only other break aside from a hasty 30-minute lunch.
and yelling “freeze” at KCCP are not the only practices that are reminiscent of
police practices. Children are required
to put their hands on top of their heads when receiving directions:
. . .we’d say put your hands up top to kind of show we can trust
you now. I can’t talk to you because
your hands aren’t on your head. Because
if your hands aren’t on your head, I don’t know what you are doing with your
hands. I can’t trust those hands. We would have to know where their hands
were. So your hands are on your head if
I’m going to give you direction.
children in single file lines and the constant focusing on maintaining silence
led Fatima to view KIPP’s student control methods as “punitive, constant
micromanaging of . . . voice, movement, and body. Those were the three things we had to make sure we
controlled. Their voice, their movement
and their body.”
Model’s zero tolerance student discipline policies are inspired by Chester
Finn’s appropriation of “broken windows theory,” which is spelled out in Finn
and Kanstoroom’s foreword for a 2008 book, Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner
City Schools and the New Paternalism:
The [No Excuses]
schools are preoccupied with fighting disorder; they fix the proverbial broken
windows quickly to deter further unruliness. Students are shown exactly how
they are expected to behave—how to sit in a chair without slumping, how to
track the teacher with their eyes, how to walk silently down the hall, how to
greet visitors with a firm handshake, and how to keep track of daily
assignments. Their behavior is closely monitored at all times and the schools
mete out real rewards for excellence and real punishments for rule-breaking.
At KIPP, “broken windows” schooling is
not just some arcane theory. During Fatima’s two years and four months at KIPP,
she heard the “broken windows” term come up repeatedly in meetings:
I remember it would come up a lot in
meetings. They talk about the broken
windows theory, and I remember writing it down because I didn’t know what it
was, so I looked it up later and then I was able to see what they meant by
that, what the parallels between the broken windows theory and “the small
So we’re supposed to sweat the small
stuff. So if a kid is meant to be seated
and their hands folded and they’re not, that’s like a broken window. We say, oh that kid, his legs are thrown
about— I have to address that before it trickles, and all the other kids are
sitting like that. So we had to
constantly stop instruction to fix the visible non-compliant behaviors . . . .You
can’t let one kid do something that they’re not supposed to be doing because
then all the other kids are going to start doing it.
Fatima found that KIPP’s laser focus on compliance and
punishment did not match the progressive rhetoric that she heard during
professional development sessions and staff meetings. During her first month at
KIPP, for instance, she remembers a professor from San Francisco, Dr. Jeff
Duncan-Andrade, who came to share ideas about social justice:
. . . he said the right things. He talked about issues of race and
inequality. He was very real, and I thought,
OK, that must mean that the school sees things in the real light, and that’s
good. I like that. But we never heard from him again. We never saw him again. I would always ask myself, I wish he would
come here. I wish he would come in the
classroom just to see it.
When I last interviewed Fatima in August 2017, she was very
skeptical of organizations like KIPP with pre-packaged, top-down solutions to educational
problems complicated by “generational poverty and institutional
racism”—problems whose long, complex histories that are brushed aside as if historical
realities are simply offered as excuses:
I know that our school was trying to give
us cultural sensitivity training and teach us about the impact of
institutionalized racism. . . And we had some great speakers come. They talked about just the importance of
having different role models, so having African-American role models for our
students in the classroom. The
importance of that and the importance of who they’re surrounded by and who they
see as authority figures…. I thought that that was what made my school very
different was that ours had invested time into at least [to] talk about that
intellectually. Have conversations about
Fatima provided examples of how those conversations were never translated
to actions that would seriously challenge the inherent institutional racism of
the KIPP Model. One example focused on
the school leadership practices. When I asked Fatima what image came to mind when
she unexpectedly thought about KIPP, her response was immediate, and it points to
the paternalistic social control ideology that undergirds KIPP:
I get this image of my principal, who was a
white man, not from New Orleans, standing up on stage in front of all of these
children, 98% black African-American, standing up there and him basically
pumping the kids up with the KIPP chants and all. . . . That image in my mind
is very unsettling, because it just shows me that as much as we are showing
these kids are pumped and everything [about going to college], you look at the
image and there’s this white man overseeing a crowd of young black kids telling
them what to do. . .
