2011-02-25 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

Unsatisfactory Ratings
By Joan Mettler

Firing teachers or laying them off presents three criteria according to the E4E’s (Education for Excellence) recommendations: The first is excessive tardiness or absence. The second is those in the teacher Reserve Pool who have not secured a job within a 12 month period. The third is those who have received unsatisfactory (“U”) ratings. The first two reasons for dismissal are fair in that the measuring tool for them is objective. The third, the “U” rating, is not and this is where the union and the rank and file must draw the line.

Think of the teachers’ workplace as you would any workplace that employs 100+ people. Personalities will clash. There will be “principals’ pets.” There will be a flock of boot lickers who would do anything to keep their jobs. Bribes for promotions in a faculty would not be uncommon. Tension among faculty members when the principal is the single key to their career is untenable. Giving principals ultimate power (many of whom are unqualified, ushered in during the “Let’s make one high school into ten” era), over who shall have a job and who shall not flies in the face of the purpose of the union. It also flies in the face of academia. A case in point is personal:

During my tenure as a teacher, young attractive and idealistic, I was pursued mercilessly by my married principal to begin an intimate relationship. Turning him down continually, my patented response to him was, “I don’t mix business with pleasure.” I was 22 years old and wise for those 22 years. He was in his fifties. His response was to observe me in my classroom every day for months, memorialize his observation in writing always finding something wrong with my lessons, waiting for my written response to his letter and calling me into his office to discuss the lesson and the response. One would think I was the worst teacher on the planet were one to review my file where all of these letters and responses were kept.

In my eagerness to have those letters removed from my file, I requested step one hearings. In attendance were the UFT Rep, the principal and me. Now, I ask you, why would a principal overturn and remove a letter that he wrote to punish me merely because the UFT Rep and I requested it? Thus, none of the letters were removed at step one.

Step 2 involved a hearing at the district office in front of the district superintendent or his designee, the Rep, the principal and me. I would guess that 99 times out of 100, the superintendent sides with the principal which was why step two was always referred to as a rubber stamp of step one. None of the letters were overturned or removed from my file as a result of step 2 hearings.

Step 3 is the last recourse and is held at 65 Court Street. Seldom do teachers take grievances to step three, especially in the number that were flying at me. Thus, the mounds of derogatory, often ridiculous letters remained in my file. My valuable teaching and planning time and after school time was consumed by the ego bruised womanizing principal’s pursuit of me.

That year I drove a fellow teacher to and from school. A beautiful woman, extremely young to be a guidance counselor, recently married, Sandy was my captive audience in the car trip to school. I confessed this wild pursuit of me by the principal. I still could not only question his relentless pursuit, I couldn’t believe his multiple attempts to destroy my career, my punishment for rejecting his advances. I recall asking Sandy if she could believe my confessed scenario to which she replied, “How do you think I got my job?” She then ventured a guess that he had slept with most of the women on his faculty. I was repulsed at his feeling of entitlement, free access to the women on his faculty to use as he saw fit. With nowhere to turn, I brainstormed devising a plan that included my purchasing a small tape recorder keeping it at the ready and recording our one-on-one meetings. At night I would go home and transcribe the dialogue from our daily meetings, catalog them, date them and file them.

After one of our conferences, I returned to my classroom to teach the next period when a student messenger tapped at my door to return the transcriptions file I had inadvertently left on the conference table during the prior period principal conference. The dye was cast. He knew he was being recorded, probably wondering how he sounded on tape when he called me a “white bitch” and told me to “go to Flatbush where you belong and teach your own kind.”

When I received a “U” rating in June of that year, I contested it. The UFT assigned me a rep whose job was to contest “U” ratings. He was brilliant. At the ‘U” rating hearing downtown, as I took my seat, I removed stacks of tapes and set them in front of me. I also had in front of me my file which was thick with nit-picking vitriol and dutiful responses. Mr. Barnes, my rep, laid out the case exactly as it unfolded, nothing more, nothing less. The conclusion of this exhausting marathon was the “U” rating was overturned and expunged from my record. The principal was found guilty of harassment and ordered to cease and desist all extraneous contact with me, which he did. I requested a transfer from that school. The offending principal turned me down.

The next year, that principal steered clear of me per his orders; but, sent his assistant principal on the same mission for which he was reprimanded. Life for me in that school was hell. But, year after year when June approached and I requested a transfer out of the school, the principal turned me down for ten years. I recall one of his turn down speeches, “You know our relationship is like a marriage,” he mused. “I can’t live with you and I can’t live without you.”

His I can’t live without you sentiment stemmed from the fact that I undertook so many rolls in the school from faculty advisor to graduation writing the class song, rehearsing the valedictory speech, catering and organizing the prom, delivering all graduate permanent records to city high schools, mentoring new English teachers and more. I recall that when one faculty member, a single mother, died at the age of 41, I suggested the principal write her child a meaningful letter extolling her mother’s competence and contributions to our faculty. His reply was, “Write it and I’ll sign it.”

Only when my mother was dying and I requested a hardship transfer to a school close to her home to be on call for her did my principal release me. By then I had become chairman of the Reading Department and overseer of twelve teachers and paras. I really did not want to leave at that point, reaching a stalemate with the principal and a coveted position within the faculty hierarchy; however, I had no choice.

I tell this story to those who think because a teacher gets a “U” rating he or she is automatically a screw-up. Not only was I not a failure, I was a certified mentor and later on taught methods and materials of teaching on the secondary level at NYU as a teaching fellow in a doctoral program. I retired from my profession after 24 years of service.

Because I refused to sleep with my principal, I was mercilessly harassed and nearly ruined as a professional teacher by a man who was probably unfit to be a principal. He received his doctorate mail order, his then reading chairman and good friend writing his papers for him on school time giving him credibility in education circles where how you became Doctor meant less than the title.

Some fifteen or more years ago I received a phone call from a faculty member at my old school with a two word message, “Percy’s dead.” My response was, “Are you sure?” The possessed man who gave me a “U” Rating and did everything in his power to ruin my life was gone thirty-five years too late. The mayor, the electorate and the UFT of this city must not allow a “U” Rating, a subjective evaluation at best, to be the deciding factor in dismissing or laying off a teacher. A valuable teacher might be the object of a principal’s vendetta. The principal who rates a teacher unsatisfactory should come under similar scrutiny as the teacher who received the “U.” The reason for the “U” might not be academic.

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