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Mean kindergarten teacher

Sept 2004

Hi Everyone - My child has just started BUSD kindergarten and I'm concerned - one of the two co-teachers has a bad reputation for hurting the kids in the past - and I'm trying not to give into rumor and innuendo, but my son's coming home with some disturbing stories and I'm not sure how to proceed. A few examples:

A student was crying loudly due to a small cut on his hand - the teacher got aggro from the noise he was generating, so she sat him facing out of the classroom (back to class) and had him project into the hallway. He was still loudly crying, so she gave up and helped him with a band-aid.

The next day a few of the kids were asking this same teacher where the other teacher was and when would she be back. She responded that the other teacher was in Paris eating pizza. The sarcasm was lost on the kids - they were confused to see the other teacher the next day.

The other parents that I have spoken to are also aware of this teacher's short fuse, frustration w/the kids, and overreaction to other minor events. Her anger level is making me anxious. We love the school, and don't want to leave, so we need to figure out how to deal with this potentially and probably volatile situation. Any advice that you can give regarding how the BUSD runs, how to get help for these kids, etc. would be greatly appreciated.

I don't know how the system works and have heard that the principal has supported this teacher when she's gotten into trouble in the past. I don't want to add to the problem, but am concerned about my and the other kids, and think that someone should be aware of what's going on. Thanks for any help I can get. Signed, trying to get my feet

If transferring your child to another class is not an option, I would document the incidents as you've done, writing a letter to the principal and cc the school board and Michelle Lawrence, superintendent. That sort of behavior can not be ignored and the principal will be held accountable by these entities to make sure he/she follows up about it. They may be forced to see if she has had any prior complaints. Hope this helps. By the way, if you get no response to your letter, show up at a school board meeting stating that. The loud mouths are the ones that get fed... Vocal BUSD Parent
The first thing is to help make the situation better, if possible. Do what it takes to get to know the teacher and spend time helping in the classroom. Get to know your principal too, without complaining about anything. Be sure that you know what the situations your child describes to you really entail...most children are honest, but may not have a completely objective view. My son told me his K teacher ''yelled'' at the class, and I found out through long discussion with him and observation of the class that ''yelling'' meant speaking in a voice raised to be heard over the bustle of the class. ''Speaking loudly'' was a concept too subtle for him, at 4 1/2.

Teachers and administrators like those in your school are just people, like you and me and everyone. With enough support you may be able to improve the situation for everyone involved.

If you determine that the teacher is toxic and needs to be removed from her job, you will have a long fight ahead of you, and a moral imperative to do it. It has been done in the past, but only in the most serious cases, and with the concerted effort of all the parents involved. Heather

Call Neil Smith, Curriculum Director of BUSD at once. He is the boss of all the principals in the District. Tell him your child is in this class with this teacher who has a known history. good luck ANON
Dear Anon, Sounds to me like you have your mind made up already. My mother taught elementary school for over 30 years before becoming principal of that very same school and I have heard the other side of your story over the years. There are some ''bad'' teachers out there. However, I have also noticed how quickly and easily those ''bad'' teachers get labelled as such when that earned or unearned reputation precedes them due to unvetted parent and child concerns.

It is interesting to me that you are relying largely on this teacher's ''reputation for badness'' and your child's and other youngsters' reports of circumstances that may or may not be what actually happened. It is absolutely critical to take seriously the things our youngsters tell us, but, remember there is another side to it. Has any child or parent brought these concerns to this teacher at parent:teacher conferences? How about with the principal?

I think it is very easy for these things to snowball out of control and become very emotional. I would urge you to take your concerns to the principal whose job it is to sort this out. If your school is as good as you say, he or she will handle this quickly and professionally. It is perfectly in your right to present what you've described to the teacher, the principal or both and to expect an explanation from their persepectives of the events you describe. If it isn't managed to your satisfaction, and you still have concerns, consider bringing it up with the parent committees for your school if other families have experienced the same issues with this teacher and are willing to work with you on its resolution.

As in the adult world, it is often best to bring these issues and concerns up proactively and as soon as they happen, using, as you have, specific examples. If you wait and bring it up later and forget these potential issues of concern, the teacher and principal will be justified in saying to you, ''can you give us a specific instance?''.

