Unethical Schools: Why People Who Read Management Books Shouldn’t Be In Charge Of Teaching Children

Uncommonly Unethical

My wife has a story that needs to be told. She can’t tell it, so I’m going to. It’s the story of a sensitive, creative person who lives to nurture and support others, and doesn’t have a conniving or political bone in her body. It’s also the story of the monstrous world that uses all that against her at every turn, squeezing out all she has to offer and leaving her in the gutter when she is no longer necessary.

My wife is a teacher. She’s a good teacher. She’s the kind of teacher who more than once has gotten letters from the parents of children she didn’t even have in her own class about how much she helped their child. She’s the teacher your kids should have, but rarely will. Apparently, this makes her unemployable!

She’s been working as a substitute, a teacher’s assistant, and a long term substitute for over a decade, all the while desperately trying to get a job as an actual English teacher. One district screwed her out of a tenured TA position because she took a long term sub position that, it was promised, would put her on the short list for the next opening. The opening was simply eliminated without even the offer of an interview, and she had no job to go back to, because the HR department gave her the wrong information about procedures and then wouldn’t admit it. Another time, she finally scrambled her way into another long term sub position that was “almost guaranteed” to turn into a real job, until she had the audacity to have a baby, after which both the long term sub position and the actual job magically evaporated.

More recently, she was promised that if she came and worked as a TA in a new district 45 minutes from home, they would put her first in line for new English positions that opened. She busted her ass for four years, taking on extra duties, working full time while being a mom to two children and spending an hour and a half a day commuting, and generally being exceptional. Then, the year that two English positions finally opened up, the superintendent was replaced, and the promise was reneged upon. One position went to the assistant principal who had sold her so hard on the deal in the first place, and another to an older teacher from another school in the district who just wanted a change of pace…

You need to understand all that to grasp how spectacularly evil her latest saga is. After a decade plus of the aforementioned slogging, my wife got a golden opportunity. A charter school right here in town was hiring an English teacher for the 2019-2020 school year, and we had a friend who had a friend who might be able to increase the chance of an interview being granted, so she went for it.

Of course, she aced the interviews, and was told she’d be getting the English position next year within a few days of her final interview. They even told her they had cancelled all the interviews after hers. We were ecstatic! A few days later, before she could respond, they called again, and asked her if she would also leave her current, tenured position three months early, so she could take over for someone going out on maternity leave, and start “right now”.

Leaving a tenured position (especially mid-year) was a big risk, but even if all she was guaranteed was thee months of one term and the following year, it was a real teaching job with a reasonable commute at the school we were hoping to send our son to. We talked it over, and decided that the chance to do what she had desperately yearned to do since college was worth the risk of not having a job in 18 months. My wife accepted, gave two weeks notice, and the wheels were set in motion.

Fast forward to four weeks later, and the wheels had already begun to come off our plan. I initially got an inkling something was wrong with this place when on her first day, my wife came home and it came up that she had no lunchtime. I asked if they were combining her lunch into her “prep-time”, and when that was scheduled. She told me that she only got a prep time on some days, and that she’d been told that the rest of the time, she should simply eat while she was teaching. I pointed out that as someone who had employees for many years, I was quite certain that while they might not have to pay her for the time, it was literally illegal for them to make her work in excess of 8 hours without a break for food. She didn’t want to rock the boat, so I let it go…

This place was a bit insane. Her work started fifteen minutes before the normal school district, and ended two hours after. This was sprung on her, as she had been told during interviews that school ran until one time, but had already signed on and given notice at her old job when she was told she was required to be physically in school for an hour later than originally stated. She had to get special permission to leave school at the originally advertised time, because she had to pick up our children in the afternoon. In order to get this permission, she was officially docked about 9% of her previously agreed upon salary.

As the days passed, things began to go downhill, and it quickly became obvious that that working at this charter school was like working in Soviet Russia. Within days of starting, my wife told me a story of how she asked a fellow English teacher from a grade below her for advice on some minor issue, and within an hour was being grilled by her team leader to explain exactly what she thought she was doing. It would seem that the teachers for each grade are expected to communicate only with each other on work matters, and execute all outside contacts through their leader.

It should also be noted that this school uses a rather unique teaching technique. The teachers don’t make lesson plans, instead teaching directly from pre-supplied materials, reading, and activities. The teacher’s job is to focus on “classroom control”, where students are constantly either talked to or working on these pre-planned materials, and required to remain silent and in one of a set of poses designed to focus attention at all times. This requires the execution of a massive number of detailed procedures on the teacher’s part, and new teachers are given weeks of training and preparation to do so. My wife, on the other hand, was given a couple of hours of instruction and told to shadow a teacher for a week or so, and that she would get the real training next August, before school started.

