May 3rd, 2009

Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC
Michelle Rhee in DC Series Podcast: On safety and discipline

( Click here to download the podcast )

In February 2009, 9th grade English Teacher Randy Brown says a student threw a book at him. Randy Brown was diagnosed with a concussion and says he has since suffered from headaches. He stopped reporting to work after the incident. Bill Pow, a 9th grade math teacher at the same school also claims that a student threw a book at him. He has not returned to school since.

We’ve been covering Ron Brown Middle School this year as we follow the reform efforts of Michelle Rhee, the controversial new Chancellor of DC Public Schools. The week after their story appeared in the Washington Post, we spoke with some students and 7th grade teachers at that school about safety and discipline.

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Walking all the way back to my portable, where I was located my first year teaching; two students traded racial slurs and were ready for a brawl once they got there. I called for help but none came, I intervened as best I knew.
No, schools are not always safe nor are teachers totally at fault. Little is said about discipline in college, except theoretically, little wonder teachers leave teaching within the first five years.
I have stuck it out and it gets better every year but I’m a tough old bird changing careers from social work. Yes it’s about relationship but some kids need more than we can offer in a regular day.

I don’t generally respond when I watch these ridiculous programs on how difficult it is to teach children in Lower Income neighborhoods. Although I emphathize with Single Parents trying to raise children on limited incomes, in drug-infested neighborhoods, basic discipline and respect for others is simply absent from our society. I’m tired of hearing lame excuses for bad behavior. “Discipline” in the home doesn’t cost a dime! That said, if the only discipline these students are getting comes from their Teachers, the Teachers need the support of Taxpayers, School Administrators — and lease of all, the Press Corp! I listened attentively to tonight’s broadcast about the efforts of Michelle Rhee, and the response (or should I say, “reaction”) of students ‘throwing books at the Teachers, and shouting comments about their [the Teacher's] immenent demise/or termination. MY initial reaction was ‘where the H___ are those little Darling’s Parents or Parent???’ I certainly hope the Teacher’s filed a Police Report against the Student’s Parents (assuming most of the Students were still Minors). The mere fact that their [the Student's] inappropriate behavior was interpreted as their right to express themselves (God forbid we not allow them to ‘express themselves’) is absolutely deplorable and a clear indication that NO ONE IS IN CONTROL OF THE SITUATION at those campuses! Oh, by the way, good luck with that position when those same Students try to use that same exhibition with their Employers when there are in their 30’s or 40’s! The TaxPayers are being ‘ripped-off’in that School District. The Teacher’s, as well as Ms. Rhee, are being disrespected and abused.

I would like to see a follow-up program on how those Students were disciplined. Someone needs to support the Teachers and Ms. Rhee. I should call my Father. He could help Ms. Rhee and the Teachers regain the respect to which they are entitled - and I can assure you, after my Father finished speaking to the ‘little Darlings’ in the classroom, ‘lack of discipline’ would no longer be an issue.
“Whatever happened to accountability??”

Jeanne Dalton — Please be advised that Ms. Rhee supports the principal at the school where the kids threw books at the teachers. She has fired a couple of her new principals summarily in the middle of the school year, for no given reason, except that they don’t “fit.” But this principal stays on. She supports his view that getting assaulted by students is a sign of poor classroom management. It is Rhee herself who disrespects and abuses her teachers.

Ron Brown and Woodson are poor excuses for schools. Students in the Woodson Academy actually refer to themselves as animals in a zoo. No, it is not the teachers’ faults. It is the fault of parents who in all actuality are mere sperm and egg donors.

I hope no one applies for a position with DC schools. People should not have to endure this kind of working environment.

Teachers are generally very kind and gentle people who don’t want to get others into trouble. For this reason many don’t defend themselves as well as they should. Sadly, administrators sometimes take advantage of this trait by intimidating teachers who have been assaulted by students. These teachers are made to feel that it was their fault, even if they are entirely blameless.

There is a very successful way for tenured teachers to combat this treatment: Call the police and press charges every time a teacher is assaulted by students or threatened by parents. This action frightens administrators badly and places the teacher on the offensive. Every state has strict laws protecting teachers against this kind of treatment. If a teacher is too timid to speak up for herself, another teacher who is a witness can file a complaint on the injured teacher’s behalf.

If Michelle Rhee wants to play hardball, teachers are more than capable of playing that game. I am so glad that DC is having a hard time recruiting “highly qualified” teachers and administrators. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving district.

I taught at Ron Brown the 07/08 school year and I can honestly say that Ron Brown is not a safe school. Teachers and students have been assulted. Every teacher that has spoken during this interview, I personally have worked with and they are padding the truth. Darin Slade has a way of intimidating his staff. He does a horrible job at administrating. Students were put into my classroom just because. One teacher would get mad at Darin and take off for weeks at a time. Her students were placed in my class. The working conditions were unbearable. In addition, the building was dirty. The janitors hardly cleaned the restrooms and classrooms. The pipes burst and sewage was in the hallway and classrooms. One student set the cork board on fire and we evacuated the building ten minutes after the fact. That school was in constant chaos. I can go on and on. Again, Ron Brown was not a safe school then and I’m pretty sure it’s not one now.

Also, my job duties was not that of my contract. I was constantly “holding” someone elses class when teachers were absent. And that was everyday. When I complained about it, Darin ignored my requests and questioned my integrity as a team player. It was the most awful teaching experience in my life.

Rena, I’m so glad you got out of that situation. I hope with all the spotlight on DC schools, teachers will have the sense to apply elsewhere. No one should have to put up with these working conditions unless there are major changes in salary and safety measures. Good luck to you!

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