I would also urge you -- and I am not a teacher, but, spent most of my childhood growing up with one in the house -- to remember how in tune your child is to your estimation of his or her teacher. If he or she perceives you as having a negative attitude about his or her teacher, your child will begin to realize triangulation is possible. It is so important for you to have a united front and a good working relationship with your child's educators over the years. This may not be the right fit for you, your child or the teacher. I would urge you not to knee-jerk adopt the label ''bad'' for this teacher and dismiss judgement until the full facts are known. Similarly, I would hope that you would keep an open mind, advocate for your son, and, give everyone the benefit of the doubt until given reason to believe otherwise. If, what your son reports is true and there are not other aspects to this one side of the story, I do hope the principal takes action promptly. Wishing you and your child the best. anon

As someone whose precious child is in that class, my advice is to physicaly be in the class helping. I am amazed by how much there is to do. Crowd control is a very real part of any school. Destroying a person's career and self esteem by sniping behind their back is cruel. Two children have been moved out of the class by their parents, into private schools, because of all of this talk. That has affected all of the other children in the class. All of the parents have heard these rumors. The expanded versions are terrifying and generate a tremendous amount of anxiety. The only real protection is to be there and know first hand that it is fine. Many of us also have babies that we must arrange care for so that we can volunteer. I suggest that we parents organize (PTA?)so that we can all know that one of us is there helping. Not only the teacher in question, but everyday. We could have a schedule.

The kind of scrutiny that we are subjecting this woman to is unreasonable. The feeling I get from all this talk is that one of the kindergarden teachers is a saint, totally on top of her job, one is a ditsey space case, and one is a time bomb waiting to explode and chop up all the kids and so, there is an OK co- teacher in place to step in when that happens. It is just not fair. No one could stand up to this kind of scrutiny.

The school is great and special. Parents need to help. For example, I went looking for paper towels as there were none in the classroom. There were none in the janitors closet, bathrooms, or the other teachers rooms. Solution? Inform the office and bring paper towels from home to tide them over? Or should I talk loudly about it in confidence with the other parents one at a time? In the lunch room, The teachers are constantly circulating; opening milk cartons, bananas, etc. and don't get a break. Parents could be incredibly helpful there and on the playground at recess.

We need to get together and be a community. We all love our kids.

From your description the teacher sounds mean-spirited and cynical. Not great for little kindergarteners - they need a warm fuzzy sort of person, don't they. I have some experience with this in BUSD. First of all let me say that my kids had mostly wonderful teachers all through the BUSD. There were a few so-so teachers but honestly we never had a teacher who seemed really detrimental to their welfare, though there was one close call and there were a couple of other problem situations. In every case either the principal or the district was able to work something out that satisfied the parents. So I do think you can have some confidence that things will work out. But parents have had to do a little work too, by organizing, documenting, and being persistent.

Some things I learned: 1) Don't believe everything you hear from other parents. Make an effort to find out for yourself. 2) If you feel there is a serious problem, you must go to the principal. That is the teacher's boss, and you need to create documentation that the boss can use at employee evaluation time if anything is ever going to be solved. 3) If the principal seems unable or unwilling to solve the problem, go to the district. 4) Complaints are more likely to be taken seriously if they are coming from a group of parents, not just one parent, so you need to network with others.

I learned that when there are complaints about a teacher, his/her boss (the principal) has to take some very well-defined steps before any action can be taken, such as having documentation of the problem, and getting an observer into the classroom. They can't just reassign or fire a teacher, no matter how many parents are complaining, without some documentation to back it up. It's only fair. If someone complained to your boss about your job performance, you'd want some warning, some documentation, and a chance to improve, before you got fired.

On the other hand, in my experience, principals can be extremely reluctant to discuss problems that parents have with teachers, and for whatever reason, they may not be very forthcoming about possible solutions. I don't know if this is because the teachers' contracts are secretive, and the principal is not allowed to discuss it, or if the principals are just trying to take the path of least resistance. I'm not a big complainer but on the rare occassion when I did have a problem (a 1st grade teacher who was nice to my kid but had a "bad table" for the "bad kids"), the principal did her best to discourage me from perceiving it as a problem, and instead praised the teacher for her many years of teaching and her excellent service to the school. That time I was new to school, and I didn't know any other parents, so I just dropped it.

