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I would like some advice about dealing with a difficult Berkeley High School teacher. My daughter had him when she went through BHS and we dealt with many issues with him. (Negative/punitive/unhelpful teaching style; talking about his students with other teachers in a snide manner; seeming to hamper, not help students achieve.) My daughter was a straight-A student and had never had problems with any teachers in her time through school. Many meetings with the school ensued (without explicitly saying so, they acknowledged that he is a huge problem but they can't do anything about it). We learned through other parents that there had been consistent and multiple complaints about this teacher. My daughter transferred out 2nd term and subsequently earned an A in her new class. Now my son has him but could not transfer out as it would have meant changing his whole schedule around. We have had the same problems with the teacher this year and my son's record is most likely going to be blighted with a low grade.
Question: is there anything I can do to prevent my son from having this teacher again, which could happen? Meet with his counselor? The Vice Principal as well? Has anyone had any success with such a process? Or do I need to take it up to the district level? Otherwise quite happy with BHS
As a rule the administrators are well aware of who are bad teachers and consistently complained of; what is lacking is any advocacy for the kids. I couldn't believe that our principals failed to document the consistent failure of one teacher, whose (not at risk) students year after year got completely uncharacteristic low grades and mostly failed to be able to go on to the next level in the subject. One of my kids was able to transfer out of that class, but the other couldn't and suffered. It annoyed me to pay for a tutor to make up for poor teaching, but I wasn't willing to sue the school to make them reveal the damning statistics.
If you can't get the principal on your side and you go to the district, try to go with evidence from other families and the counselors. And be careful to stick to provable facts, when you put anything in writing. Hang in there!
The whole district has BPAR , a process to deal with bad teachers. A teacher is put into the process after either they flunk an evaluation or sometimes they pay attention if enough people write complaints about that teacher. The old principal did not use this process, to the detriment of the school, so that is why it would feel like a complaint led to nothing. It used to lead to nothing. Apparently, the new one uses it judiciously. It takes 2 years and is very fair and thorough. The BFT has agreed to it since they don't want bad teachers either. At least one tenured teacher was let go this year and that had to be via BPAR since there was no other way possible. She is mad as a hornet and is charging racism. She is the worst teacher at BHS and finally they are getting rid of her. So if you think a teacher is mean and terrible, write it up and send it to the vice principal who is their supervisor or to the principal. Get brave and stick up for your son - it's the only way. BPAR is confidential so you will never know if a teacher is in that 2 year process until they get shown the door. That is why it is up to you to write a complaint letter. But I watched the school board meeting on TV when it was all about BHS and a math teacher said there are 2 or 3 math teachers in BPAR now. This upsets the teachers but the system is designed so that a teacher has to be a real problem to get the bounce from it. BHS mom
My daughter attends BHS and was reassigned to a new counselor, a man who has been accused of sexually harassing at least one student. The district admitted that his behavior was inappropriate but failed to label it as sexual harassment. After reading the news stories (http://www.berkeleyside.com/2010/09/16/bhs-counsellor-served-with-restraining-order I find it unbelievable that the district could come to this conclusion. If the district believe he's innocent, he should be exonerated; if not, he should be fired.
I am not comfortable letting my daughter see this man, even with his office door kept open, which, from what I gather, is currently the ''solution'' being offered. The superintendent and the school board have not responded to my phone calls and e-mails. This man is the counselor for many Berkeley students. How are other parents whose children are in this position handling it?
My son does not have this counselor in question as his counselor, but was assigned to him briefly in the past. (Sometimes, the caseloads are changed as the kids are assigned alphabetically.) I have told my son that until this case is cleared up, he is not to meet with this counselor. My daughter will be attending BHS next year.
I, too, have had no response from the school board or superintendent and have called and sent letters. When I tried to speak to the principal of BHS, his assistant listened patiently to my concerns and suggested I call the district personnel office. I did, and the person who spoke to me basically told me nothing of substance, but that our children are safe, and the passage of the public letter that talks about inappropriate conduct was part of a larger paragraph. In response to my concerns that my daughter might be assigned this counselor next year,she said that if this occurred then I could call the principal.
