Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Beware the Ides of March

Many California teachers are aware of a phenomenon known as the "March 15th letters." According to the California ed code, a probationary teacher will become a permanent employee after two years, unless they are informed that they are no longer needed in the district by a non-reelect letter. I don't know all the exact details, but new teachers - in a district like mine - are often increasingly nervous as the Ides of March draw near, wondering if they will get a letter or have a job guaranteed for the following year.

That is, if the teachers are informed. A good administrator would tell the employee as the year goes on that the employee had things to work on, and point out exactly what they were. Then this hypothetical good administrator would give the employee multiple chances to make changes, provide feedback along the way, and inform the employee (if need be) why exactly the employee's services were no longer required by the school or district.

That is not exactly how things work in my district. Historically, the new teachers are surprised on March 15th by a certified letter saying that their services are no longer needed by the district. They usually don't know what these letters are, why they got one, or what their legal recourse is (none). The union is of little or no help and many many good teachers have left Oakland because - although this district usually changes its collective mind and rescinds some of the letters - nobody really feels like working for them after this experience.

My principal got one of these letter when he was a teacher. It was mainly because the principal at that time was out to get him, but you'd think he'd remember how it feels and try to do things differently. But you'd be wrong.

Three of my colleagues got these letters this year. Two have extremely difficult classes and have not received a lot of support. Of these, one would be a great teacher in a different area of Oakland, and I don't know why she didn't just get a transfer. One is a great teacher and has my evaluator (who probably would have gotten rid of me too if I wasn't tenured). She's gotten the same kind of comments as I have from said evaluator. The last has never gotten a bad evaluation, and while I don't know much about her teaching, you'd think that someone without a bad evaluation would be worth keeping.

Someone pointed out that there is one teacher per evaluator - maybe they were each told to get rid of one. I don't know why this would be though, because Oakland never has enough teachers. Maybe they figured that if they each fired one person, no one administrator would be singled out as being unfair. I don't know.

I have worked with people in my district who have gotten the "March 15th letter" on March 16. It's always baffled me that, when the CA ed code says the letters have to be received on March 15, the district doesn't send them out on March 1 or something to give themselves time. No, our district always seems to make a game out of it. I don't know anyone who has received one before March 15. It's like a little bit of excitement thrown in - Oakland roulette maybe?

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