I am thirty-three years of age. I wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl. At eighteen, I began taking part-time college courses towards my bachelor’s in elementary education
with a math specialization
. It took me almost twelve years while supporting myself and raising my daughter. However, teaching was and always will be my passion. I was going to make a difference in the kids that were like me, the ones that developed a distaste for school around seventh grade and gave up on math. I knew what needed to be different and I was going to make that difference. Math was going to be hands-on, visual and relative. We were going to learn technology, different approaches, projects, and practice. Students would be focused, engaged and unafraid to ask questions. I would care about each and every one of them. They would not be allowed to fail. Students would look forward to coming to school.
After subbing for six months, I finally got a full-time teaching position in December of 2008. I was nervous I wouldn’t get a job because of all the education budget cuts
. Teaching was no longer economy proof
. But, hey, I was a middle school math teacher
. Everyone always needs one of those, right? I sent in application after application. It was at a job fair that I finally landed an interview and it was with the highest paying district in the state of Arizona. I got the job. It was a mid-year takeover. The teacher was in a serious car accident and would not be returning because of a subsequent permanent disability. It was a 7 & 8th grade math and reading position. I had up to thirty-six students in each of my four classes. We had Smartboards
, CPS responders
, MAC computers labs
, science kits
, community building, cooperative learning,manipulatives
, strong administrative support, lots of Title I
awards and more. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was! Well, there was one
catch. The 5th hour had already chased off five substitute teachers. I didn’t care. They were not going to chase me off.
I didn’t even call in once. I ended up making strong relationships with those kids and showing exceptional growth on AIMS for those classes. But with more budget cuts
ahead, they didn’t know if they would be able to keep me on. In fact, they almost had to cut over one hundred teachers
in the district and that was one of the smallest cuts in the state. We were the lucky ones. Things were so bad I didn’t even bother looking for a teaching job. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t know what was available until the dust settled and that wasn’t going to happen till the end of August, late July at best.
It was August 2009 when I received the phone call. My school wanted to hire me back under Title I
funding that had just came through the federal stimulus money. It was a two-year program. I would be doing small group math intervention for grades 5-8 with a focus on the ELL
subgroup. The job held a lot of accountability. I was nearly solely responsible for raising scores amongst one of the most important subgroups for AYP
; ELL Math. My classes would never be bigger than eight students and all my lessons were to include manipulatives, interactive technology and strict cooperative learning structures. There was an immense amount of data entry
, tracking and analysis
. I easily worked fourteen hours a day and all weekend just to keep my ahead above water. I was guilt ridden for the amount of time I sacrificed from my daughter and myself, but I was thankful I wasn’t one of the teachers with more than forty-five students
in her class, for the supportive staff
, and for the invaluable experience I was obtaining. I finished the year again with strong growth but with a growing awareness that things were not at all what I envisioned and I had a lot of questions.
How is a teacher supposed to meet the individual needs of students when she has up to fifty kids in a class and she teaches four classes a day? When is she supposed to grade papers, enter scores, analyze and enter various data, create Smartboard lessons
while having to use prep time, lunch, before and after school time for IEP
meetings, ELL meetings, new teacher meetings, PLC
meetings, data meetings, junior high meetings, and various redundant staff development? Why is a teacher looked down upon if she attempts to get any of that work done while students are independently learning or testing? Does a teacher really have to work almost every night and weekend to barely get things done in her job? How do you get a rich, deep understanding of math through teaching an average of five, often unrelated, math performance objectives in one school week, assess, and move on to a whole new five whether the students got it or not? Why do so many kids hate school? Why do so many kids have behavioral and learning disabilities
? Why are so many students medicated
to sit still? Why do we give a student a prize if he comes to four out of five full days of class? Why are so many kids consistently vandalizing their school
? How can we say we value reading and building relationships when we cut the librarians and counselors from the budget? Can kids really understand what they are learning and develop a love for learning when they are stressed and burnt out
? Is it healthy for a child to start school at seven-thirty, get a thirty minute lunch, and not go home until four pm just to complete homework assignments from up to five different classes a night? Why is it so important to post my daily performance objectives in five separate places? Why are teachers held accountable for so many things, work long hours and get paid such a small salary
? Why is there no money in education for more teachers but millions of dollars of government funding
being spent yearly
on corporate trademarked supplies, unneeded text books, and things that occupy the teacher away
from her duties, such as endless meetings and staff development? Is it possible that the U.S education system has fallen victim to a corporate government take-over
that no longer has the interest of our children in mind? Is it all about profits and head counts
? Is it possible that corporate and government officials that have never taught a day in public school should be the ones to attend educational and staff development seminars before they allocate how funding should be spent?