As much as we have talked about these
things and are so aware in our practice, we still have the White man leading
the kids and leading everything. And he
is, at the end of the day he’s the owner.
He’s the top. He is the head
honcho. . . .I always thought, well why couldn’t the Dean of Culture? She’s African-American. She can do it. Put a woman in charge. . .
So, when I think of KIPP, I think of
that: it sounds great, it feels great,
it looks great, but then actually it’s the same thing. It’s the same old hierarchy and the same old
boys’ club. . .So that’s the kind of image I get. It’s just completely a contradiction, a
complete contradiction. And that breaks
my heart because I don’t want people to fall for that.
Another example of KIPP’s rhetoric not matching up with its oppressive
school practices centers on the school curriculum at Fatima’s school, which
offers a monocultural model mirroring the realities of two white middle class
children, Jack and Annie, “a white suburban brother and sister duo:”
Our curriculum was based around the Magic Tree House Series, [which features] two super white
kids travelling the world, and I think that is an insidious way of reinforcing
racial roles . . . We’re teaching these kids to see through the eyes of super
white kids. . . . I don’t think that that’s empowering.
Even though KIPP presents itself as educational organization concerned
with challenging inequity and inequality, KIPP compounds the problem of school
segregation, by both race and class. For
instance, middle class KIPP administrators who are disproportionately white and
middle classs would never consider sending their children to their own schools,
which are poor, black, and brown. Only Fatima’s vice-principal at her school
had enrolled a child in KIPP’s kindergarten and first grade—but then moved the
child to a private school. She pointed to this hypocrisy as another example of
KIPP’s policies not matching its rhetoric:
Why aren’t the children of the
administration at the school? Why don’t
you see white kids at the school? Why only
African-American students and students from Honduras and lower income? Why is that?
Why are we segregating the students that way? How are we dismantling any sorts of ideas
[about inequality] in these kids’ mind when we’re essentially recreating it in front
of their eyes?
That’s why I was happy to see the other
kindergarten teachers were black and two of them were from New Orleans, and I
thought that was great. The [students]
see somebody like them, from their city teaching them. Not like me, a light-skinned person not from
the city. But the majority of the
teachers are like that [white]. That
really needs to be addressed.
I mean there were hundreds of teachers
before the RSD [Recovery School District] came in who were laid off. Teachers that were from New Orleans, people
of color who had been teaching here. And
then they were laid off and then you got this influx of young college kids from
TFA, with even less experience and very little cultural relevance and
understanding. It never made sense to me
and, I never figured out why these kids [recent college graduates] are better
than teachers who’ve been teaching for many years. They say some of them have their
certifications, but all of these young teachers just got certified over the
summer. Over the summer like in one
That’s negligence in my opinion. When you’re giving these students very
inexperienced teachers, that’s negligence.
That’s not being naive—you’re being negligent, because you wouldn’t do
that to your own kids. You’d do better. So that’s the institutionalized racism just
recreating itself. They’re [KIPP’s] not
actually changing anything. They might
talk about it.
During Fatima’s first year, she co-taught with a third-grade
teacher. At the same time that Teach
NOLA was supposedly teaching her how to work with special education students, she
was assigned to be the case manager/special education teacher for 12-15 third
Part of her caseload included a very high needs child who had
been kicked out of his alternative school and who was known as one of the most
difficult pupils. She was behind academically and had experienced a great deal
of trauma in his short life. She told Fatima, “I want to kill myself.”
“Poor child, he deserved so much better,” Fatima said.
The child made repeated suicide threats by hanging over the
railing of the stairs and and saying she was going to jump, which Fatima reported
to the school administration. They never took her reports seriously and never
intervened: “Eventually the next year they realized that our school didn’t have
the resources for him, and he was sent to another school.”
During Fatima’s second year with KIPP, her school was
under-enrolled, and she co-taught with another teacher. She and her co-teacher had 20 students in
their classroom, and this allowed Fatima the latitude to work closely to
address the needs of children requiring extra help. More importantly for the school
administration, it allowed Fatima and her co-teacher to maintain total
compliance and, thus, avoid the chaos that broken windows theorists predict
when any rule infraction goes unpunished.
