Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Missouri: Former Hazelwood principal claims school district discriminates against white employees

A former Hazelwood administrator claims that top school leaders are effectively removing white administrators from the district on the basis of their race.

Crystal Reiter, who is white and had 21 years of experience in the Hazelwood School District, was an assistant superintendent for three years before she says she was demoted to middle school principal in 2015, then to a teacher with no school assignment in April of this year.

That last demotion would have meant a more than $55,000 pay cut for Reiter and “a considerable reduction” in her retirement benefits, according to a lawsuit filed by Chesterfield attorney Christopher McDonough. McDonough said other African-American administrators were moved around by the district but did not have their pay cut like Reiter’s was.

Reiter claimed in the lawsuit that she faced a “racially discriminatory and hostile work environment” and was demoted because of her race.

The district released a statement Monday that said it “is committed to providing equal opportunity in all areas of education, recruiting, hiring, retention, promotion and contracted service.”

“The District further commits itself to the policy that there shall be no unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation or disability, or any other characteristics protected by law, in admission or access to, or treatment or employment in its programs and activities,” the statement continued. “Employment decisions are based on the best interest of our students, staff, and District.”

Reiter’s lawsuit, which was filed Aug. 25, names the school district, Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart and Associate Superintendent of Human Resources Julia Burke — both of whom are African-American — as defendants. They were each served a court summons last month.

In the lawsuit, Reiter claims that Collins-Hart and Burke told her on separate occasions that she should look for employment outside the district. The lawsuit claims Collins-Hart told Reiter in a meeting on Feb. 16 that the school board may not renew her contract, and she suggested that Reiter resign.

McDonough claims Collins-Hart and Burke didn’t discuss issues about Reiter’s performance with her, and that Reiter’s job evaluations “had always been glowing.”

He said Reiter also faced racial discrimination under Collins-Hart’s predecessor, former interim Superintendent Ingrid Clark-Jackson, who is African-American. He said Clark-Jackson told Reiter on multiple occasions that, as a white woman, she didn’t know how to work with African-American women, students or teachers. McDonough also said Clark-Jackson assigned Reiter an African-American “coach” to help Reiter learn how to work with African-Americans.

McDonough pointed to four other former white Hazelwood administrators whom he says have also been pushed out in the past year, including John Pukala, former athletics director at Central High School. None of those people have filed lawsuits.


UK: The diary of a new teacher (aged 50ish)

When Fiona Milligan retrained in her fifties, she imagined the kids would think her wise — then she started work

Fiona Milligan

With hindsight it was more hubristic than altruistic. Like the two-score of middle-aged professionals who have volunteered themselves for the Now Teach experiment, I thought my 25-year career in publishing, a desire to do something laudable with the last decade of my working life, and a belief that I could be useful made me ideal for late-onset teacher training. Even better than a wide-eyed graduate, with their memory of school still fresh and their optimism undimmed, I would bring expertise, wisdom and authority to the job.

Redundancy, a precariously self-employed husband, three children and receiving a bursary to retrain also had something to do with me wanting to dust off my undistinguished degree certificate (2:2, 1980, wasn’t called a university then). But really I thought I would enjoy it. I actually imagined I’d be good at it.

The insult that hurt me the most was that I was old and stuck-up
So, I enrolled on a year-long PGCE course. In my early fifties, I was the oldest “beginner” teacher by decades. Rather than just being long in the tooth, I was assured and mature and knew how to deal with teenagers, right? Who better placed to inspire the next generation with my enthusiasm and knowledge developed over many years?

Now, four years later, and working as an art teacher, I can tell you it is unimaginably difficult to plunge from the top of one profession to the bottom of another, exceptionally tough one that offers no shortcuts back to the position of seasoned practitioner.

From a workplace where adults understood and carried out my requests, I have gone to one where suspicious and determined children put their best efforts and imagination into resisting them. From keeping our own teenagers more or less on the straight and narrow with house rules made up on the hoof, I have gone to an undignified daily struggle to keep 28 unknown and unpredictable 14-year-olds quiet enough to call out the register. Those contacts and stories I could trot out to impress are too far removed from my pupils’ lives to register a flicker of interest. To the kids my worldliness simply means old age.

