Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Things I Wonder About…

By Aimee (Amy) Berard, Massachusetts BAT and School Committee candidate for the Lawrence Public Schools (LPS) where she formerly taught.

Edited by Amy Wolpin

In June, one of my LPS students asked me "Are you leaving us for better kids?"

I explained it was not my decision to leave and that I'd still be their neighbor.

I promised them I'd fight for them from a different angle.

I'm a busy mom of two children. I commute for work to my new district daily.

This school committee position has no stipend and there isn't any decision making power because of the receivership.

People ask me often why I am putting energy into this. I'm putting energy into this because the message is important and I promised my students I would continue to fight for them.

And the cardinal rule of life is you never break promises you make to children.

They're not numbers to me. They're my neighbors and they're worth the fight.

They deserve the same kind of education the kids in the suburbs get.

I'm more than a standardized test proctor.

In Lawrence, I proctored the ANet Math quarterly, the ANet ELA quarterly, the Iready biannually, MCAS ELA annually and MCAS Math annually.

Do you know how many instructional days were lost from this?

Not to mention all the test prep in between all these standardized tests!

The undue duress put on children in Lawrence is palpable. Kids in Andover, Newton and Swampscott aren't getting this kind of standardized testing inundation.

Then in Lawrence all the data is mandated to be on the walls to remind kids daily what category they fall in: high warning, low warning, high needs improvement, low needs improvement, proficient, advanced.

It's not exactly a morale booster for kids.

I didn't get into teaching to treat children like cogs in an education "reform" machine.

Admin and teachers brought into Lawrence apply a zero tolerance lock down approach to school.

I'm convinced this reflects zero cultural competence.

It's operating schools under the presumption that inner city kids are bad and need to be managed like prisoners.

Inner city children take about 10 X more standardized tests than kids in suburbs.

This results in a massive loss of instructional time for these children. Suburban kids aren't losing all this instructional time for testing and preparing for testing

When I proctored the math MCAS, there were 5 adults in my room at one point. The max is 2 per test regulations. 2 math teachers were walking around checking over the students as they worked.

I had an assistant proctor and then someone came to cover for me but I refused to leave my room and they sat in my room anyway.

I went out with the math teachers and told them "this is not right. This isn't legal. Math teachers cannot walk through all these rooms while the MCAS math is being proctored."

They said "yes we can. The grade 6 ELA teacher did it for MCAS ELA."

This was news to me. Mainly because I stayed in my room during MCAS and proctored. I didn't use my breaks to poke around rooms and pressure my students to perform during ELA MCAS.

I asked a para who had hall duty for every MCAS in every grade. She said this was a common thing for the subject area teachers to do.

I went to the assistant principal and said "This is happening. Should this be happening?"

Her response "TECHNICALLY no."

Of course not. It's unethical on many levels and ILLEGAL. It threatens test security and puts these 12 year olds under even more unnecessary stress.

I had one grade 6 student curled up in his seat in the fetal position during this test.

If they finished early (which many ELL and SpEd students do) we were told to make them sit and do nothing. If they fussed, we were told to redirect them to check over their test.

For hours!

This is developmentally inappropriate and outright abusive.

Imagine if you took a 10 week piano course. Imagine you paid $50 a piano lesson and the first 5 lessons all the piano teacher did was test you. And week 10 was another test.

Wouldn't you want your money back? Wouldn't you be unhappy by week 10 when you didn't
learn as much as you hoped to learn?

Taxpayers, this is your money being wasted.

It used to be that admin was there to support teachers and teachers were there to support students.

Now teachers are there to support admin and admin are there to support superintendents.

It's reversed.

Many teacher evaluators are evaluating teachers in subjects they've never taught.

My Spark Lawrence evaluator was 23 with 2 years of Teach for America math teaching under her belt. She was the assistant principal. And she was evaluating my job as a reading specialist.

Because so many evaluators don't know what to look for, they have a checklist of things they look for.

These things aren't so much meaningful things crucial to the learning environment or to the instruction of a specific subject.

They're a checklist of things that just make the evaluator's job easier.

Essential question? Check. Total participation technique? Check. Teach Like a Champion technique? Check. Objectives posted? Check. Higher order thinking question posted? Check. Growth mindset addressed? Check. Data wall posted? Check. Agenda posted? Check. Group work? Check. Total compliance? Check.

These evaluations are made so simple that a baboon could evaluate teachers based on this protocol.

It's not exactly meaningful assessment.

These things are okay when they don't happen to your kids in your neighborhood. They're always great happen to other people's kids.

These things always seem to be implemented in the poorest districts with the least parent involvement.

Why the obsession with inner city minority students being compliant? Zero talking throughout extended school day. Hand signals for bathroom, water, and such. Total lock down.

In order to change the world, you need people who are brave and non-compliant. People who speak truth to power. Why don't they want to foster that in the inner city?

Things I wonder...

Always beware the names people give things.

Great Schools? Of course I want Great schools! Sign me up!

Teach Like a Champion? Of course I want to teach like a champion. What's the opposite of a champion?

Well, I don't want to teach like a loser...

Teach for America? Of course! I love my country! I wanna teach for America!

God forbid if they actually called these things names that reflected their true actions.

Low test scores in urban districts?

What you have here are not enough standardized tests and too many qualified and experienced teachers and admin.