During Fatima’s second year, which was also a low-enrollment
time, she co-taught in a kindergarten classroom:
So we had about 20 kids for two teachers,
which was actually a very positive . . . because we were able to really like
home in on which kids needed extra work on their sounds, what kids needed extra
work on their numbers, on their handwriting, and we could hold small groups,
and we could really like manage their behavior, because there was two of us in
the classroom. It was a very smooth
Fatima’s students demonstrated strong growth in both language
skills and math skills, and she finished her second year feeling entirely
confident and energized.
It wasn’t until Fatima’s third year that things changed for the
worse. She got her own kindergarten classroom
that she had dreamed about, but the number of children and the ironclad demands
of the KIPP administration created a pressure cooker atmosphere that created
big problems and false impressions.
Fatima found that KIPP’s unrealistic expectations led to
exaggerated claims among administrators that, in the end, produced
Something that always stands out to me is
that in my second year, when I first started on the kindergarten team, I’d been
transitioned from third grade to kindergarten.
I had been doing SPED and so my principal was like, Ms. Aleshaiker is
going to be in charge of doing all the RTI meetings for kindergarten. And I did not have the experience or level of
education or preparation to do that kind of thing.
But the way he would talk to the other teachers
was like, Ms. Aleshaiker is a specialist.
She’s an expert in the field of SPED.
And I’d been doing SPED for one year, like legit teaching SPED, one
year. . . .I think that that gave me an insight into so how. . .these teachers
that have no experience [are being hailed as] expert in the field and the best
teacher[s] in New Orleans!
A lot of these teachers don’t have a lot of experience. We are here doing our best, don’t get me
wrong, we have really great intentions, but that’s a lie. That was a flat out lie.
With a single teacher in each of the four kindergarten classes,
and no one to share responsilities for behavioral needs or emotional meltdowns,
or children who simply needed to use the bathroom, instruction was constantly
interrupted and always behind schedule:
. . . a common problem I had was—I would
get a portion of the class with me and as soon as I get this side of the class
with me, something happens on the other side.
And then I have to come and fix that side and it was literally, I’m
playing whack-a-mole. And I just
remembered there being all this stuff in my head constantly—I had so many
things that I knew I needed to do. I
just felt like a machine that was overworked and that this steam was coming
All four of the kindergarten teachers had special needs children
with IEPs among their 25 or more pupils, and yet a single staff person served
as case manager for all four kindergarten classes, as well as three first grade
Even though Louisiana’s state statute establishes a maximum of 20
children per teacher in kindergarten, all of KCCP’s four kindergarten
classrooms had one teacher in each room during the 2016-2017 school year. They
all had more than 20 children and sometimes more than 25:
. . . across all four classes, they all had
about 25 plus with one teacher, and I think all of us were new teachers. None of us had taught kindergarten [alone]. So we were all like first year kindergarten
teachers on our own for 25-plus kids.
And 25-plus kids, a few in each class with a lot of behavior and
learning disabilities and severe behavioral problems.
Some of Fatima’s kindergarteners had been to pre-K, but some had
not. These children were unaccustomed to
the structure and boundaries of the classroom, and KIPP kindergarteners have a
school day that lasts almost 9 hours, from 7:15 to 4:00:
So a very long day. . . . I remember how
afraid I was for the safety of my . . . kids and how I felt like I cannot be a
good teacher in a classroom where my kids are physically unsafe, where I cannot
manage every single child in that classroom.
I still had kids who were pooping on themselves, who would poop on the
rug, and I’m expected to make sure that they are cleaned up and taken care of,
but also managing 24 other kids, and teaching, and prepping. But all of that other stuff. So it was almost like, I was stretched so
thin. It was extremely exhausting. It was extremely exhausting.
During the four months that she was teaching alone, Fatima was
carefully preparing her lessons without benefit of a plan period, but she
rarely got very far into her plan. She
couldn’t teach for managing the many issues of 25+ kindergartners, and she felt
inadequate, overwhelmed, and scared something bad was going to happen that she
She had very little latitude to make her own teaching decisions,
but the frequent chaos in her room demanded constant weighing of options and
decision making, which, in turn, created more stress:
There was very little room for me to make
my own decisions really. I had a
schedule I had to stay on it, and my coach would tell me I should be able to
walk into your classroom at any point in the day and you should be teaching
that lesson: ‘if I walk in at 11:00 you should be teaching math workshop.’