However, with the economy and additional cuts in education, I signed on for one more year in July 2010. I was back in a full class, 7th grade math and 8th grade reading. We had a new superintendant and principal and we had to make AYP this year to avoid federal interventions. It wasn’t long until obvious changes began to rapidly take place. A school-wide discipline plan with mandated levels, consequences, and rewards went into effect.
However, everyone did their own version, including the administration, so consistency immediately went out the window and timeliness of consequences was definitely not a strength of the administration. The school seemed to become somewhat of a playground for juvenile delinquents. Teachers’ keys and laptops stolen, bathrooms closed because of excessive vandalism, a robbery, weekly graffiti, students assaulting staff, including the principal and teachers. Substitute teachers walking out on jobs, students leaving in handcuffs and some teachers already putting in letters of resignation before second quarter had even come to an end. A resignation that comes with a $2,500 fee
. I was starting to wonder if I was at a school that needed police.
Even though I started out strong and had average growth
for first quarter, I had my own problems. The discipline system was quickly getting bogged down and students were catching on. I began to see a group of four to six students in some of my classes that would make it a point to take the class over. Why not? They knew most likely nothing serious was going to happen to them. They would blatantly ignore me and talk during instruction, they would deny repeated request to be on task, they would ask questions such as “Can we connect the dots on your face?” They threw gum, pencils, and paper. They responded to discipline by such statements as “ my mom ain’t gonna do shit
”, “you need to watch your back, some parents don’t play”, “one day you gonna come back to work and your whole classroom is gonna be all tagged and fucked up
”. I was called a bitch and a racist, just to name a few
. They would walk out of class when they pleased, they would respond to request to go to the office with, “I ain’t going nowhere” or “I’ll go when I feel like going.” There was not one time, in any of these instances, where I was able to call and get administrative support. No answer. They were always in meetings or off campus. It became a joke to see their teacher call for administrative support only to be picked up ten minutes later by a school secretary. Most likely they would sit the rest of the day, happy they had once again avoided sitting in class and learning anything. And with the administration constantly preoccupied, who knows when or if they would get consequences for their outrageous behaviors. and paper at me.
It didn’t matter much what the teachers did. You weren’t allowed to send them to another room. Kids wouldn’t show up for after school detention. Lunch detentions were a joke. The kids only got ten minutes to wait, ten minutes to eat and another ten on the playground. The new rules this year said every student had to eat in the cafeteria before they could come to lunch detention. Almost everyone hated the food, too. Quite frankly, I do not understand why we allow such disgusting food to be served to our kids? Why do we accept that our school system teaches kids to inhale food in ten minutes and hurry up and play so you can get back to making sure you will pass math and reading on the AIMS test? What does that reflect of our values of balance and good health?
Towards the end of first quarter, things started to get really bad for me in two of my classes. The kids were just out of control. I was going through all the motions; the detentions, referrals, parent calls and meetings, contacting office staff. The most I was granted was a couple girls finally got some solid consequences; in school suspensions and a schedule change. An administrator was even able to visit for five minutes once, even though I was told they would be coming sending support more often for my 1st and 3rd periods. Things did not improve. It was another day of repeated phone calls to have about three to six disorderly students removed. Why should the other thirty kids not get to learn? As usual, no answer, no one available. I wanted to cry. I had had enough. I needed to get out of the room without a window.
I called the office again. This time I said, “Send someone down to cover this class because I am not going to teach this class.” It wasn’t even five minutes and a cooperative teacher and the nurse walked in my door. I grabbed my work bag
from behind my desk and walked right past them and out the door where I immediately began crying as I walked towards the office. Other teachers came to console me. The vice principal walked me to her office. We discussed what happened. We came up with some solutions for the future. I was asked to take a moment and decide if I needed a substitute for the rest of the day. It was in the copy room I sat five minutes later when I was told, “Mrs. M.O. is back on campus. She would like to see you.”