As the family of the student who made the accusations are pursuing a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights, I would suggest contacting them, calling the BHS Principal 644-4569 (his assistant told me that there have not been many calls about this!), and/or BUSD Personnel 644-6150.
So it looks like parents are being put in the position of dealing with this issue, individually. I resent this and think that it is so unfair to my kids, your kids, and especially the kids whose parents don't know about this issue. I also think that this is unfair to all the BUSD teachers and counselors who do make good decisions every day. We entrust our children to them.
On a positive note: having to deal with this issue at least has forced us to have one of those ''difficult''conversations with our children ---- power dynamics between adults and kids, sexuality and sexual harassment, the reasons for silence, speaking up....
how do you get to speak with your child's teachers? I started calling 3 weeks ago and left messages for specific teachers. This week I started leaving the messages with their department heads, English and Math. I make a point of being positive, we really like the teachers, but we do want to check on our student's progress and materials required in the class. So what has your experience been and what works? Frances
At Back to School night many teachers have given out their e-mail addresses. I like e-mail in this situation, because if I have more than two simple sentences to say, this allows me to think about and carefully express whatever concern I might have. Sometimes I am more articulate this way. This only works with teachers who do e-mail, though.
The other way I have found works to reach teachers is to just go to school and find them. I try not to be intrusive about it and do it at inconvenient or awkward times. Most of my child's teachers have been very receptive to the contact and have been happy to talk to me. If it's not convenient I ask them when I can talk to them at another time. Sometimes they'll arrange to phone me or we arrange another time to meet. I think that, even though they are busy, they appreciate the fact that I am concerned or interested in what is happening and make an effort to meet me halfway.
I know this is impossible for a lot of people in the middle or beginning of a workday, but sometimes I haven't found any other way. It can be worth it to take a sick day or personal time. Sarah
New question: I hear that most teachers have email now. How come it's so hard to find out what their email addresses are? The BHS website has only a few listed on its Staff Directory page at http://www.bhs.berkeley.k12.ca.us/directory/staff.html, and the few I see there are strangely encrypted. (Why? It's confusing and it impedes emailing from that page - I don't see how it's useful.) It appears that some teachers have email accounts from the school district "firstname.lastname@example.org" but not all of them do. Why is that? Does the district not provide email addresses or is it just easier for teachers to use their personal email accounts? I found a directory lookup on the BUSD site http://mail.berkeley.k12.ca.us/Directory/ but it seems to be very incomplete and maybe incorrect. Four of the 5 BHS teachers I checked returned "no match found", and the one email address I did get was different address from the one the teacher actually uses. It sure would make it easier for us parents to communicate with teachers if they all had email addresses that are easy to find. Anonymous
Teachers and administrators at BHS seem to vary a great deal in how responsive they are to parents. In my experience, most will return voice mail messages within a day or two. Some give out their e-mail addresses, and at least one gives out her home phone number. With my child, it seems that the teachers who are reachable also do an excellent job in teaching.
I had an odd experience with one teacher, however, during the 1st quarter of my child's freshman year. The 1st report card came out with a C+ in Ceramics, while all the other grades were As. My child had no idea why, and seemed demoralized about continuing in art. So I tried for months to reach the teacher by phone, leaving many voice-mail messages, to get concrete feedback on what my child could do to improve. I also called BHS counselors, vice principals, and the principal, who all left messages for the teacher to call me. Finally the office staff recommended that I come to the class in person to speak with the teacher. The teacher scheduled an appointment to meet with me the next day, then called to reschedule, but didn't show up at the rescheduled time, and never called me again. He did, however, change my child's grade to an A -- again without explanation!. This teacher, by the way, was the chair of the Art Department.
So the lesson I learned is that you have to be ready to go to BHS in person if you have a question to discuss with a teacher or a problem. And you won't always get the right results. In my situation, I never got to speak with the teacher.
As for email, I would guess that less than half of BHS teachers have it.
