Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rhee's Teacher Sessions

I've been thinking about writing this post for a little while -- I attended one of Rhee's teacher Q and A sessions at my school a while back, but didn't want to post on it immediately (mostly because I'm just egotistical enough to think that maybe someone at my school might read this blog, and I would prefer to remain anonymous). However, I can put it off no longer, thanks in large part to the idiotic comments made by Randi Weingarten recently. This woman is the Lord Voldemort of DCPS.

The comments come at the tail end of the article. Ms. Weingarten is quoted as saying the following about Chancellor Rhee: "Perhaps, instead of choosing to publicly negotiate directly with teachers, she should take the time she's set aside for 'Q&A sessions' and spend it at the bargaining table."

OK listen, jerkface. How self-important do you have to be to think that it's more valuable for a leader to spend time talking with a third party than to spend time talking with the very people she leads? Rhee shouldn't be speaking directly with teachers? On what planet does that make sense? From whom should we be getting our information? The union? Please. The union, which does little to nothing to engage its membership, suffers from a Sahara-like drought of information. I thought union was about having a voice. Apparently not. Apparently it's about Randi Weingarten having a voice.

Now, I agree that negotiations should be proceeding more quickly than they are. But sometimes a leader needs to get out and speak with the people she's leading. And that's what was needed in DCPS.

Personally, I was reassured after the session with Rhee at my school. She seemed intelligent, caring, and dedicated. More importantly, she seemed genuinely concerned about what we teachers had to say. She had articulate and well-reasoned answers to our questions, and she dispelled many myths about her and her office. I'll write more about some of what she said later, but I can say that I walked away from the meeting far more confident in her abilities and agenda than I was when I walked in.

Why are Weingarten and Parker so pissy about these meetings? Because the meetings are working. Teachers are becoming more supportive of the Chancellor, or at least more confident in her abilities. Rhee is circumventing the intelligence vacuum that is the WTU, and is engaging directly with teachers. Perhaps union leadership should take this idea from Rhee's play-book.


Anonymous said...

Did you ever wonder why she waited until now to meet with teachers and ask them what they needed? Right around contract time? when all her previous attempts to get a contract have failed?

Clearly she sees talking with teachers as a last resort. And you fell for it.

You're in good company, though - a large share of the national press fell for it for a long time - her intelligence and ability to articulate have gone a long way in fooling a lot of people.

Wake up - if she cared about DC teachers - or children, she wouldn't have spent most of her time going around the country telling the world how bad you are and she would have fiixed the important problems long ago. She's a politician who wants your vote so she can keep her job.

Mr. Potter said...

I have no delusions that Michelle Rhee all of a sudden decided she wanted to talk to teachers because it just sounded fun. She made a mistake (as I've written in my blog numerous times) in the way she dealt with the teachers in DCPS, and I think she's trying to make up for it. That said, the things she said and the ideas she proposed were all good. Everyone makes mistakes -- she's learning from hers and moving on in a productive manner.

I disagree that if she really cared she would have fixed the problems long ago. I think she does care, but has made mistakes. I also think that the problems are too big to be fixed just like that. As she said in our meeting, "the problems weren't caused in a day and they won't be fixed in a day." If you think the problems are so easy to fix that anyone could do it, then you should share your proposals with us.

Anonymous said...

I don't need "proposals" to fix the schools to have the right to comment on distrusting Rhee.

What she's done is not a simple mistake - it's a huge mess that she is personally responsible for and seemed quite proud of, until recently.

She is a con artist, a very slick one. Please at least consider not thinking of her as your average person who made a mistake and is trying to fix it.

Fixing DC schools is hard - she figured just coming in with a wrecking ball would solve the problem. Many, Many people knew from the beginning that wouldn't work.

I was not one of those insightful people. I admit was taken in by her self-confidence and intelligence - and uncounsciously by the hope she inspired that she could do it!

She can't. Things are actually worse than before she came. She's pitted people against each other the way no good manager would ever do. time for her to go.

Anonymous said...

Of course the ideas she proposed were all good -- it's what teachers have been telling her (once she started listening) and what the union has been trying to bargain for.

Please don't give her credit for her great ideas - they're not hers, they're yours - and she didn't care about them until she had no choice but to listen.

