The system works.
That I write these words may surprise those who are aware that my employer of the last 10 years, the Joplin R-8 Board of Education, voted 7-0 to terminate my contract earlier this month.
The decision did not surprise me. I was fully aware that teachers rarely survive termination hearings. This hearing, not permanent employment, is the only thing that tenure offers, despite the protestations of the so-called “reformers,” who insist it is keeping thousands of bad teachers in the classrooms.
Not a single parent or student complained about me. The primary witnesses were six administrators. Though the charges against me had nothing to do with any kind of pedophilia, the district’s human resources manager insisted that when she interviewed girls about me, they were so supportive of me that she saw signs of “grooming.” My lawyer vigorously objected to the woman’s loaded language, but it was allowed to remain on the record.
Other such innuendo was sprinkled throughout the administrators’ testimony with the board president noting each of my attorney’s objections and then allowing the remarks to continue unimpeded.
This even included our superintendent C. J. Huff, the legendary hero of the Joplin Tornado, who while acknowledging there were no such allegations against me, said, tears flowing, that the board couldn’t take a chance of allowing me back into the classroom and then having something happen to a child a few years from now.
None of those claims were listed in the original charges against me, which were filed a week and a half after I was escorted out of my building in full view of my students and co-workers, by a police officer April 8, something I wrote about later that month in a Daily Kos diary.
During the second half of the hearing, my witnesses, a combination of parents, students, and my fellow teachers testified on my behalf, In one instance, three witnesses, myself, the president of our parents’ association and the treasurer of the association, contradicted what an administration witness had testified.
So even though I expected a negative verdict, I was dismayed when I read the opinion, which said that the administration’s witnesses were “more credible” than mine, that my attorney was the one who brought up the pedophile accusation, and that I had been discourteous to the human resources manager by recording the four and a half minutes I was interviewed before I was taken out of the school by a police officer in front of my students April 8.
Since the decision was announced, I have received hundreds of messages from supporters who feel bad about what happened to me and who are frustrated that they cannot do anything.
My message to all of my supporters- this is not the lesson I would like to be teaching at this point, but it is one that is well worth learning- the system is not perfect, but it works.
During the days and weeks before my hearing, my eighth grade students peacefully protested through use of posters and t-shirts, never causing any disruption, but getting their message across.
A couple of my former students, now attending Joplin High School, Laela Zaidi and Rylee Hartwell, worked with the local police department to arrange a peaceful protest to be held outside the administration building an hour before my hearing.
My case became a rallying cry for our faculty and for our local NEA chapter, which is now seeing its ranks increase.
And my hearing, though the results were not what I or my supporters wanted, served a valuable purpose. For the first time, the tactics that have been used by our administration for the past few years were exposed during a public hearing, which was well covered by the local media. (Though, unfortunately, that same media coverage is probably going to make it difficult for me to ever get a job in education again, despite the fact that the board's decision expressly says that I was not guilty of any immoral conduct.)
Parent groups are forming in Joplin in an effort to elect board of education members who will be more responsive to the needs of the people. This is in response to many things that have happened in the school district; my case is just a small part of it.
For the past 14 years, as I have worked to help middle school students to become better writers, I have also taught the importance of the First Amendment and the necessity of becoming involved in the community.
What I have seen the past few weeks is better evidence to me than any standardized tests that my lessons have hit home.
If I have truly taught my last lesson, I can’t think of a better way to go out.
(Links to previous posts I have written about this case can be found here.)