Monday, March 28, 2011

We teach fascism

A few weeks ago I learned I was being recommended for non-renewal for "performance based" reasons. I would believe it if

1. My teaching was ever criticized. It has not been. In fact, I have been the poster boy for the department every time district people want to see social studies in action. All of my reviews have been overflowing with admiration.
2. My students didn't learn. I have heard from multiple people that my students were better prepared and performed better in other courses. I have stacks of college level essays to prove it.
3. My students didn't like me. They attempted a sit-in to protest my non-renewal. I have hundreds of anonymous course reviews and dozens of personal letters from the kiddos.
4. I was being non-renewed for anything beyond taking too many bathroom breaks at professional development, or looking bored at the seventh hour of an all day PD.
5. I suddenly didn't meet "standards" two weeks before my final evaluation, that would give me renewal and tenure for next year. Hmm....

There is only one person in my school who is pushing for my non-renewal. The entire staff, student and AP team support me. This makes all interactions with the principal awkward, leading to a series of humorous events this past week. I was asked to not attend the department chairperson meeting because it would be deciding TE for next year. I think it's because I'm pissing her off.

Why am I pissing her off? Actually, it's not me, but I am enjoying every minute of it. Despite the obvious bullshit, my students are showing their true colors. I have the future leaders of this country in my room.

A few weeks ago the students began a petition to the principal. It stated that the administration could not expect the respect of its students if they followed through with the decision to non-renew me, and how could admin expect to run the school if the student body distrusted their decisions. It was signed by over 600 students, over 1/3 of the school. This got under the principal's skin. For the first time, emotion (anger) was shown, and freaked out the kids in a way that reinforced their desire to challenge her. Now the students are calling board members and writing letters. The students are planning on attending the Board of Education meeting where the BOE will decide on the recommendation for non-renewal.

The students then decided to apply their knowledge of history from my class. Remembering the ideas of the IWW, collective action and organization, the students began to plan a protest. It was to occur last Friday. Facebook groups and text messages went out alerting the whole school. Of course, administration caught wind of the plan.

During the last period on Friday an assistant principal and dean came into my room and I was escorted down the the principal's office like a troublesome student. I demanded union representation immediately. I sat down and met with the principal and an assistant principal. This was the first time she looked me in the eyes since my notice of non-renewal. She was frightened of what the student's actions would say about her to the almighty district. The principal told me what the students were planning, like I already didn't know, and asked if I would tell the students not to do the sit-in. She said that there were proper forms of stating an opinion, and a sit-in is not appropriate. Obviously her ignorance pertains to subjects beyond history, but I decided it was not the right time and place to pick a fight. I also knew, the students had called off the sit-in, in order to better plan a more effective event at a later date. I agreed to talk to the students.

The principal had rounded up the leaders of the petition, and put them in a conference room. As I walked in, the other two APs were in the room, and I was followed by the principal and other AP. The entire admin team was there, serious, nervous, and straight faced.

When I saw the students I excited greeted them with "Sup, thugs!"
They responded with an equally excited "Hey Mr. _________!"

For a wonderful moment I looked at the principal, hoping the realization hit her too. You are not a teacher, you don't know kids, you are an automaton. In fact, you are afraid of kids. How do you get to tell me what to do? She gave me the nod to proceed with the fright fest.

I said to the students "I was told of what you are planning, and I would like to see you in MY class tomorrow. Thunderstand?"

"Yes, mister"

"Now remember, you have homework, right?"

"Oh yeah, about McCarthyism, right?" (irony)

"Yep." At that moment, I turned to the principal to signal I was done.

The principal then continued to ask the students if they could send out texts alerting the students that the sit-in was off. My four subversive students told her repeatedly that was unnecessary. Finally, the principal asked if she should make an announcement. At that point, the leader of the students turned towards the principal, and said with the perfect mix of annoyance, pity, and passive aggressiveness "Well, we've already told you that we think that is unnecessary, but, if you really want to, you can go ahead and do that." I nearly jumped out of my chair to give them a high five. They understand power. I wish I would've remembered to look at the APs to see their reaction. They support me, but cannot show it.

At that point, the students were retained for individual interrogations, while I was dismissed back to my room. On the way out, I signaled to the kids from around the corner a smile, wink, and OK sign. They smiled and attempted to cover up their laughing. Minutes later, the subversives came knocking at my door. I stepped out. We looked at each other and then spontaneously burst into laughter. I asked and made sure they were not intimidated. They said no. Apparently the office workers told the students to not allow administration to bully or intimidate them. The subversives and I agreed to talk later, we shouldn't be seen together yet. Those students were the first people in the school to get under the principal's skin. They were not cowed by administration. At that point, the subversives decided to double down and plan a better protest.

At the end of the day, there was an announcement from the principal urging all students to be at class. Then there was an all staff 5 minute meeting where we were encouraged to enforce tardy and hallway rules. Ha!

These students are operating independently from me. These students have decided not to be passive observers in their own school, and not treat their education as a spectator sport. Our administration came down on them like a fascist regime. What the students are learning about power from this process is immense. What they've done so far is incredible, and I cannot wait to see what next week holds.

Because of the students, I will win, or stymie her career, or both.

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