I am heartened to see the beginning of a campaign for justice for those teachers who have been unfairly “discontinued” from the Department of Education. It is important for all to understand what it means to be “discontinued. ” It means that your years of education are now rendered professionally useless because you will never work as a teacher again in New York City nor, likely, elsewhere. It is, in effect, a blacklist. Here. In America. In 2014. This extraordinary situation is the result of the decision of but one person, a person who is not even obliged to give a reason for your professional destruction. I do not know the numbers of the “discontinued “ teachers during the Bloomberg reign, but I’d be willing to bet they skyrocketed for the following two reasons: a) the proliferation of ridiculous and incompetent principals who were encouraged to fire as many teachers as possible for any reason or no reason b) the fact that there was little or no effort from the United Federation of Teachers to stop them from doing so.
The scandal of “discontinued “ teachers is no abstraction to me. Indeed, it is extremely painful. Three years ago this June, in the school where I am chapter leader, no fewer than three fine teachers were discontinued in one year, the same year almost one fourth of the staff was U rated. The administrator responsible for this outright butchery — Kayrol Burgess Harper, lionized in Steven Brill’s preposterous but revealing Class Warfare – was, like so many horrendous principals, a graduate of Bloomberg’s Leadership Academy. Less than two months after Harper’s massacre, she was removed from her position and sent packing — an extraordinary turn of events under a regime in which teachers were considered guilty until proven very, very innocent and principals were deemed all but infallible. I understand that she has since been warehoused in another school. Incredibly, the fact that she was removed had no bearing whatsoever on her savage judgment on so many of my colleagues and myself. I know of no other profession in which the judgment of a supervisor remains credible after said supervisor is deemed incompetent or worse.
Do you ?
Even though all three discontinued teachers were a loss to our school, one in particular proved a loss for the entire community that is felt to this day. This was my friend and partner ESL teacher, Jafar Smith. In the three years that he worked at PS 149, quite outside of his excellent work as a teacher, Smith forged relationships within the school community and the community at large the likes of which I have never seen before or since. (For the record, Smith received satisfactory ratings the first two of his three years teaching.) An African American convert to Islam, Smith proved a perfect fit for a Harlem school in which there is not only a significant African Muslim population but a painful shortage of African American male teachers. On his own time and his own dime Smith made countless home visits to speak to parents of troubled students, volunteered to coach softball when the school ran out of money to pay per session, served as the ever available ambassador to the Harlem community and God knows what else to help the children in his charge. The man was tireless, his empathy boundless. His firing stunned and horrified colleagues and students alike. Indeed, this act of madness and malice reverberates still in the school where teacher and student alike universally remember Smith with something akin to reverence.
Worse was to come. Slowly. Smith, a devoted father of five, was told by the UFT that the discontinuation had merit only in District Three where we were employed. Smith set out to other districts and met with principal after principal who, after speaking with the man for five minutes, hired him on the spot. Or thought they did. Again and again all were soon to discover that, despite Bloomberg’s blather about “empowering” principals, discontinued teachers were blacklisted across the city and perhaps beyond. There was nothing a principal could do. Under Bloomberg principals seemed to be empowered only to destroy people ‘s lives and do so with absolute impunity. Unable to find teaching work in the land of his birth and the home of his family, Jaffer Smith now teaches in Saudi Arabia while his family of six lives in North Carolina.
This is wrong. And worse than wrong. And what has happened to my friend has happened to many. We, who were fortunate enough to survive the Bloomberg years, would do well to do all we can do to bring justice to those who were not so fortunate, those who were tossed away as if they were human trash.
This petition is a good start. But it is only a start. I’m more than willing to spend every moment I can to do more. I do not know what can be done but I know that something must be done, for Jafar and all the others. This blacklist must be exposed and lifted.
Please sign the petition found here and pass it along.
Addendum: Received this in the mail: Patrick this blog just made me very sad, as I left an immensely satisfying life in Key West to return to NYC to get my Masters and teach in my hometown. I taught at a Catholic School in Queens for 5 years but left a job where I was appreciated and sought after to go to the NYC DOE for money…and scorn…and contempt. To be dumped on my ear as you well know, I was unable to win my hearing and every where I interviewed they contacted NYC and informed me they decided to go in a different direction. I could get no work in a field in which I have a Masters Degree and ended up selling cars to earn money. The DOE sold us out and then black-balled us so thoroughly that we became the American version of the “Untouchables”, no one wants us.