Chuck Aswell: Adding to the tenure conversation
Terry McAteer’s column, “A Conversation About Tenure” (May 2) is screaming for a response.
He sounded like, well, a school administrator.
I taught for 32 years in a neighboring 10,000 student district. During those years, I worked under 10 principals. Only one of them fit the description of “competent.” The others were mostly pathetic, embarrassing, and even dangerous.
In my 25th year, when the “No Child Left Behind” mania began, perhaps my worst principal directed me and my colleagues to stop teaching history and science because those topics weren’t tested by the newly adopted STAR testing regimen. I defied that directive and continued to teach those vital subjects, even inviting the principal to observe my lessons at any time. I was able to do this because I had tenure.
I essentially dared this charlatan to take disciplinary action because I knew that the directive was irresponsible and unprofessional. Non-tenured staff, of course, followed the principal’s orders because they feared dismissal if they disobeyed.
This particular administrator did what most authoritarians do … she employed classic “divide and conquer” strategies by coddling a selected few staff members in myriad ways in order to have a cadre of support against the ever-growing disaffected staff.
Two years later, I noticed that one of these favored few, a school counselor, was taking his individual students into a small, windowless room for their “counseling sessions.” This, of course, was completely inappropriate and I immediately notified the principal. Her response was to begin an intimidation campaign against me, rather than to deal with the issue that I had reported. The police department was called to the school and advised me that I was a malcontent, trying to stir up trouble. I was, indeed, a malcontent, but “stirring” wasn’t necessary. The trouble was created by incompetency. An officer came to my classroom and attempted to threaten me with consequences that were absolutely ridiculous, like telling me that I had put myself in “serious legal jeopardy” by maligning the reputation of the school counselor (my report was submitted to the principal and vice-principal only).
Within a few days, parents of the counselor’s students began complaining to the school administration. Shortly thereafter, the counselor pled guilty to multiple counts of molestation and is currently serving a 22 year prison sentence. The parents sued the school district, of course, and at the initial stages of that whole process I was deposed. It became clear that the district strategy, among other things, was to intimidate me by suggesting that I knew about the counselor’s wrongdoing but failed to report it to Child Protective Services (I had neither suspicions nor evidence of any molestations. I simply reported that the windowless room, with a locking door, appeared highly inappropriate).
I informed the California Teachers’ Association, my union, and they provided an attorney who quickly made it clear to the school district that their attempt to disparage me would not be tolerated. So, the district stopped its intimidation of me and eventually settled with the parents/students out of court.
Surely Mr. McAteer would agree that these two circumstances were for the benefit of the students. Neither of these actions would have been possible if I had not had a tenure status. I would have been dismissed in both cases and the students would have suffered the consequences.
By the way, since when did teachers’ unions and teachers themselves start granting tenure to themselves? It’s administrators and school districts that grant tenure. If the policy is disagreeable, then criticize the entity that implements the policy.
Chuck Aswell lives in Penn Valley. He taught in the Marysville Joint Unified School District for 32 years. He retired in 2005.
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