Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Why I Quit

As noted before, I quit my teaching job at a prestigious Catholic school - but one that has strayed from its roots and one where some questionable decisions have been made.

I had my exit interview yesterday. As part of that interview, I submitted the following (though in this version I have taken out the names):

There are a number of reasons why I realized I could not comfortably continue working at XXX. Here are some of them:

There is an element of dishonesty with the AP English Language and Composition course.

I created the AP Language course. I was trained for the course, wrote the lengthy audit that led to it being recognized by the College Board as an approved AP class, and taught it for three years, two as an official AP class. That approval involved me teaching the course basically according to the syllabus that was part of the audit, though it allowed for some flexibility in curriculum and for other teachers to teach sections of it that I was not teaching as long as they followed the approved syllabus/audit.

In 2015 Mr. Q decided that another teacher would teach all sections of the course. Since that involved me no longer teaching the course and the new teacher was not teaching it with me that seemed to violate one criteria for it being an approved AP course. The new teacher also changed the course, raising doubts about whether it followed the audit.

I notified the AP supervisor at the time (Mr. S) that the new teacher would likely have to file a new audit for it to remain an approved course. He assured me that things would be taken care of.

I later received the XXX scores for the 2016 test; they were registered and reported under my name, indicating that there had been no change.

In January 2017, I received notice from the College Board that the new AP coordinator at XXX, Mrs. W, had renewed the authorization for the course under my name, even though I had not taught the course since 2015, and the course was somewhat different from the course for which I had originally received approval.

I immediately wrote to Mrs. W voicing my concerns (“the course was renewed under my name and by my curriculum, but I no longer teach the course, and it no longer follows the audited curriculum AP approved, so is this valid? / I also don’t feel comfortable having my name on a course I don’t teach as if I do – it seems dishonest to me.”) That seeming dishonesty extends both to the College Board implying that I am still teaching the course and to the students and their families who believe that are taking an approved AP class, while it may in fact no longer be so. 

The last time I checked, the course was still listed under my name.

This poses potential problems for the school and the students. As the renewal letter states: Admissions officers use the AP Course Audit results to determine the extent to which students avail themselves of rigorous course work. It is in your students' best interest that courses designated AP on your school transcripts have been renewed through the AP Course Audit process for each academic year in which they are offered. An inaccurate AP Course Ledger could negatively impact your students in the college admissions process. As a result, if you are no longer teaching at this school, are not teaching English Language and Composition during the 2016-17 school year, or otherwise believe this renewal was done in error, please ask your school administrator to update the renewal status of your course.

A similar potential issue arises with the AP English Literature and Composition course, which was approved under one teacher who is no longer at the school, and has had several different teachers since. I don’t know if this problem extends to other AP courses in other departments.

As for me, I did not want to be party to any kind of potential deception.

Course assignments seemed questionable.

As noted before, I created the AP Language and Composition course. It was successful, with students scoring some of the highest AP scores at XXX, and well above the national average.

At the end of the 2014/15 school year we were informed what courses we were teaching the following year. There had been no discussion prior to this, as had been done in previous years when we could say what courses we wanted to teach and were part of the decision-making process.

I learned what I was not going to teach any of the AP Language and Composition sections, that a new teacher who had just been allegedly recruited and hired was taking it over entirely.

When I contacted Mr. Q to find out why, he left a message saying simply that choices were made based on the new teacher’s gifts and mine.

I later was told by several people that in order to get this new teacher to come to XXX she had allegedly been promised the AP Class, and that after a year she would become the department chair (even though another teacher had just been appointed chair). Indeed, the new teacher, fully aware of what she had allegedly been promised, remained silent for much of that first year, thus her appointment as chair came as a complete surprise to the people involved. This created a climate of distrust in the department, and morale plummeted.

As noted, the course was still deceptively listed under my name, and so I got the test results the first year this other teacher taught the course. The average score dropped, the percentage of student passing dropped, and the most pronounced decline was in the percentage of students earning 5s, the highest possible score. My last two years of teaching the class 26.2%, then 26.5% of the students earned 5s (nearly triple the national average) while under the new teacher 19% earned 5s – a 28%  decrease.

When these results were later brought to Mr. Q’s attention he said the reason I was no longer teaching the course was that I had been slow to return one set of papers to the students the last year I taught AP. I acknowledged that I had been slow returning them, but noted that I had had reasons for doing so. (Whether they were good reasons is certainly subject to discussion.) Moreover, the students had had multiple sets of papers – amounting to more than 400 3-5 page AP essays and more than a 1,000 2-page AP analysis assignments - that they had gotten back in a timely fashion. That did not sway him, but then it was likely too late to address the situation. However, it does raise questions: If it was perceived that I was having a problem at the time, why was I not given a chance at the time to explain, or given advice and support? And why were all the sections of the course taken away without warning given my earlier success? 

