Fighting For An Excellent Teacher

Yesterday, my worlds collided and the resulting flash of light has allowed me to see -- with absolute clarity -- why I am fighting so darned hard to improve the public education system in California.
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Yesterday, my worlds collided and the resulting flash of light has allowed me to see -- with absolute clarity -- why I am fighting so darned hard to improve the public education system in California.

Over the past three years, I have personally spoken with thousands of parents -- from the beaches in San Diego and the hills of the East Bay, to the valley in Sacramento -- and each has a story of the destruction of their schools, the fleecing of their communities, and the resulting sadness they have felt for the missed opportunities of their children. Every parent speaks to the egregious amount of fundraising or volunteering they have had to do, and, in the same breath, their inability to keep up with the demands of the ailing system. But even more disappointing is that EVERY parent has a story of the great teacher that was let go due to pink slips and the helplessness they felt when their child was forced to endure a teacher that everyone at the school knew to be ineffective.

This all came full circle yesterday. My fifth grade daughter was informed on Monday -- the sixth day of the new school year -- that she would be getting a new teacher immediately, despite the fact that her soon-to-be-ex-teacher had only just joined our school a few weeks earlier. As a cautious soul, my daughter was unnerved by the change, as were we -- it just felt wrong, disjointed, and so haphazard.

What we soon learned about the new teacher, and the circumstances surrounding the mid-semester transfer, only added to our concerns. Not only had she been a kindergarten teacher for more than a decade previously (suggesting that she may not have been familiar with the current fifth grade curriculum or, perhaps, aware of how best to teach a class of near-teens), but she hadn't been trained in the reading and writing program that our school uses (and that our community had implemented at considerable expense) at our daughter's school.

In short, it was so painfully obvious to us that this woman was simply not prepared to lead our children toward middle school; we therefore assumed it was at least as obvious to the Board of Education and the superintendent of schools in San Francisco Unified -- the parties responsible for this abrupt change.

And then I learned the unimaginable... and immediately I had the wind knocked out of me.

As I stood on the yard yesterday, watching my child and her classmates tentatively follow their new teacher into school, we learned -- by way of almost pure happenstance and our mobile phones -- that this mysterious, mid-semester-transfer had been the subject of not one, but at least two, allegations of physical abuse in her classroom in recent years. Not jaywalking. Not talking on her cell phone while driving. Not even possession of marijuana. Physical abuse. Of children.

To make things worse, our district leaders knew about the allegations, having settled out of court with at least one of the accusers. Yet, without any transparency, explanation, justification, support network, or warning to parents at our school, they still had the audacity to put her in charge of a room full of children! Our children!

No parent should EVER have to wonder if their child is safe in school -- a parent should be able to trust that the classroom and the teacher are providing that safe place for a child. Yet, here were our leaders -- following whatever archaic and flawed rules that govern our educational system -- doing the unthinkable.

As this hell was starting to break loose, and I began feverishly assessing alternatives for my fifth grade daughter, I had to participate in a previously planned conference call for my work at Educate Our State. So there I sat, on a call with a coalition of education-oriented organizations (ranging from the California PTA and the LA mayors office, to business groups and the United Way), all of whom were advocating for -- of all things on this particular day -- the California legislature to oppose AB 5, a teacher evaluation bill.

Without diving into the nuances of AB 5, or explaining all of the amendments around it, this bill, which was drafted by Senator Filipe Fuentes, with what I assume were great intentions, would redefine the teacher evaluation system across California, impacting 1,000 school districts, 6,000,000 students and hundreds of thousands of teachers.

I have heard arguments for and against AB 5; as with every piece of policy that I have reviewed, however, I try and relate it to my own child by asking myself: "At the end of the day, is this piece of legislation in the best interest of my child, and by extension, any child?"

In my opinion, AB 5 fails this personal test. It is simply not an improvement to the horribly flawed policy that California currently has in place to ensure that there are highly effective teachers in every classroom. Among the many reasons this bill is insufficient is that it doesn't ensure that my daughter's teacher is out of any child's classroom. More specifically, two examples of its inadequacy include: (1) parent and student input would not be a meaningful part of the evaluation and (2) state standards could be compromised. I believe that there is sufficient political will for change in the teacher evaluation, support and training system, but AB 5 doesn't get us where we need to be.

Here's the "upside" (if you can even call it that) to my whirlwind day: the realization that we -- parents and citizens alike -- have the energy and power to ensure that every child in our state has the right to a high-quality education in a safe, inspiring classroom.

You see, I saw it with my own eyes last night at my daughter's school. Parents at our elementary school stood up to district leadership and demanded the removal of the teacher in question. They raised hell with SFUSD leadership and, when they weren't satisfied with the answers they were given, went immediately to the Board of Education demanding to be heard. Today, this particular teacher is not in the classroom.

But, will she be tomorrow? Will she be in another child's classroom instead? Only time will tell. But, I am heartened to see our community taking a stand and doing what's right for our kids, formal evaluation system be damned. Moreover, I am confident that all interested parties, including teachers, parents, students, and legislature can work together developing an well-thought-out, comprehensive system of evaluation, support, and training that will ensure the excellence our children deserve.

The momentum is building, let's harness it and make it happen.

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