A few days into actually teaching, my wife began having observations by her new principal, and getting dressed-down right in front of her students almost daily. Loaded atop the already massive upheaval of our whole family’s lives, trying to settle into the new schedule and decrease of Mamma-home-time, this constant harassment quickly became a majorly stressful issue, resulting in an emotional breakdown where my wife needed to leave the classroom for a few minutes to compose herself.

My wife met with her principal. She told her that she understood that her lack of having been trained meant that she was making a lot of mistakes, and that she welcomed constructive criticism. When she also pointed out that it would be much less stressful to receive that criticism without being humiliated directly in front of her students on an almost daily basis, she was told two things. First, that these public dressings-down were a part of the school’s policy on “in the moment feedback” (apparently a teacher-management technique that involves being publicly and at full volume talked down to like you are a child in front of your students for not executing some aspect of the martinet-like classroom process that the school uses, which she was not due to be trained in until August), and second, that she needed to start responding better to feedback, or it might affect her status in the Fall.

This, of course, caused a panic in our house. This risk had been taken with the understanding that she would be employed through the end of the 2020 school year, not for three months. The fact that this was even a possibility would have been a deal-breaker in the first place! My wife scheduled another meeting with her principal to clarify. She explained that she only took this job on the understanding that it would include the 2019-2020 school year, and that the principal’s previous comment was rather world-shaking. Could she, in fact, count on that position in the Fall? “Absolutely” was the answer given.

That answer was given verbally and in private, where no witnesses could be called upon. It would only later become clear how important that was…

My wife committed to her principal that she would redouble her efforts. I helped her practice at home, and she began working nightly on the procedures book she’d been given, in addition to the hours of homework the school already required of her. She immediately stopped being berated daily, began to get an occasional “glow” (which is apparently their corporate-speak for an “attaboy”), and was occasionally spoken to with respect and seeming appreciation. All seemed well.

Even so, it just kept getting weirder. Along the way, my wife came home with stories about a number of colleagues coming back from meetings with the principal in tears and refusing to talk about what was wrong. There were instances of apparent two-facedness from team leaders as well, and an environment seemingly full of tension and short tempers.

A couple of weeks later, in discussing the classes my wife would be teaching to a group of students who had been deemed unworthy to attend a school trip, the principal blind-sided my wife with roughly twice the weekly workload she had been previously scheduled to complete (for any given class, the teacher must complete all class materials and assignments before teaching it, and submit this work to a computerized system). This was on a Wednesday, and the principal informed her that the new work should be submitted by the following evening. My wife responded that she had no time in her schedule for the extra workload that day, and that she was preparing for a weekend trip that had been scheduled since before being offered the job, but that she would do her best to get it completed while she was away, so that it was submitted well before actually teaching those classes.

On that Friday evening, while my wife was on a plane, the principal sent her an email scolding her for not submitting the extra work the previous day, and telling her that they needed to have a meeting about her time-management skills. Needless to say, my wife was nonplussed. She responded with a fairly benign “per our previous conversation” email, committing to having it submitted before the classes were due to be taught, and got the work done as promised. The resulting meeting was not “constructive”. The principal sandbagged my wife with a litany of her supposed shortcomings, and again made vague threats about her status in the coming school year. This was the gift my wife’s employer gave to my family for the Memorial day weekend.

At this point, I was frankly of the opinion that my wife’s boss was literally a psychopath. She just seemed to enjoy torturing her for the fun of it, and no amount of improvement or professional engagement was even a factor in it. It seemed a lot like what I’ve read of the way people with borderline personality disorder treat their children…

Now, it was previously known that this principal was leaving her position at the end of the year, and moving to a higher one, and that there would be a new principal in the Fall. This was mentioned only in passing to my wife and she was specifically told it had nothing to do with her status. My wife was scheduled to meet with the new principal the day after Memorial Day. In this meeting, the new principal told my wife that there “were a lot of applicants” for the position she had been promised in the Fall, and that while she was welcome to apply, her “record of problems” on the job made it unlikely she would be accepted!

And then came the clincher. She told my wife that the school was focusing on hiring younger teachers, because they would dedicate more of their time to the job…

Immediately after that meeting, my wife was called by her principal to a “debriefing”. Unbeknownst to her, the old and new principals were preparing a double-teaming session. Out of the blue, she was accused of being “emotionally inconsistent”, and any attempts at self-advocacy were labeled as “poor response to feedback”. These “crimes” being in addition to her “time management issues”, she was told, she “should have expected this”. The old principal then flat-out lied about her commitment to a Fall position right to my wife’s face, with a flouncy, pearl-clutching “I have no idea where you would ever have gotten that idea from”. The meeting ended with an admonition not to discuss this issue with any co-workers, but that they would be “happy” to give her a good recommendation for future employment, assuming she finished out the year “without further problems”.