A similar situation developed this year. Another new teacher was allegedly recruited and hired – with an air of secrecy. For example, the day this teacher was being interviewed I came down the hall and this teacher and Mr. Q came out of the English office talking about the department. Though the natural thing to do would have been to introduce us, Mr. Q simply ignored me. This immediately roused my suspicion, and indeed we learned shortly thereafter that the new teacher had indeed been hired. At that point, there were no openings in the department that we were aware of, so we were left with the impression that one of us was going to be let go to make room for this teacher. Another teacher suddenly left mid-semester, ending that concern. But then when assignments came out – again without discussion or teacher input – we learned this new teacher was taking over the AP English Literature and Composition course. The teacher who had been teaching that course is a gifted individual whose students had scored exceedingly well on the AP examination. But she was told that she was perceived as a challenging teacher – which an AP teacher is supposed to be - and not “personable” enough, so some students opted not to sign up for the course. The new teacher would attract students, it was allegedly claimed, which would make this course one that could help with recruiting and promoting the school. Thus the impression was that marketing took priority over academic rigor. (As a side note, this new teacher was also given the creative writing class that I had been teaching, even though I am an award-winning journalist, a published poet, a playwright whose works had been performed locally – including by GEVA – and had helped a number of students get published.)

The secretive way this second teacher was hired, the way courses were assigned, the seeming deception with the AP classes, the lack of trust and the declining morale in the department were the main reasons I decided I could not return.

There were additional reasons.

I did not receive timely feedback from teacher observations.

Each year teachers are required to be observed by an administrator, and to be given an observation report to help point out strengths and areas that could be improved. Mr. Q and Mr. S both did so in timely fashions. Mrs. W, however, has developed a reputation for not providing such reports in a timely fashion, as was the case with me.

She observed me twice. The first time, several years ago, I got the observation report six months after the observation – ironic considering that a delay with one set of papers had allegedly led to my losing the AP Language classes. That report was so vague and general it was difficult to tell that it was about the class she observed.

The second observation took place late in the past school year. I never received a report.

The schedule changes cut down on actual teaching time, making it increasingly difficult to cover curriculums and to keep continuity in classes.

The school shifted to an eight-day schedule that involved meeting with each section six out of the eight days. The class length was extended supposedly to provide comparable teaching time. This was not the case – the schedule actually resulted in less teaching time. Further, advisement periods were added, then an activity period, then there were multiple assemblies or days dedicated to other activities, further reducing class time. As a result, teachers have had to eliminate material from their curriculums, or to give short shrift to other topics/lessons.

Further, the fact that classes did not meet every day disrupted continuity. This became even more pronounced when days off due to other activities, weather issues, or holidays intruded. For example, last November, I was not able to meet with one class for a week and a half due to the schedule, the Gala, a day off due to weather, and then Thanksgiving. The class was completely out of synch.

I and other teachers found this frustrating – and even the students voiced confusion and frustration.

Grading policies changed.

School officials decided to change aspects of the grading policy. Minimum grades were instituted, meaning that students did not receive accurate assessments. Indeed, some students learned that the system allowed them to slack off at times and not be afraid of failing. A new letter system is being instituted, even though many faculty members did not see the need. The feeling was that this was what the administration wanted, and objections were ignored or downplayed.

Each year seemed to have a different priority, making it difficult to know what was expected.

Every year there seemed to be a different focus, or document to create, or book to read. Some of them followed each other, but others seemed unconnected – often with some kind of tacked-on connection late in the process. This made it difficult to decide what really was a priority – indeed, staff began to complain about receiving too much too fast. I know of one teacher who left rather than have to deal with more of this. Moreover, these foci dominated our summer work and our department meetings – often making it difficult to get department work done.

There was a growing sense that we were going though these efforts for the sake of going through the motions, and not with any clear goal in mind. That may not have been in the case, but was the sense.

The current strategic planning process has just seemed more of the same, raising fears about the future of the school and its ability to provide a quality education.

Overall, this led to confusion, frustration, and increasing cynicism.

Faculty input about changes was often perceived as manipulated.

The works we read guided some of the academic changes being made at the school. In addition, the schedule was changed several times, as were grade reporting procedures and programs, and more.

There was a clear sense that the works were chosen to direct the discussion in a pre-ordained direction. In addition, faculty was frequently surveyed, but the survey choices were often limited or worded in such a way that the results seemed directed, and hence were questionable.

Further, a number of faculty members did not trust the surveys, believing that their individual responses would be checked. In some cases, they responded with what seemed safe. In some other cases, they did not respond at all for fear of their actual thoughts being known. This tracking may not have been the case, but the perception that it might be revealed the lack of trust at the school.

Meanwhile, this skewed the results.

Yet the results were reported as if the faculty had reached consensus. What the results really were was a consensus on the limited choices they were given, not on the decision as a whole.

This led to further frustration.

There is a climate of fear at the school.

Teachers had a sense that they had to go along with what was the perceived direction administration wanted, or face consequences.  This was as a result in part of the fact that contracts were year to year, thus each year there was uncertainty about whether one had a position or not. In addition, there was the perception that those who had incurred disfavor in some way lost favorite assignments, which were given to those who had favored status. Again, this may not have been the actual case, but it certainly was the perception and this often shaped or limited teacher responses.

The effect was that some teachers felt trapped, afraid to say what they really thought.

There are other reasons why I am leaving – including concerns about the school moving away from its Catholic roots, the seeming obsession with fundraising and marketing, the watering down of the curriculum, and so on. It just became apparent that as much as I loved the students and enjoyed working with many of the faculty members, I could no longer continue at the school.

Pax et bonum

1 comment:

kam said...

All I can say is 'Wow, I'm glad I'm not a teacher.' From what I hear, it's a devilish occupation to be in right now. You did the right thing, for sure.