Later, a couple of times my kids were in classrooms where there was a new teacher who clearly just wasn't cut out for teaching. When parent complaints started piling up, the principal assigned more experienced teachers to observe and help the teacher. Meanwhile, parents would step up their classroom participation. After some weeks or months of this without improvement, the new teachers were replaced. The principals really did want to be responsive to parents.

Another time, I was in a group of parents who were trying to prevent a well-known "mean" elementary teacher from transferring to the middle school where our kids were just starting. Trust me, this teacher was mean. We all had a first-hand story about her legendary sarcasm & rudeness. She ran her 4th grade classroom like a prison - no fieldtrips ever, no pictures on the walls. Once on the playground I saw her get so mad at a kid she kicked his backpack as hard as she could all the way across the playground, screaming at him all the while. The poor kid just stood there terrified. So now the elementary school was downsizing, and this teacher was not too surprisingly one of the teachers there "wasn't room for". She had the seniority to request a position at any school in the district that had an opening, and she picked our kids' middle school. A bunch of us with incoming middle schoolers got together. First we went to the middle school principal. She told us that she was sympathetic but there was nothing she could do because the teacher's contract guaranteed her the position. Furthermore, the mean teacher had glowing evaluations from her previous principal (who nevertheless seemed really happy to have her transfer to a different school). We learned to our surprise that in 20 years this teacher had been in the BUSD, not a single person had ever made an official complaint about her. As far as the district was concerned, she was an exemplary teacher! We all realized that because we were all active at the school and knew her, and because of the teacher preference system, we had all been able to keep our kids out of her classroom. The poor kids who suffered through a year of her, had parents who were not involved enough in the school to know what she was like, or to ever complain about her.

We made an appointment with the superintendent and aired our concerns. The superintendent basically gave us the bureaucratic brush-off, telling us the same thing the principal had told us, that his hands were tied as there was no record of any problems with this teacher. But ... I don't know how it happened, but somehow or other, the teacher ended up in an administrative position and never came to the middle school as a teacher.

So, what I took away from this experience is that it is really important for parents to go to the trouble of getting something into the record if there is a problem with a teacher. Maybe it won't help you this year, but it might help some more parents next year. Also, help out at the school as much as you can, get to know the teachers and get to know the other parents. It really does pay off in so many ways, not just when there is trouble. Finally, when your kid has a good teacher, write a letter to his or her boss - the principal - at the end of the year. Bad teachers are the exception -- let's not forget about documenting the records of the good teachers! Good luck a BUSD Mom

Hi - After reading the responses to your question, I'd like to add my opinion. I'm a kindergarten teacher in a bay area school district, not the BUSD. The advice given to you ran the spectrum from ''go directly to the school board'' to ''wait and see''. My suggestion is that you take a middle road - because you're likely to accomplish more if this teacher truly isn't cut out for teaching. Start with taking your concerns directly to the teacher, then the principal, then up the ladder until you feel you've changed what needs to be changed.

During the last two years I was at a school site where teachers have been involved situations similar to the one you described. I won't go into the specifics here, as someone may recognize herself, but they've given me insight into what I would do if I were in your situation.

A couple of responders told you that this teacher couldn't be reassigned to another grade level. In both districts I've worked for, the contract states that reassignment can be involuntary. One time honored way that principals make life miserable for tenured teachers they want to remove from their position without going through the difficult process of proving they should be removed is to reassign that teacher. So the principal at your school site could place the kindergarten teacher in 5th grade at the start of next year. Sometimes the principal may believe the grade level switch will benefit the teacher and students. Often he or she may really be hoping that teacher will quit, since most kindergarten teachers wouldn't want to teach 5th grade and visa versa. If the principal really wants to switch this teacher's grade level, he/she probably can. Other readers advised you to go ''straight to the top''. Unless you've witnessed the inappropriate behavior yourself, I'd advise against doing that. Even if you have witnessed it yourself, districts have complaint procedures and flow charts for how to handle these type of complaints and by following them, you're likely to get better results, now and when you have concerns in later years. It's kind of like demanding to speak with the CEO of Macy's about a clerk when the store manager could handle your complaint. Who is going to want to work things out when they think you may attack them later? Just as parents label ''good'' and ''bad'' teachers, parents get can be labeled. While they may seem to have the administrators ears, those ears may have a tube that goes in one side and out the other. In a business enviornment, they're like the high maintenance client. Next years' teacher may feel that you'll take even the slightest concern to the top and be less inclined to work with you. Also remember that the pricipal who appeared to defend the teacher in question may not have been defending her behind closed doors. The principal legally cannot discuss personnel matters with you. It could very well be that your child's teacher is under review, but that is confidential. If you receive a poor review at work, your boss cannot discuss it with your clients. Now if the principal truly does not seem to do anything, then the next step I'd suggest would be to go up a notch on the complaint ladder, but remember that they aren't going to tell you what actions are being taken. Keep going up until you feel you've been heard.