A lot of times just to stay on schedule I’d
have to skip lessons because I’m constantly just trying to keep those kids from
chaos—I felt like there was a lot of that balancing. So, should I make sure that the kids are
safe, but OK, maybe not teach the lesson, but staying on schedule so that when
my coach comes in, she can make sure that I’m on it, I’m doing reading right now.
I just remember my heart always feeling
heavy and like it was about to burst because I just felt so much pressure
constantly. I think that was probably
anxiety, but I had it constantly. From
the minute I’d wake up, because I don’t know how the kids are going to be
today. I don’t know what’s going to
happen today, literally until the end of the day and even until after the kids
because I kept getting pulled into meeting after meeting after meeting, and it
was always like how poorly you’ve been doing.
So it was like I was being run over by a steamroller almost every
After a particularly chaotic incident where a child kicked
another child so hard that all the other children fell silent, Fatima reported
to her principal that she felt as though her classroom was not safe and that
she needed help. Her principal responded
by telling her to imagine being in a burning building and calling the fire
department, only to find out the fire truck was stuck in traffic. He was making an analogy that he was driving
the truck and she could not count on him to put out her fire. Nor could he send any other relief. She would have to put out the fire, herself.
And she would have to do so without a co-teacher to help,
because KIPP had no plan to hire more teachers. When she suggested that a
smaller class be established for children with special needs so that they would
be able to receive the instruction and attention they needed, the principal
Fatima’s school did have two behavioral interventionists who
floated between classes, and after Fatima asked for more help, one of them
tried to check in more regularly. But
the interventionist grew resentful of being asked to help, and she created a
scene when Fatima one day asked her to remove one of the students, who was
having an aggressive and noisy outburst during a math lesson:
. . . she came in, and she confronted me in
front of the class and said, that’s your job.
You’re supposed to take care of her.
You take care of her. You go and
stand by the door and hold her. This, while in the middle of a math lesson with
24 other students on the rug.
Fatima’s mother came for a visit in October, and she was alarmed
at how unwell her daughter was Her mother worried openly about her health.
I was working like crazy hours, like I
would be there from like seven to seven and coming in on weekends, too. And prepping my week’s worth of lessons, and
I would get through barely any of it.
And I was just putting in so much energy and effort, I’d come home, and
I was so exhausted all the time.
Usually buoyant and optimistic, Fatima said that, by October,
she “was really losing it, just feeling like I had given up on the school
helping me.” Fatima’s anxiety grew, and
she was often nauseous before school.
She “really felt unwell all the time.”
During the Fall 2016, Fatima was seeing the same therapist that
some other KIPP teachers at her school were seeing, and she was taking two
anti-depressants. She had called a
suicide hotline becaused she felt SO low: “the counselor flat out told me that
I needed to reconsider my job because of the amount of distress it was causing
One of her colleagues had other recommendations:
This is a really exhausting, tough job and
whatever you need to do at home to make you get through the next day, that’s
what you’re going to have to do, whether it’s rolling up joints, smoking this,
drinking that, whatever you need to do to self-medicate.
Fatima began to share her frustrations with her coach and the principal. She stopped pulling punches:
I would say look, if this class can be run
by one teacher and it can be done, then I'm not that teacher. Because I'm struggling, and if I'm not a good
teacher then you need to get rid of me and put a teacher who can actually teach
because you’re wasting your time. Don’t
bring these kids to school and put an ineffective teacher in front of
them. And they’re like, no! You’re not an ineffective teacher. You’re a great teacher. We’re going to help you to be able to get
The other three kindergarten teachers were suffering, too, even
though they did not admit as much to Fatima when she had a rare opportunity to
chat with them.
. . .they would admit how
tough it was for them, too. We would talk as often as possible. Although in
hindsight it was deliberate that the teachers would be never alone be with each
other without the presence of a coach, or supervisor. So one of the kindergarten teachers and I
would talk on the phone after work and share our grievances. But they all
expressed how they knew the school wasn’t going to help them, and that they
better not say anything.