On the positive side, I may be sworn about, but never directly at and I haven’t had to break up a fight or had furniture thrown. But I’ve had mutinies where so many children refused to co-operate in an activity that I was helpless. “You can’t make us,” they chorused. You’ve got a point there, I had to concede.

More than anything, teaching has been a litany of humiliations and coming to terms with my shortcomings, heightened by the effect of advancing years. Where is that noise coming from? Why is everyone laughing? Because a boy rolled his trousers up to his thighs, unnoticed by me. Two more are exchanging text messages under their desk while I shuffle papers, fumble with technology and try to remember their names.

Fading memory is another problem. I’ve forgotten that I’ve given homework, or when it was due

Along with the difficulty of managing reading glasses as I switch my beady gaze from the board to the back of the class, then down to illegible writing, the depredations that time and rock amplifiers have made on my hearing are exploited by students. They seem to know exactly how to pitch an insult so that I can’t be sure exactly what they said. As far as I have been able to make out, some have been accurate and anatomically correct, others not: pussyhole, wanker, prick, motherf***er, bitch. The cuss that hurt the most was the one that landed closest to the bone. “You’re old and stuck-up,” hissed an electronically tagged 14-year-old whose dad, later, and shortly before the son was permanently excluded, punched the head teacher. I’d dispute the stuck-up — he probably meant, more accurately, posh. With old he had me bang to rights.

Fading memory is another problem. I’ve forgotten that I’ve given homework, or when it was due. How many times had I warned a pupil that the next time they did that they would be out of the class for good? So many faces and names to recall.

So many acronyms to remember. And for someone who has scoffed at jargon, there is a pedagogic lexicon to be used without an ironic sneer. Then there’s the children’s vocabulary. Bare, peak, deep, butters and long do not mean what you think they do. At school we sniggered at the word “bosom” in Jane Eyre. Now I would not dream of uttering the word “moist” to describe the effect on the eyes of a moving scene in literature. There would be an uproar. And getting to the end of the day without one of those is still my goal.

Having been mocked at home for my problems with the TV remote, fumbling with technology in the presence of 28 contemptuous teens looking for entertaining distractions was mortifying. No one does flustered like a middle-aged woman struggling with a sticky keyboard and too many different log-ins. In private I taught myself PowerPoint and got to grips with YouTube, but the interactive whiteboard remote control took months to master. If the perfect video clip I found in the early hours at home wasn’t blocked by the school system, there was either no volume or it was left at full blast by the last person in the room. “Miss is bare baffed innit. Peak that she can’t do it.” Offers to help are rarely actually well-intentioned or helpful — to the teacher. To the other kids they are — it helps to delay the start of doing some work.

Using video clips to liven up lessons can badly backfire. A YouTube clip of a kids’ cartoon — Spongebob Squarepants — turned out to have been given a crude voiceover by whoever uploaded it. I let it run on just long enough for the class to catch the word “cocksucker”. “This stays in this room,” I begged them.

The old teaching tools aren’t foolproof either. Delegating a student to collect the marker pens and mini whiteboards on which I’d asked them to write a catchy slogan at the beginning of the lesson meant that I never found out who had drawn a penis on theirs. The pupils’ omerta is impossible to crack.

No teacher was safe passing my classroom. I would seize colleagues and not let them go until they had given me a nugget of advice. PE teachers proved especially effective. As one strode past, I hauled him in. “Please, sir, silence the year eights,” I begged. One word from him and it worked. Why for you and not me? “You have to sound as if you mean it,” he said.

There is no mercy in the classroom. You learn on the job, in front of two dozen unforgiving critics. “This lesson is boring,” kids taunt. When a poisoned mouse came out to die slowly in the middle of the classroom, and a student sent from another class to borrow some books witnessed the hysteria, she gave her verdict on the chaotic scene: “This teacher doesn’t know what she’s doing.”

It takes time, repetition, persistence. Detention, detention, detention becomes your mantra. You call their parents, who are usually gracious, though not necessarily effective.

Being patient doesn’t mean waiting for someone to stop misbehaving. It means being prepared to repeat yourself over and over again. Even then, there is only so much you can do. But my worry is that if students don’t meet their target, I am the one who has failed.