I mentioned the part about witnessing the behavior yourself, because trust me little kids can mix up language and blow it out of porportion. Just last week, I was working with a small group of kids, and I said, ''I'm going to shuffle these cards''. One of my students at another table, called to his friend, ''OOOOH! Mrs. ____ said a bad word!!!'' I had to laugh because we all know what he thought I said. English isn't his first language and those words do sound alike. The good news is he has good phonemic awareness and recognized the sound of ''sh''. I stopped what I was doing and explained to my whole class what ''shuffle'' means. Now imagine that he went home told his mom what he thought I said and she went straight to the school board. But that little boy and innocent misunderstanding is why I choose to teach and not work with adults. They don't have agendas. Finally, I've noticed that frequently when there is one good teacher, one OK teacher, and one bad teacher, that these are often based superficial observations of the classroom. Parents gossip and it gets made into a huge thing. The differences between teachers can be as silly as which class has the cutest art projects up, but the teacher with the cuteness factor wins the ''good'' teacher title. Or one teacher may be a little more disorganized about materials than another, but be great in other areas. The organized teacher gets the parent recognition. There is so much you don't see unless you're in the classroom - so go in help the teacher, and make an opinion based on your observations. And yes keep going until you reach the top if things truly aren't what they should be, because it's your job as a parent. Been teaching a long time

I may have had some first-hand experience several years ago with the teacher you're referring to. If you'd like to contact me, please do so through the moderator. Anon for my kids' sake

OUSD kindergarten not a good fit--what to do now?!

Oct 2010

Our daughter is currently enrolled in kindergarten at a very ''desirable'' Oakland elementary school. It's been a month now and it's clear this program is not the best fit for our kid and our family. Long story short, we need to find a ''progressive school'' pronto. But what to do now--pull her from the program and homeschool for the year? Try to get her into a another Oakland school or a private kindergarten? Has anyone dealt with this issue before? What progressive schools should we be contacting? We could really use some advice. Thanks! Burned by OUSD school experience

Hello - Our daughter had a very bad experience in the beginning of her K year as well. We were in a private school, which made the decision to leave very difficult financially. We are SO GLAD we did it. We decided to move her mid-year and she has been happy ever since (6 years now). Yes, I think you should contact private schools if you know that is what you want to do. We asked around and found out that there was room to add a child in the K class of another private school - one that was a better fit. You will have to apply and your daughter will need to visit to be assessed. It is likely that there is a better school out there and it is worth making the move. If you feel that progressive education is likely to be a good fit, I strongly recommend that you check out Windrush School. Happy Windrush Parent
I am not sure which schools have openings, but I would definitely look quickly at Redwood Day School to see if they do. It is a WONDERFUL school and if they have space, I think they will add to Kindergarten classes until about Thanksgiving. Happy parent of 2
Before you make a big decision, I'd like to advise you to check and be sure that the problem is the whole school, and not just the teacher. We just about changed to a private school when my child had an exceptionally bad experience with a kindergarten teacher. We ended up staying, and I'm very glad we did. If I had known then what I know now, I'd have asked to have my child switched to a different teacher; it would have been a relatively simple solution to what seemed at the time to be an enormous problem. anonymous
I would like to recommend a small school located off Peidmont Avenue that offers exceptional hands on learning experiences from some of the best teachers in town. Archway School is more than a school, it's a community where kids go and LOVE to learn. The ''experiential learning'' that happens at the school provides children with opportunities to use their natural gifts and sense of exploration to master the basic subjects. The school is involved in service learning and community building as part of it cirriculum as well. The outstanding teachers all take a special interest in your child and are open and communicative on all levels, making themselves fully accessible to student and parent alike. Archway is a hidden gem in Oakland and we'd like you to check us out! lee
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