M.O. is my principal. She used to be the vice principal. I co-coached a girl’s running program
with her and another teacher. They would often spend some of the time bad mouthing other teachers and their relationships with students. She cancels nearly every teacher’s formal observation appointment at one point or another, sometimes even three or more times. She parks in handicap
. She forgets parent meetings. She is often late to work. Yes, Miss M.O., a married mother of four children who all attend a private school
, a dedicated employee who works many nights until seven and nearly all weekend away from her family. Yet, she chose to publically share these four and these four pictures only
on Facebook. The Facebook page where she publically maintained personal relationships with a select group of teachers. Yes, the same teachers who miraculously received nearly every district stipend job
before a soul had seen the posting. She once lead an emergency junior high meeting by telling us we were the most negative team on the campus while handing us a page from the staff handbook
with all the parts circled that she believed we were out of district policy. She disclosed confidential information about a long-term substitute and repeated anonymous gossip that she heard about herself. She finished the meeting by reminding us that HR has her back. There was no open opportunity for questions, comments or discussions. We were left to look at each other with fear and defeat and all had a sense of bewilderment in our eyes. What just happened? She lead another staff development meeting by congratulating the teachers that gave positive support for controversial issue of increasing classroom sizes at the district’s superintendent open-forum meeting. Apparently, those teachers made such an impression, we were told, that our superintendant decided to give our campus another teacher. Really? So the fact that a parent just
complained to district office about forty-seven students in a single classroom had nothing to do with getting a new teacher? Hmmm… interesting district policies. I had to learn the hard way that the superintendent open forum meetings are not so open after all. I once asked questions about the choice to cut counselors and program ideas for spending federal grant money
questions were so impressive that I got two separate and private meetings with the principal about the “types” of questions I was asking. Apparently, asking pertinent and thought-provoking questions is looked at as highly “negative” by the district. Because Miss M.O. said she respects teachers that come to her when they are having problems and to never email her, I once went to her office and asked her for support with balancing the amount of work with family and home and she told me, “You just need to do, Miss Dimitrov. The expectation is that you are here 110% of the time. There is nothing more I can tell you”.
So it was of no surprise to me that when I sat in her office her first response to what happened that day was, “Well, Miss Dimitrov, we need to figure out what you did to lose your students’ respect. This time, I was going to give raw honesty a try. So I responded with, “This is why it is pointless to come to you for support. You consistently turn everything into the teacher’s fault and I am offered no support, encouragement or advice.” Her response was, “It is not my job to pat you on the back every time you do something good and I am not going to give someone like you advice on how to handle your job and your family.” So I asked, “Someone like me? What does that mean?” and the conversation went something like this:
MO: “Yes, someone like you is just going to say, ‘Who is she to tell me what to do?’”
Dimitrov: “Really why would I say that? You’re a mother of four of course I value your opinion.”
MO: “Well, I was told by Miss A that you told them to watch their back about me.”
Dimitrov: “What? Let me get this straight. Did you just say that you withheld administrative support from me because of gossip? Untrue even.”
MO: I am a professional. It is not my job to talk about gossip.
Dimitrov: It is if you are going to assume the gossip to be true and use it as rational for withholding support from me.
MO: It is not my job to care what people think about me or to clear up hearsay. I am a professional.
Dimitrov: If you were a professional, you would have never assumed gossip to be true. You would have never used it as rational. If you felt a need to clarify any problems I might be having, you should have spoken with me directly before hand. This reminds me of when you told the entire junior high team that a teacher left because of our negativity. I spoke with her. She never said that. I developed a strong, professional relationship with her. She told me she actually came to you on two separate occasions to inform you of how helpful I was.
MO: Well, I just think there is nothing I can say right now that is going to make you happy. I don’t know what you want from me. I am concerned on how things are going to be tomorrow. People are already asking me if you quit or are fired.
Dimitrov: I can’t comment on people’s questions or how things are going to be tomorrow but I can tell you what I want. I want a number of someone on campus that will immediately remove students with extreme misbehavior and timely follow through with the consequences. I also want management support.
MO: Okay, well, I need to call district and let them know I found you because I had to call you in missing.
Dimitrov: Missing? How is that? I called for support to relieve me from my class, after that I was in Dr. Spearman’s office and then the copy room. I was never paged. I never left campus.
MO: Okay, okay no problem. Let me just call them and clear it up then. If you will just step outside my office for a few minutes.
And what happened next, I would have never predicted. She came out of her office, more like ten minutes later, and informed me that the Human Resources would like me to stop by district office. Okay... but off I went. I was greeted by the Executive Director of Human Resources and his assistant and told to have a seat. I didn’t know what she told them, but it was apparent from the beginning things were not in my favor. “What do you have to say for yourself, Miss Dimitrov?” “I am sorry, could you clarify?” “Well, what do you have to say for your actions?” I told him the story and he said, “Is there anything else you would like to say today, Miss Dimitrov?” “Why, yes, I would. I would like to discuss some serious concerns I have with the administrative processes at my school.” “No, Miss Dimitrov. This meeting is only about the actions you took today.” “Okay, well when would be a good time to discuss my concerns.” “Actually, at this moment we have some serious concerns of your capability to be in the classroom. We will be taking your keys from you today and you will not be allowed back into the classroom until you pass a physical and psychological evaluation.”