Let me solve that...


I wish I had a video of my dismissal meeting from the LPS. I complimented the Chief Op on her hair. (Hey, it was a nice cut. I call things how I see them) The union president said, "Amy, this woman - nice hair or not- isn't your friend." Lol

Then once I kept getting the line "You're not the right fit" whenever I brought up questions, the union president turned to me and said "Hey, you live in district C right? Run for school committee."

It was a fun dismissal meeting.

I was taught if you did the right thing, right things would happen. If you work hard, you will succeed.

I was confident in my students and my teaching. I knew I didn't need to resort to self-esteem crushing educational gimmicks to achieve student growth.

I thought as long as the children made gains, my job would be secure.


This should have been celebratory for students and for me. The students weren't even informed of this. And I was dismissed.

The school admin was sure to put that growth on their portfolio though.

Yet they dismissed me because I was up for tenure and pushed back on many of the education gimmicks they were trying to adopt school wide.

State Receiver Riley can hire whomever he wants. And who has he hired? People from his past, Edwards Middle School people who used to do Teach for America with him or play soccer with him and who wanted a promotion.

It's hard to respect someone like that.

Looking back sometimes I think "Amy, you didn't even have tenure! Why were you so bold in Lawrence schools?"

I was bold because I had truth on my side and I thought that was enough.

At a staff meeting an experienced teacher said, "I don't even know who my boss is anymore. Are you my boss? (Points to principal) Are you my boss? (Points to ELA coach) Are you my boss? (Points to data coach). Are you my boss? (Points to assistant principal) Are you my boss? (Points to representative sent from organization giving us grant money) Are you my boss? (Points to special assistant to Riley who was assigned to our school).”

Reminds me of this book Are You My Mother? By P.D. Eastman

I had to tell all my students.

And they already knew because they'd seen so many fired before. They knew what to look for - teacher pulled out of class / didn't return that day.

They asked me not to use any sick days the last two weeks. It's sad they know stuff like that.

They know because that's how pronounced the teacher turnover is in Lawrence.

They've seen teachers given boxes and crying as they pack up with the security guard watching.

One child said to me in March, "Miss, I love you but you will be fired. They always fire the teachers I love."
Then the students around her all agreed.

She was right.

Children know the patterns of the district.

Once I was targeted, I wasn't invited to meetings.

Then on my formative assessment the AP noted I missed meetings.

I asked her when, she said she didn't know and that this was what the ELA coach told her. (And coaches are supposed to be non-evaluative.)

I emailed the ELA coach and cc'd the AP asking for dates of meetings she said I missed.

Neither one ever responded.

This is how Lawrence does things.

I was non-renewed two weeks before school ended in June. My summative review had yet to be done.

The next day, my AP emailed me notifying me that my summative review that was scheduled was now cancelled.

I pressed for them to review my summative portfolio that every teacher spends a year making. It involves proof of 4 categories and about 10 indicators per category.

They never looked at it or met with me to view it.

They just emailed me a review after I hounded them and had my union pressure them to complete it.

I have to do my job. Admin should have to do their jobs.

LPS has new admin and new teachers. This results in it being run like a fraternity.

For example, we had a professional development that involved BUTT BOXING.

Teachers were instructed to bend over with hands behind backs and push other teachers out of the taped square on the floor using only their butts.

Admin didn't participate of course. They watched.

I'm convinced they were noting which of us was so desperate to keep our jobs that we would do anything they told us.

Normally these issues I'm bringing up get resolved by a union, but in the case of Lawrence the union has no power and is essentially bullied by the state receiver.

So teachers end up leaving.

Nobody has any real recourse in Lawrence if they're a teacher getting bullied. They just have to leave quietly and hope for no retaliation.

I was at a meeting the other day and one teacher said, "Take a picture of us meeting so we can put it in our portfolio."

Imagine if cops or firefighters had to do that?

Take a picture of me fighting this fire please. I need it for my portfolio...

It still perplexes me why they make these dismissals a surprise and why nobody is told in January that they are at risk of being non-renewed.

That just seems so shady and unprofessional to spring these non-renewals at surprise meetings.

Hey teacher, can you come upstairs for a minute. We have someone to watch your class. Go to the office to find principal, union building rep, union president, and chief operating officer all waiting for you to join your own dismissal meeting.

Then you have to teach the remaining two weeks.

If they felt their decision was truly fair and grounded, why would they have to make it so much of an ambush?

People should not be surprised they're not renewed.

It's as awful as telling a child and their parent, "Guess what? You're retained."

Without ever giving them warnings throughout the year.

Vygotsky's “Zone of Proximal Development” and Maslow's “Hierarchy of Needs” is largely ignored by Lawrence admin.

By all means Doug Lemov's Teach Like a Champion trumps all the research done by Vygotsky and Maslow.

So in 1998 Massachusetts was worried we teachers weren't qualified.

So they started to test us teachers in every subject. (Of course there's still no test for admins.)

Now they just hire temps from Teach for America with just 5 weeks training.

Is this backwards or what?

I was exceptionally naive.

I tried to teach admin how these techniques were adversely affecting students.

And then when I reached out to admin about the MCAS proctoring violations, it fell on deaf ears.

I was shocked.

It surprised me how the admin truly did not care how kids felt.

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