Anonymous said...

Potter, you said you were afraid to comment about the meeting too quickly after it happened because some of your coworkers may figure out you have a blog? Are you sure all of your coworkers know what a blog is? I asked one of mine if she read some of the teacher blogs and she asked me what a blog was. I couldn't make this stuff up.

Anonymous said...

do you think a person who doesn't know what a blog is, is fit to be a teacher?

Some older folk just call them "websites" or "the internet" and some of them don't spend a lot of time on blogs. They have old-fashioned habits like reading books, but that doesn't mean they're stupid.

Anonymous said...

Did she really say, "the problems weren't caused in a day and they won't be fixed in a day?"

If so, it's the first time she's ever said something like this.

She's more well known for saying things like "teachers are everything" and "Teachers are the single most important determinant in student success" and “the only way we’re going to get out of this situation is if we have great teachers. That is the only solution that we have, and so that’s why we’re really focused on it.”

Now, suddenly, the situation is much more complex and will take a lot of time. Right. She's a star at changing the focus of the conversation without people noticing. She's gone a long way with that approach.

She's grasping at straws and hopes you don't notice. Even smart people fall for her tactics - for a while

The washington Teacher said...

Sorry to disappoint any of you but I have a blog and I am definitely older than 35. ;-) It is called The Washington Teacher. I guess there was a point in time that I didn't know what a blog was but somehow I am missing the point and the stereotype made by the anonymous poster. I for one don't believe stereotypes have to define any of us. By the way if someone doesn't know what a blog is- educate them after all that is the business we are in.

I did want to share with Harry Potter that DC teachers cannot bargain directly with Rhee over working conditions, pay raises, benefits, professional development, etc. Like it or not we have an official bargaining agent which is the WTU. For those of you not involved with our union, Randi Weingarten, Prez of AFT is only involved because our WTU executive board requested the AFT's intervention and assistance in order to move things forward with contract negotiations.

Many of us would like to see some movement on the WTU contract proposal and many hoped there would at least be some type of counter proposal by Rhee. I think for those of you who did not come out to the WTU's informational sessions- some of the recommendations recently made by Rhee (i.e. peer assistance and review, etc.) as noted in the press did in fact come out of the WTU contract proposal that was submitted to her in January 2009.

If any of you read the DC Wire on line- in February 2009, Rhee was quoted positively about the WTU contract proposal and seemed optimistic. However, fast forward to the recent city council hearings and now Rhee takes an opposing position.

Ultimately, Rhee and the WTU will have to either come to some type of agreement on a proposal which can be brought to a vote by WTU members. If they can't it will have to go to impasse which can be a long process and includes arbitration between both parties by an independent board. Right now this board is not fully staffed which could lead to even more delays. I think my hope has been that we could avoid this process which I understand could take a very long time.

Rhee's meetings came about in response to DC city council hearing held in January 2009 in which teachers testified about their concerns as well as many other educational experts, parents and community members regarding Rhee's 5 year plan. It was Chairman Vincent Gray who challenged Rhee to meet with teachers stating that she had not managed change very well in DCPS.

lodesterre said...

To be fair to Rhee she has been saying that the problems weren't caused in a day and won't be fixed in a day since she started. I heard her say it at a small gathering of people in the first three months she was here. It was one of the reasons I first believed we had the right person for the job - her view seemed to be long term, not quick fix-its. I have been disappointed by many things since.

Candi's post, as well as several of the anons, points out something that is quite noticeable - there is such a strong anti-union bias running here and on some other blogs that the only time the union ideas are given any credit are when Rhee tries to claim them for her own.

A lot of the things she has mentioned in her letter to us last week are ideas that were not given much value when suggested to her a year ago. When asked last year about how we would be evaluated she and Kaya Henderson said that the evaluation process would be developed AFTER we signed the contract - now it seems to have a prominent position; Professional development was also placed on the "to be developed" track, that too has suddenly gained prominence; due process was dismissed as unnecessary and now, low and behold, she is so very for due process. And her take on tenure? Well, here it is in the NYTIMES in Sept of 2008:

"In an interview, Ms. Rhee said she considered tenure outmoded.