It was November 2nd and I felt like I had been hit by a car. How did this happen? I was an exemplary teacher. I had the reference
, test scores, and student letters
to prove it. Why was I being treated like a criminal? I was in disarray. I called the doctor they wanted me to go see. I was in heels and a dress and was wondering if I should go home and change. He wouldn’t answer any questions so I informed him I would be going home to change and then would be on my way. I called different family and friends in my state of shock to try and make sense of what was going on. Everyone was beside themselves. I was honestly relieved when my daughter called from her after care program to ask if I could come get her early because she wasn’t feeling well. I told her I would. I wanted to see her, clear my head. I quickly called the doctor’s office and the district of the change. I told them I would go to the examinations the next day. I took the opportunity to express my concerns about Mrs. M.O. This time he listened. He told me we would discuss the issue further after my examinations.
The next day came and my daughter was still not feeling well; low-grade fever, loss of appetite, and severe stomach issues. I kept her home again, updated the school, and continued to look for care while talking to many different people to help me make sense of what was going on. Many advised me to obtain one or two examinations from private doctors in case I am subjected to bias findings. When my daughter began to get worse, I decided to take her into urgent care. Subsequently, the doctor asked her to stay home from school until Monday, November 8th. I again informed my work and even faxed them medical documentation
. I explained to them that I was actively looking for someone to help care for her so I could go to the examinations but it was difficult with no family in town. On Friday, I was able to secure care and went straight down to the examination office. Unfortunately, their doctor was not there and therefore the examination would not be performed. I was to return Monday morning. I did. I passed their physical and their doctor had sympathy for what I was going through. Still I was told, “Unfortunately, you are caught up in the politics of the issue and companies often try and push that behind a doctor. So because of your stress and anxiety symptoms related to the issue, I am going to have to say you are unfit to return to the workplace right now.”
That Saturday, I received a letter
in the mail from the district. I was on paid administrative leave until further notice while charges of insubordination were investigated against me. I was not to be on any campus at any time and I was not to talk to staff or student during school hours. I was believed to be insubordinate for leaving my classroom and refusing examinations, both charges untrue. This was my response.
On November 22nd, I was informed by their lawyer that the
was complete. I was found to be insubordinate based
and misrepresented charges
and it was going to be recommended that my contract be terminated at that next district board meeting on January 6th, 2011. Are you serious? A teacher past
, a teacher denied support is going to be recommended for termination? Since when is a good teacher
so disposable? Why are we choosing to demonizing our teachers when they are in need of support more than ever? Yes, something is indeed very, very wrong in education. that has busted her ass for the last two years, never had any disciplinary actions in the
The letter said they would also accept my resignation if I made it effective immediately. Well, resigning meant a few things for me. It meant first off, contractually, I would owe them $2,500 dollars. It also meant I would go through the holiday season uncertain of finding a job and possibly not being able to transfer my provisional license
to a professional. But I was ready to resign. It was no longer a good working relationship and it was time to split ways. However, I wanted it done fairly. So I proposed
my resignation with the following stipulations; they waive the $2,500 fee, they give me a dated, neutral letter of reference that makes my resignation effective January 4th, 2011 and they pay out my five accrued sick days. All stipulations were reasonable and fair yet two-weeks later they denied each and every one of them.
They have yet been able to secure a substitute teacher. At least three quit the assignment early because of student behavior. One substitute walked out and refused to finish the day. Rumor has it he went to the district office because of student racial slurs. Something happened because the next day district officials were on campus handling discipline problems and nine of my students were suspended for up to nine days from school. Yet, all were allowed to sub again on other assignments and none were subjected to disciplinary actions. The principal, vice principal, and various employees have been sharing the teaching schedule. Assessments scores are the worst they have ever seen. How is this best for the kids? Since when are these grounds for terminating a teacher?
With facing the possible life-altering course associated with being terminated, I felt forced into hiring legal counsel. My lawyer advised me that what they were doing to me was indeed unjust and unlawful. She had me file a complaint with the EEOC
and she recommended that I do go public with this issue at my January 6th board meeting. She believed like I do, that this is a public issue and the public should know about it. That is what brings us here today. It is yet to be seen how their lawyers will advise their actions from here on out. It is unknown how the Alhambra Board members will react and rule to these events. But there is one thing I know, if our education system continues down this path, it will be impossible for teachers and students to succeed and meet government expectations and demands, bringing us always one step closer to a federally ran school system.