That night, the new principal doubled down on that veiled threat with an email. It reasserted that, “The contract that you signed was for a three month position.” It continued that “based upon trends in feedback”, they were “unable to offer a contract for next fall”, and that they “would need to see a dramatic change in all areas” for that to change.

A dramatic change. In the eleven days of work left in the year. Sure, that’s a serious sentence!

The email continued by codifying the “keep your mouth shut or we’ll torpedo your career” extortion in two further sentences: “We trust you will not share details with other staff or students.”, and “Provided that you uphold these professional expectations, we will support you as you pursue your next position by providing references.”

Now, I still don’t know exactly what’s going on here, but I have some hypotheses:

  1. As I first thought, my wife’s principal is simply a psychopath, who has hurt her for the simple joy of the torture.
  2. An unethical principal just needed to cover a teacher for three months, lied through her teeth about the next term job to my wife to get her to abandon her tenured position to work as a band-aid, and then tried as hard as she could to make her miserable so she would leave, torpedoing her record when that didn’t work.
  3. This principal hired my wife more or less in good faith, but was subsequently told by an unethical organization that they wanted to eliminate anyone over thirty, so she had to find a way to make the firing look like NOT age-discrimination, so she tried as hard as she could to make her miserable so she would leave, torpedoing her record when that didn’t work.

Whatever the reason, this school has acted in a number of sleazy, borderline illegal ways, and I’m utterly disgusted with them. They made sure that their lies were undocumented and unwitnessed and blind-sided her with unreasonable requirements, ignoring reasonable self-advocacy and blaming her for problems they caused. They’ve shown no remorse while utterly upending my wife’s career and our family’s life!

To anyone who is thinking, “well, she should have known better when it wasn’t in writing”, I say this: Fuck you and your implicit support of someone who tricked a gentle, genuine woman who just fucking wants to teach your fucking children to think and learn! You’re an asshole, and YOU fucking try to explain to my five-year-old how Mommy’s crying because a bad person took away her job and potentially torpedoed her entire career, and then threatened her to keep her quiet about it!

Anyway, my wife is going to uphold those “professional expectations”, because these unethical, lying bastards now hold her career in their hands. I, on the other hand, don’t know anyone that works there, and can relate the whole sordid tragedy at will. This abusive place is the very definition of the word “toxic”. In the future, I will go to great lengths trying to make sure no one I do know ever subjects themselves to this fucking hellhole, especially my SON, who was scheduled to attend there in the Fall, but will now not be allowed anywhere near those maniacs!

You can read about that ordeal in my next post…

Posted in Family, For Facebook, General, Personal, Uncategorized | 6 Responses

Office Place

Have you ever thought that maybe there really is a massive universal consciousness, and it has a really sick sense of humor? Like, it just loves to torture you in the most banal ways, so that if you complain, everyone around you just thinks, “What’s he complaining about? He’s got it easy!”

Just in case you ever wondered how realistic a picture of corporate America that old comedy movie “Office Space” was, let’s start with one of it’s main comedic props, the “TPS Report” (a clearly useless, low-information document with ridiculous formatting requirements that had to be produced weekly by every employee to monitor work progress):

I, right now, twenty-some years later, am required on a bi-weekly basis to produce an “ESR Report”. It is a presentation-formatted powerpoint document that must conform to a complex standard. It takes 30 to 45 minutes to produce. It must be manually uploaded to a special folder in a “Box” share that has no relationship to any other work-product storage schemes or company reporting systems. It contains approximately EIGHT SENTENCES of information.

Let’s continue on to how I am also required on a weekly basis to use a byzantine HR system to report my hours worked with unbelievably fine granularity as regards both project and work-type reported. If I use the wrong work-type code, it is flagged as a “defect”. If the code I need hasn’t been added to my permissions, I have to request it be, or I can’t file without a “defect”. The request can take up to ten days to complete, so you miss filing your report, which is, say it with me, a “defect”….

Then, consider that I must spend a half-hour of every single morning in an “agile”, “stand-up” meeting for my primary project. On top of that, I spend an hour every other week in a “team meeting” and have 90 minute “All Hands” meetings at least once but as many as five times a month…

To quote Peter Gibbons: “I’d say in a given week, I prob’ly only do about 15 minutes of real, actual work.”

Did I mention I have five bosses? “Five?” you ask? Five, Bob…

Well, five bosses until last month, when about 30% of my team was “right-sized” out of existence, and my actual direct boss went with them. Of note? We were specifically told that the decisions on who to fire were NOT based upon performance or experience. What were the criteria, you ask? They aren’t allowed to tell us, other than to say it was “strategic”. A strategy that doesn’t require attention to the performance or skill-sets of employees to implement… I suspect there was a D12 involved!

“Office Space” wasn’t satire, it was a fucking ROADMAP!

