I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Tale of Two Teachers and One School

A true story below about two teachers at one inner-city, extended-day elementary school in the Escambia County School District.....Should we treat all teachers exactly alike in terms of pay?  I have questioned  this in the past as I've advocated for expanded differential pay for teachers in tough assignments.  I'm amazed that the idea is constantly rejected,  few in education are in it solely for pay, however I believe we should pay a stipend for teachers that work in the toughest schools--they deserve it!

 One teacher worked at this location for nearly a decade, she loved her job and her students. But the combination of changing leadership at the top, with growing demands for precise teaching pedagogy and rigid test preparation protocols dictated downward to this individual in her classroom slowly wore her down. Meanwhile, continuity of staff at this school was impossible. Every year, 25-40% of the staff would churn, young teachers would quit, and veterans that could, would transfer out-others would retire. Her students, by and large, were impoverished and lived in appalling conditions. They made small to marginal gains and continuous pressure was put on this teacher to get the scores up! Was she not effective? She certainly thought she was! Meanwhile, support from the parents was sporadic at best, non-existent at worst. Lots of good intention and good will was poured out to this school by many local charities pitching in and putting time and resources into the school. But progress was still excruciatingly difficult to achieve. Many students were held back. Some 5th graders became pregnant. Lots of children were neglected. Massive dysfunction! Several teachers were physically attacked, and more than one student was arrested and led away from this

 ELEMENTARY school in handcuffs for assaulting a staff member. Her students loved her, and she loved and cared deeply for them-but this place was just so difficult the grind was taking a heavy toll on her mentally and physically. Overall there was such a huge lack of any appreciation for the efforts being put in by this teacher! Administrators and parents treated her disrespectfully, so much so that finally she asked herself “Why?” Why am I doing this? A lack of strong support from the top, and marginal to no support from parents finally pushed this teacher out of this school, and it was a gut-wrenching decision for her to leave…But she did leave. She found her way into one of the suburban schools locally that has tremendous parental support, a stable staff, and continuity in site leadership. In her new environment, this teacher from the inner city was named the top reading teacher in her new school in her first year there!!—and her students did exceptionally well on all their exams! The parents of students at this school answered calls, got their kids to school on time, and made sure they completed their assignments. Finally-support!! She is a great teacher that knows how to teach—and she has found a new home! What a huge loss for her previous school….

 The other teacher in this tale came to the Escambia County School District, to the same extended day, inner city school, from another state in the southeast. This teacher was recognized in her previous school as the teacher of the year, she had impeccable credentials, and a track record of success in reaching kids and teaching kids. She was a math whiz, and teaching kids to read came as naturally as breathing air for her. She was an experienced veteran with a proven track-record of success. She arrived at this inner-city, extended day school, and she noticed lots of different things that seemed peculiar to her. No continuity. One classroom had three different teachers in the first four months of the school year. Other teachers were stressed out. One teacher was inconsolable at the end of the workday, crying. She was struggling, and conveyed that she felt like she had no support at all. Multiple long-term subs, and many teachers quitting, some teachers fearful of students, very fearful of the parents. Subs were hard to get, and when teachers were absent, classes got doubled-up. Meanwhile, huge groups of teachers would be pulled out of the classrooms at this school for training, leaving substitute teachers, that were hard to come by, in their places. No continuity. School leaders were in and out, the front office assistant held things together as best she could and was a rock, but too many times the principal just was not there. The days were long, and the hours added up. Students were not making the progress that they should be making, she feared. As the end of the first year arrived, this teacher realized her students were just not doing as well as they should. In fact they were not doing well at all. What more could she do? How many more hours could she work? How much more of her own money could she spend on her class? What could be done to help these kids? At the end of the year, despite her superhuman efforts, the students’ grades were very, very disappointing. Many teachers left, and the leadership at the school was again changed. But would this help? Would this be what’s necessary, or is the problem something else? These are the questions this amazing teacher kept asking herself. Because of the experiences of this first year, this teacher’s husband was wary of her continuing on at this location, and if she was to stay, he said he wanted her moved down to 1st or 2nd grade; some of the over-age fifth grade students are too aggressive and too intimidating, and large numbers of them simply do not have any respect for the teachers and staff. And the parents of these over-age fifth graders don’t see this or acknowledge this as a problem. This teacher wants to come back. She wants to teach, and she cares deeply for these kids; however, she will transfer out of this school as soon as she is able, she’s actively looking for other assignments right now. Whether or not she will come back this next year is, at this moment, an open question. Meanwhile, the word on the street is that this school is having an extremely difficult time hiring qualified teachers for next school year. Progress will be difficult here, and something has to change to keep these teachers at schools like this one.