In front of supervisors or coaches, the other kindergarten
teachers would say, “yeah, my class is great,” but Fatima could hear them
regularly screaming, and she could hear their kids screaming, too. Fatima
admitted that she started screaming as well:
I had to start screaming, too. And that’s what I hated about it. I started hating it. The only thing I can do – well, not I can do
– but the only thing that I would start reverting to is just I would have to
scream, because it would get so loud in my class or sometimes I would have to
just go there . . . .It was not the type of teaching that I ever imagined
myself getting into. That’s not the type
of teacher I am at all. And I'm not that
type of person. . . . I felt like I was jammed into the corner and sometimes
that was the only thing that I could do. . .
Fatima continued to seek help in managing her class so that she
could teach. She had two children, a boy
and a girl, who were particularly disruptive— running, yelling, getting on top
of furniture, marking on walls. Fatima’s
time was absorbed in dealing with the disruptions. Once she sought suggestions from a curriculum
specialist who worked for the company whose curriculum the school used. The specialist suggested having the students
sing more and to meditate.
After the meeting with the principal when she was reminded that
the fire truck was stuck in traffic, Fatima’s coach began to observe her more,
take more notes, and offer less feedback than she had before.
coach had asked me in the beginning of the year how I wanted my feedback and I
had maintained that I always wanted it to be as immediate as possible. My
thinking was that if I’m doing something wrong tell me immediately, interrupt
me if you have to. By this time, however, my coach was observing in the back of
the classroom and writing feedback on her computer and then emailing it to me
at the end of the week. So sometimes I’m getting feedback on Friday on a lesson
I taught the previous Monday.
She urged Fatima to videotape the students so they could see she
and the principal could see what was going on.
In October, Fatima had another meeting with the principal and
her coach. Fatima was eager to share the
video evidence that neither the coach or the principal had ever seen, but when
she got to the meeting, she found the agenda changed. The principal and coach had a list of three
management strategies that they wanted Fatima to focus on with her
students. As with other suggestions she
had received, none of the strategies was new to Fatima. Frustrated, she announced that she had
researched the state statutes, and that Louisiana state law is clear that
kindergarten classes with one teacher may not have more 20 children. She said:
I was just really frustrated, and I do
remember getting very emotional in that meeting. I shed a few tears, because I felt like I
wasn’t being heard. I felt like my kids
were being disrespected by the school. I
took it so personally, because this was offensive to me that they were treating
the kids that way. Do you see what I
mean? To treat the kids in a way you
wouldn’t even treat your own kids. And I
remember I brought that up. The
principal was like, OK, maybe you need to calm down. We’ll meet about this later.
The following day Fatima felt “stressed out” and
“depleted.” She did something very rare;
she took the day off. Because her KIPP
school does not hire substitute teachers, it means that one of the two interventionists,
has to step in to substitute. This
means, in turn, that other classes have no one to turn to when an
interventionist is needed. The decision
to take the day off was accompanied by “a lot of guilt that some kids weren’t
going to get intervention that day.”
Fatima’s school had two interventionists for math and reading
who circulated among the four kindergarten classes to teach basic skills to
students, such as “writing their names.” These interventionists were former
kindergarten teachers, who had been promoted and given “offices upstairs” away
from the classrooms. Whether or not this
physical distance made it easier for the interventionists to sometimes not show
up for students, the result was that children who were behind often remained
behind because they were not receiving the one-to-one instruction from
interventionists whose primary task was to get these childen up to speed.
Two weeks later Fatima had another meeting with her coach and
principal, and she once again asked that another adult teacher or aide be
assigned to co-teach her class. She
distinctly remembers the “principal kind of scoffing at me, like don’t we all
wish we had two teachers in every classroom.”
From that point forward, Fatima remembers visits by her coach coming
irregularly and without feedback, except for emails that criticized her and
that came days after the visit. More importantly, the help from the
interventionist became more unpredictable, so that pupils who needed extra help
were not getting it.
Just before the second interim assessment in early November,
Fatima was assigned a new student who did not speak English. Even though the previous year Fatima had
administered a math assessment in Spanish to a new boy from Honduras, she was
instructed to administer the math assessment in English.
She said the new student simply stared at her during the entire
assessment. Predictably, she
failed. Fatima’s other students, too,
did poorly, even though they had performed very well on the first interim
assessment in September.
