On Leaving

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I’m saying goodbye to my kids and it’s harder than I thought.

The decorations are down, the beanbags from the reading corner are smushed into my car… it’s time.

I thought I’d feel relieved or vindicated, but instead I just feel incredibly sad.

Four years ago the Director of ELL’s in my district asked me to move from my cute little elementary school to an infamously difficult high school. Really, she was telling me, but she made it seem like a request. “I promise you, this is where you need to be,” she said. “Trust me,” she said, and because of the profound respect that I have for her, I did.

I also went home and cried.

When I called my mom, a veteran teacher with 36 years under her belt, I was still crying. In an effort to calm me down, she told me this — “Even the biggest and baddest teenager is still a kid, and those kids need you too, maybe even more than the little ones .”

And so they did.

My mom and my mentor were right. I love going to work every day and I love every one of the biggest and baddest teenagers.

Leaving them hurts.

My school is on the NYS “failing list” and next year we are being taken over by a local university educational partner as per one of the options NYS demands districts to choose from when they have a habitually low performing school. I probably should use the word “partner” or “work with” when describing the relationship with the university, but in fact “take over” is much closer to the feeling behind what is happening.

Per this process, all staff members had to reapply for their jobs. I was one of the people that were chosen to return, but there were significant unfair practices in the hiring process that left me wary.

The day before acceptance letters I was ready to sign on. I’m a naturally skeptical person, but I also have a healthy dose of optimism, so I decided to see the project out for a year. At the end of the day I was called down to the new administrator’s office. At the time, I thought nothing of it, as I had been an integral part of the curriculum development team for the following year and thought it had something to do with that.

What followed left me speechless…

“By all accounts you are an exceptional teacher.”  “The hiring team has concern over your like for social media.“Your habits wouldn’t be tolerated in other districts I don’t want to take anyone’s 1st Amendment right away but I would think long and hard before pressing send in the future”.

I get angry just thinking about it. I slam the car trunk closed.

“I belong here!” I want to tell at anyone who will listen.

But the reality is that I don’t belong here anymore.

I belong somewhere that wants strong teachers who defend our profession.

I belong somewhere that isn’t worried about politics, but is worried about our students and our communities.

I belong somewhere that values the exceptional teacher for her outstanding track record.

I belong somewhere where the fight for what’s right for my students doesn’t warrant a veiled threat for my job.

I’ll move on to a new school and those kids will need me just as much as these ones did, maybe even more.

I’m leaving and it’s harder than I thought.

-Kelly

To see my official refusal letter (containing some background information) please click here…Refusal Letter

On Refusing

Please accept this letter as evidence of my refusal to accept the employment offer at East High School for the 2015-2016 school year.  I am declining for a number of personal and professional reasons and would like to be very clear about my decision to do so.

On April 27th I was invited to a meeting with XXXXX concerning my application and future position at East. XXXXX began the meeting by indicating that  I, “By all accounts,  am an exceptional teacher.”  XXXXX then very clearly expressed his or “the hiring team’s” concern over my “…like for social media”. XXXXX also stated that I “…have been publicly critical of the UR/East partnership”. When I asked for an example or if XXXXX had read any of this to further explain his concerns XXXXX told me “I haven’t read any of it, I don’t have time for that stuff.” XXXXX also explained to me that my habits wouldn’t be tolerated in other districts as well as that I should “… think long and hard before pressing send in the future”.

I have never been anything but extremely transparent about what I post on the internet. I write a blog about teaching ESL in an urban environment, manage a teacher Facebook page (where my students and parents  can look at current and past assignments as well as turn in work) and manage a personal Facebook page. I regularly contribute to multiple newspapers and educational journals.  My students manage a Facebook page called Grown in the Concrete that is a place where people can share their positive experience of urban education. I also regularly critique multiple local news reporters for weak and biased journalism as it pertains to the city and our students.

In all of this work, I have never openly criticized my school, my school’s administration or the UR/East partnership. I believe in my leadership team and also in the teachers who work here.  I believe that all of our staff work extremely hard in an education system that is in shambles. I believe in public education and that we can be instruments for social and educational change.

I also believe that the media, traditional or otherwise, is instrumental to this process. There is a reason why the false rhetoric of “bad and failing” teachers exists. In many cases, the media serves only to perpetuate this myth. Many news outlets have forgotten that their purpose isn’t solely to sell newspapers, but to hold systems accountable to the public. I believe that until we stop hiding and start inviting the public to see what happens in our classrooms, then this false rhetoric will continue.

I know that I am an exceptional teacher. My graduation and exit rate of ELL’s is exceptionally high. I have never received a negative evaluation from one of the six administrators I have worked for.  I know I’m an exceptional teacher because my students love to come to my class and I love to be there. I am saddened that this was overlooked because of my “like for social media”.  Although many of the administrators I have worked with haven’t loved everything I have to say, they have always respected me as a professional. They have respected my work, my passion, and my commitment to not only the kids in front of me, but public education as a whole.  I am disappointed that my professional work doesn’t speak as loudly to the U of R hiring team.

I wish you all of the luck in the world and hope that this venture succeeds.

Respectfully,

Kelly LaLonde