Posted in For Facebook, General, Industry, Personal, Whimsical | 1 Response

A Useful, If Minor, Life-Hack

Hack

Are you still getting those NYC area-code scam calls from a recording speaking entirely Chinese on your cell phone? Has nothing succeeded in getting them to stop? I found a way to at least make them entertaining!

I spent a month or so (six calls) pressing arbitrary numbers when I got one of these calls, in hopes of indicating enough interest in whatever scam they were selling to get a human on the phone. I finally found it with option “9”. It happened this morning.

Then, I implemented my plan. On the theory that my once fluent but now terrible Danish would sound more or less like broken English to someone whose first language was neither of those, I cheerily launched into a conversation with the nice man on the phone.

He clearly spoke almost no English, throwing together nothing more capable than two-word phrases like “Speak Chinse”, and “good oppotunity”, so most of what he said was Chinese (of which I speak perhaps ten words, none of which were remotely useful in these circumstances, but that was the point!), but he seemed game. Speaking entirely in whatever Danish I could still muster, I proceeded to spend perhaps ten minutes telling him, in the most polite and pleasant tones I could muster, what I thought of his personal hygiene, appearance, and intelligence, and providing a number of instructions as to what he should do, primarily to himself and his own mother. I found that the key to success in my little game was to listen carefully to what he said and try to sound as though I was responding to it. Well, that and occasionally dropping the English phrase “How much?”, in an attempt to ensure he thought there was a chance of a sale…

Speaking only western languages, I find the tonal nature of Chinese difficult to understand even on an emotional level, but I’m pretty sure that he was becoming more and more agitated as this went on, to my delight. After ten minutes or so, he apparently gave up, as we were abruptly disconnected mid-sentence (his, not mine).

Now, I know this sounds like a petty waste of my time, but consider:

  • I was nearly peeing my pants laughing after ten minutes of politely insulting this person to his face in the most creative ways I could think of, so I had some real fun.
  • I got to practice my Danish for the first time in years (maybe not the ideal vocabulary set, but still).
  • It is more than likely that I ruined that scammer’s morning, which I consider a karmic responsibility discharged.
  • During those ten minutes, I tied up a con-artist, meaning that he could not be engaged in bilking some elderly Chinese man or woman out of their life-savings.
  • All of these things together provided me a few moments of true joy in the midst of an otherwise drab workday.

Seriously, you should try it!

Posted in Personal | 1 Response

Further Conversations With A Toddler

20-month-old: Why? Why?!?

Me: *blink*… Why what?

20-month-old: Why! *makes scrubbing motion with hands*

Me: *thinking furiously* Wait… Do you want a wipe?

20-month-old: Eeyeh! *nodding yes*

Me: *handing one over* Here you go, baby.

20-month-old: Denk!

Me: You’re welcome.

20-month-old: *giggles*

I believe I am compiling a toddler-to-English dictionary…

Posted in Personal | 1 Response

Never Meet Your Heroes…

I had one of the most distasteful experiences of my life today. Not worst, mind you, it just almost literally left a bad taste in my mouth.

I follow a number of my favorite authors on Facebook. Some have a lot to say, others just post when they are releasing new books and the like, but I derive a great deal of satisfaction from the tenuous connection to their creative stars. One of them, today, posted a rather (I thought) overwrought indictment of NASA’s current plans over the addition of a manned moon expedition. His assertion was that there is “no reason to do it, whatsoever. “

Out of curiosity over whether he would engage more than anything else, I posted the opinion that there is at least one good reason to go back, the potential to do research on Helium 3, which, technical details aside, might come to nothing, but if successfully exploited would be a massive scientific and economic boon to whoever mastered it, and might even save our environment. Needless to say, I was polite, and provided links to a number of articles and papers to back up my statements. His response literally took my breath away. He posted an angry diatribe about some sort of “cult of Helium-3”, and how my position was a “pack of incantations”, demanding that I “prove one damn thing”.

My response was that I could not, of course, prove anything, first because “prove” isn’t really how science works, and second because I was suggesting that we needed to do the research to gain his “proof” on the moon, if we wanted to have any degree of certainty of its potential. His own response was even angrier, had no argument and was primarily an insult. I pointed out that that wasn’t an argument, and told him what I thought of his insulting and aggressive manner. He responded with a long, angry series of misstatements and flat-out made up shit about things I had said.

It went a bit beyond that, me now more aggressively trying to figure out why he was being such a dick, and him being progressively more of a dick with each response before asking me to leave, but all respect I had for the man was pretty much lost at that point, so the rest really doesn’t matter…

Never meet your heroes, they invariably turn out to be dicks!


Posted in For Facebook, Personal, Uncategorized, Whimsical | 1 Response
  • Archives

  • Meta

  • Blaise on Twitter