Furthermore, only those with access to computers that are in a wired
building can easily access their email. The whole school should be wired
this summer. School email addresses are all of the form
First_Last@berkeley.k12.ca.us. Mine, for example, is
Judith_Bodenhausen@berkeley.k12.ca.us. Try a teacher's name and see if it
From: Anna How to contact your child's teacher? 1) Set up standing meetings (1st Friday every month) 2) Send a self addressed stamped envelopes for the teacher to mail back monthly reports. 3) Call the attendance office and check absence/tardies 4) Calendar report cards and set up a meeting w/each teacher 1 month before report cards are written. 5) Attend PTA meetings for unfiltered information. 6) Check the school's web site. 7) Ask teacher for email address.
The second point is involving your child in facilitating this contact.
Hopefully, parents are letting their child know they wish to talk to the
teacher, and hopefully the child will see this as supportive.
In this case, the student sees their teacher daily and can indicate
their parents desire to connect and perhaps even their desire to have
their parent connect.
The need to be assertive and persistent is one of the strengths and
limitations at Berkeley High school, but when students can learn these
skills of advocating for their own needs and finding ways to open
communication paths, they are learning some skills that truly enhance
the rest of their education and lives. I think my daughters did learn
this at BHS. I am impressed by their determination and persistance.
My 16-year old daughter recently spewed forth a whole year's worth of complaints about her teachers @ Berkeley High School. She doesn't communicate a whole lot about any of her experiences, but this time was different. She is in 10th grade. When this year started she was doing great in math, earning all A's & A+'s. In the second semester they disbanded her math class and put her in a class with all new kids. I think there wasn't a regular teacher for a couple of months, but they hired a teacher that lives in Tracy and commuted to Berkeley every day. A couple of months ago this teacher quit suddenly. I think the department chair taught for a week or two, and then they hired a non-credentialed teacher who is still there. Needless to say, my daughter has had a rough time with all of this. The other day I sent an email to her counselor, Regina Segura, as well as the principal. I heard from the principal today by voice mail. She addressed all my concerns and said that it is possible to choose math teachers in 10th, 11th, & 12th grades. I would appreciate recommendations from you for math teachers. By the way, the new BHS principal is an amazing woman, incredibly exciting and dynamic. I was really happy that she contacted me.
With over 3,000 students (way too many I believe, but it is the only public high school for Berkeley), the beginning of the school year is truly chaotic, and I am going to stick up for the new counselor, Steve Butler. Yes, the school administration knows how awful the school year began as a bureaucratic mess. Steve Butler was put on the front line the first day of student registration and had absolutely no training (he was hired late) on the computer since Charleen Calvert left in a huff and didn't bother to institute any training for new counselors (she, apparently, was responsible for getting the schedules online; I don't know who would be responsible to see that counselors get training and orientation). By the end of the week, his temper was frazzled; yes, he made mistakes, but he's not perfect nor is the system in place anywhere near to efficient yet -- maybe next year it will be smoother. My child's schedule was in a mess because the computer didn't get her schedule right, but the smartest thing she did (she didn't do this last year when her schedule was screwed up and suffered for it the whole semester; she also waited last year until the last day to register) was to immediately go to her counselor (that was Steve Butler), standing in line from 1:15 to 4:15 (she was the last person he saw that day and it was the second day of registration), and sticking it out with him while he figured out how to work the computer, and she was finally out at 4:45. Many students chose to go on the last day, rather on their given day, and that's a BIG mistake! And, in hindsight, perhaps the best advice is to go as soon as you can, even before your given day - they'll take any student who comes in whether or not your last name matches the alphabet of the day. However, things are still not smooth because the computer did not match up to her revised and printed schedule, but she's in class, the teachers are teaching, and we'll see if her schedule still gets rearranged. Chalk this all up to experience in real life frustrations -- perhaps the first for your child whose environment has been carefully controlled and monitored by his or her parents, but this is the beginning of your child learning the "ropes" -- how to deal with life's not so straight road.
If you want to know how you can help... sign up for the email tree and attend the meetings, volunteer in classrooms or with the counselors or College Counselor...Your help, as parents and community members, is always welcome... Theresa (Theresa Saunders is the Berkeley High School principal.)
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