As well as battling to get them quiet, I have lost the war on chewing gum. Ask them to get rid of it, and they walk very slowly across the room to the farthest bin and make an elaborate show of hawking up half of what was in their mouth. One pupil, I never found out who, did dispose of all of it at once. At the end of that lesson I threw on a jacket and headed out into the cold for a cigarette. Yes, the first few weeks as a newly qualified teacher had driven me back to the long-ago kicked habit. Back in my room I caught a whiff of mint as I took off the jacket. Then I saw flecks of gum on the collar. The bell went. The class came in. I started the lesson. My hand went up to the back of my head and located the sticky residue. Planted on the back of my unruly updo, I hadn’t felt it land. I sidled up to the assistant, motioned towards the scissors in the ante-room cupboard, and directed him to cut the vile lump out of my hair.

Now, another term in, another year begun, I’m getting the hang of it. I am proud to call myself a teacher. I know I am doing one of the most important jobs there is at an age when some people are putting their feet up in front of Pointless.

Dare to point out that the school day ends at 3pm and the holidays are generous and I will strangle you with the last drop of energy left in my weary old body.


Desperation for teachers in Scotland: £20,000 for graduates to train as teachers

Graduates with science and maths backgrounds are to be offered a £20,000 “golden hello” in a radical initiative to try to solve Scotland’s teacher-recruitment crisis.

John Swinney, Scotland’s education secretary, announced the bursary plan to the SNP conference, saying that he hoped it would persuade workers in other areas that they would still be able to pay their mortgages and keep their families during their year of teacher training.

Scotland’s schools started this new academic year about 700 teachers short, many of these in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.

Aware that it is difficult to persuade workers in other jobs to switch to teaching because they would have a year without earning, Mr Swinney said a £20,000 bursary would be made available to cover the year of training, although this would only cover those with STEM degrees.

Telling the SNP conference that there was a teacher shortage in vital subjects in Scotland, Mr Swinney said: “STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and maths — are crucial, not just to the education of our children but the future of our economy.

“We need to recruit more teachers in these subjects, and to do that, we need to reach beyond recent graduates and attract people who have the appropriate subject degree but are working in business or industry.

“These ‘career-changers’ still need to go through initial teacher education — we will never compromise on quality — but we can make it easier for them to make that career change.”

Mr Swinney added: “We understand that giving up a salary for a year while they do their teacher training is a real barrier for them.

“I can therefore announce today that from next year we will offer bursaries of £20,000 per person to help these career changers make that change.”

It is understood that the Scottish government expects about 50 to 100 applicants to the fund, which will cost

the government up to £2 million a year to implement.

Applicants will be expected to have a 2:1 degree or higher in a suitable subject as well as the normal entry requirements for teacher training courses. The bursaries will be available from August next year.

Mr Swinney also told the conference that the Scottish government was pursuing the most ambitious set of policies since Holyrood was established nearly 20 years ago.

Scotland’s deputy first minister made it clear that he wanted the party to keep to the centre, rejecting what he claimed was the tendency of both Labour and the Tories to head left and right.

Mr Swinney said: “There is chaos on the left and chaos on the right, and through it all, the SNP government stands firm.

“A beacon of progressive, effective government, delivering for all of the people of Scotland.”

Mr Swinney claimed that Ms Sturgeon’s legislative plans for the coming year added up to “easily the most ambitious programme of any government since devolution”.

He said: “Take a look across the political landscape. The Tory leadership is in turmoil. The Labour leadership are at each other’s throats.

“Only here in Scotland, only Nicola Sturgeon, is providing the vision and leadership we need in these turbulent times and we thank her for it.”

While the SNP, which has been in power at Holyrood for 10 years, has come under fire over falling figures on literacy and numeracy in schools, Mr Swinney insisted that the system was fundamentally strong.

Labour claimed that Mr Swinney was adopting one of its policies by promising bursaries to graduates to switch to teaching. Iain Gray, Labour’s education spokesman, said: “We welcome John Swinney adopting one of the policies from our ten-point plan for Scotland’s schools and look forward to him seeing the sense of the other nine too.”


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