 Treating these teachers, like the ones described above, just like the teachers in the ‘burbs, will be the recipe for continuing high levels of staff churn, which will inhibit progress for stdents. We need to think differently about how we treat, manage, and compensate the staffs at our 12 schools that serve the areas of our community that have massive social dysfunction. If we don’t, we won’t have the right, or any, staff left to take these assignments…..


Lorraine said...

If this is a tale of two teachers who had tough kids and you want to cast the children as morally deranged, you should probably spare yourself. I am tired of the negative narrative educational stakeholders have of our kids, while they fail to understand their psychological and emotional development.

Anyone who wants to view kids in such a negative light, and define them by their worst and not by their best, should probably not be in education.

I hope my hunch about what this blog post will be about is wrong.

Jeff Bergosh said...


This post is absolutely true, with the exception that I was kind in my characterization of the support level given to teachers and schools by some "families" The reality is this: The 12 schools with the highest levels of social dysfunction in our district will continue to experience high churn unless we change the paradigm. At schools with normal levels of support-teachers get appreciation luncheons, thank you cards and well wishes at the end of the semester-sometimes even gift cards to Chili's or Starbucks. At the Dysfunctional schools it goes the other way-no thank you, no parental support, longer hours, and more out of pocket expenditures to try to help the students. When someone like me says we MUST pay these locations more for the exhausting extra efforts they put in, I get chided and ridiculed; meanwhile, the loudest opposing voices quietly behind the scenes entice administrators into taking principal slots at dysfunctional schools by offering 3 or more "steps" (additional pay) in order to take the tough assignments. It is hypocritical BS and I'm going to call it out because we need to pay teachers more to work in some of these locations and if we don't--success will be inhibited because turnover and churn will make it a "new" staff every 3 years or so.

Lorraine said...

I agree! :-) I support you on this 100%. If I end up at a dysfunctional school (I hope! Geez, I am so crazy and ambitious!), I will do whatever it takes to try and create a supportive culture with fellow faculty members. It will definitely boost morale and motivation.

Thanks for taking a stand on this!

Anonymous said...

Seriously? Administrators get bumped up extra steps to take these assignments? Is that information available publicly, under the Sunshine law? As a boots-on-the-ground teacher, that is infuriating.

Jeff Bergosh said...

Anonymous 7-11 Yes it is true in at least one instance and probably more. I only asked about one because I was curious. The specific instance in which I made an inquiry was regarding a transfer of a principal from one school to a much more challenging assignment and my point blank question was "how many steps did the principal get to take that assignment" and the answer I got was "three." However, I was also told that this three step bump was because the individual would have to start driving greater distances to the new school. With respect to the Sunshine law and whether or not such information is a public record, I believe the answer is yes, you just have to ask the question. I'll add here now that I had requested to make a change in board policy that would change the way steps are given--not limiting the superintendent's ability to give steps-because he can and should have that right. Under current policy, the Superintendent only has to notify the board if he gives more than five steps. My simple request was that he notice the board whenever he gives step raises and to whom. I not seek to limit his ability, but rather wanted such action to have more transparency (which would/could in and of itself act to curb the practice) However, I ran into tremendous resistance to this issue from the Superintendent, and my idea got no support from the other board members, so now if I want to know I simply ask--as I did in the case of the one mentioned above.