On the Friday of the same week Donald Trump was elected
President, Fatima was fired. The principal presented to Fatima the results of
her second interim assessment, followed by a list of shortcomings, which
included the inability to use feedback positively and appearing quiet and
withdrawn during faculty meetings. The
principal did not mention Fatima’s insistence on quality instruction for the
KIPP kindergarten students or her research into Louisiana state statutes
regarding kindergarten class size.
Getting fired concluded a very bad week that included a breakup
with her partner of two years and a friend fighting for his life in the ICU
after being the victim of a shooting.
The principal told her to leave and to clean out her classroom
the following day on Saturday. Fatima
had bought so many things to make her classroom what she had always wanted it
to be that other teachers had come in to admire how beautiful her class looked
and to ask for help in decorating their classrooms.
It took Fatima and four other people to get her things removed
in the time that KIPP allotted. Before
she left, she wrote on the board in large letters, “Ms. Aleshaiker loves all of
. . . if there’s any message I can get
across to my kids before I go, the last thing I can tell them is I love
them. And I love you and I'll always
love you and it’s not to do with you. It
had nothing to do with you. I didn’t
want them to think I left because of them, because that was the one thing I
told myself. I vowed as hard as this
gets, I will not leave my kids. I will
not leave in the middle of the year. I
will not do that to them.
In the end, Ms. Aleshaiker had no choice in the matter. Days
after she was fired, a father of one of her students called her up in tears
trying to figure out what had happened to his child’s teacher. When she met with the parent,
. . . he wanted to know why. I tried to tell him when I met up with him
why, but without blaming the school.
Because his kid still goes there, two of his kids go there, and I don’t
want to talk bad about the school. I
don’t want to talk bad about the principal, but I just said it didn’t work out
and I had to leave. I did try and make
it apparent that it wasn’t my choice, because it wasn’t my choice.
I asked Fatima what she would now tell a friend who was
considering going to work at KIPP. Her
response was unhesitating and emphatic.
She said KIPP is not what it appears to be with its high gloss media
image and its beautiful promotional materials. Beneath the surface is a structural
reality that implicitly claims that the neediest students should accomplish more
than other students, with less resources.
She would tell a friend who asked that the “least experienced teachers”
with little preparation are given classes of unmanageable size and then told
they can succeed if they work hard enough and are nice enough:
I know you know the phrase ‘work hard, be
nice,’ and I really feel like I see the dirty side of it is—we’re going to
throw a lot of work at you and you’re going to work hard, but you’re not going
to question it.
Fatima keenly felt the irony of being fired for doing what the
KIPP narrative demands, which is to “advocate for our kids.” She said that even though she fell short in
other areas, her advocacy for her pupils could not be challenged:
“If there’s one thing that I'm doing right
it’s advocating for my kids that this [was] not a safe classroom, and it’s
legally not OK to do this. There’s a
reason why it’s written in the law, especially for the kids in there with IEPs
and with needs that weren’t met.”
The other three KIPP kindergarten teachers kept their jobs,
Fatima believes, because they kept their suffering and their students’
suffering to themselves: “. . . they said, ‘I don’t want to lose my job.’ And I said, well if I lose my job—I can’t do
this and keep my mouth shut and be like everything’s OK. I couldn’t.”
Had the school leaders decided to utilize the numerous teachers
and other adults in the school who were not assigned to any classroom, the
misery among the kindergarten teachers and pupils could have been mitigated
and, perhaps, Fatima’s traumatic exposure to KIPP’s more obvious displays of ruthlessness
Fatima Aleshaiker’s KIPP experiences fit a pattern that is all
too familiar: an energetic, idealistic young teacher joins a publicly-funded
corporate enterprise that will go to any length to enforce non-negotiable performance
demands that she finds either unreachable to achieve or unsustainable to
maintain. She finds that she is useful to the enterprise as long as she does
not threaten its organizational structures or policies and as long as she maintains
production standards. When she falls short on either count, she is seen as an
obstruction to organizational efficiency or cohesion and, thus, quickly
discarded, with neither malice nor consideration.
NOTE: At the time of Fatima’s firing in 2016, both the principal
and coach who made the executive decision were scheduled to leave the school
the following year: “The principal was planning to leave KCCP
to open a KIPP high school, and my coach was going to law school the next year
with plans to become a lawyer.”