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Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 05/18/2011

Teacher: ‘My employer has become my enemy’

A library media educator in Los Angeles who blogs under the name Mizz Murphy wrote a powerful, first-person account of hearings being held by the Los Angeles Unified School District for teachers and others who who have received a Reduction in Force notice and are trying to keep their jobs.

The district, the nation’s second largest, sent layoff notices recently to about 5,000 teachers and other staff to help close a projected deficit for next year or more than $400 million. It is not clear how many people will lose their jobs because the budget has not been finalized.

The blogger, who asked to remain anonymous in this post to avoid problems with her administrators, said she witnessed everything she describes below. The dialogue is NOT exact but, she said, captures what happened in each case.

Here’s part of the post, and you can go here to find the full one:

“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.... 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....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....

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.

....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....

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.

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.

...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?

The whole piece is available here.

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By  |  04:00 AM ET, 05/18/2011

 
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