“Tenure is the holy grail of teacher unions,” she said, “but has no educational value for kids; it only benefits adults. If we can put veteran teachers who have tenure in a position where they don’t have it, that would help us to radically increase our teacher quality. And maybe other districts would try it, too.”

Or is it that "those who have earned tenure have the right to keep it for the rest of their careers." You can't have it both ways.

I am not trying to be sarcastic about her letter or her intentions. But it is the blatant contradictions of her own words that makes it hard for many of us (and I am talking as one who had high hopes in her when she first started) to take her new-found views with any trust.

Until the disastrous TIME article she did not seem to feel the need to try any of the things that were recommended to her by quite a few good people. There was the quite famous comment she made to Parker - do it with me or have it done to you - that summed up her view that she could simply bumrush us all with what she wanted to do.

It seems that whenever anyone brings up these contradictions between September and now in Rhee's attitude - or any criticism of her for that matter - what we are given as argument is "well, the unions are so bad, George Parker is so bad, etc., etc." As if the union's ineptitude and failure to lead are an argument against Rhee's own failure to lead and her very inept handling of the teachers in our system.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Lodesterre - I am at least 3 of the anons above.

If you have a reference for her statement about problems taking time outside of a "small gathering of people in the first three months she was here" I'd like to see it. I've followed her closely and can say with some confidence that it is not one of her oft repeated sound bytes. Those would be "children's interests before adult interests" and "teachers are everything" and "my students reading scores rose from 13% to 90% and the only thing that changed in their lives were the adults standing in front of them everyday.”

She’s been portrayed in the press as someone who cuts through the bureaucracy to get things done quickly – and she has certainly been effective in closing schools and firing principals and central administration staff. She’s been less successful at getting supplies and equipment to the schools and quelling school violence (and what’s more important to the children, who always come first?)

I’m all for slowing down and being more reflective, but see little reason to think that, for Rhee, it’s anything but a ploy.

Anonymous said...

Doing a quick Google search, I didn’t find anything on “Michelle Rhee” “fix” or “fixed” that indicated any early acknowledgement of it taking time to fix DCPS’ problems. I did come across some interesting material though.

Rhee and Fenty on PBS 11/19/07, 4 months into her job as Chancellor:
Rhee: “In any other sector, employees are expected to meet certain outcomes or deliverables, and everybody knows that if you don't meet those numbers, you go. That's what we're creating.

“Compassion? I think that when you're doing the kind of work that I'm doing in public education, where the lives and futures of children hang in the balance, you can't play with that.”

“…people come up to me, and they say, "Thank goodness you're doing this. You can't do it quick enough. Don't give up."

Fenty: “The wheels are in motion for action, and the time for dramatic change begins today.”

A year later, Rhee in Time Magazine, 12/8/08: "We're in Washington, D.C., in the nation's capital, and yet the children of this city receive an education that every single citizen in this country should be embarrassed by."

Three months after that, in her letter to DC teachers, 3/13/09: “You are the agents of social justice in our nation’s capital. You’re far more powerful than the Senators and Congressmen who work just blocks away from our schools. By pushing forward in the face of daunting challenges, you are providing the one thing that will give our children the opportunities they all deserve: an excellent education.”

lodesterre said...

I don't have a reference for the statement other than myself. I heard her say it, in person, in two separate situations that were not reported by the press. But I did hear her say this and my memory is pretty good.

My problem all along has been the asking for trust in the face of contradictory statements and actions. I really do believe that you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time...

Anonymous said...

lodesterre - I don't doubt your word; I doubt Rhee's word.

Anonymous said...

When I posted the true comment about a teacher not knowing what a blog is, I did not specify the individual's age, nor do I think it was relevant. Nor did I imply a person not knowing what a blog is not teach. That's ridiculous. What I was referring to was a failure of an individual to keep up with current trends. I found this emblematic among a sector of DC teachers. Potter even referred to a colleague not using email. I knew of a school librarian having students do reference work in encyclopedias from the 60s. She in fact did not know how to use a search engine to look up things and do a more contemporary search for information. People need to upgrade their skills and knowledge base, to take the initiative and do it.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that anyone will disagree that Rhee has taken on an immense challenge in trying to reform DCPS. I think it's also safe to say that she's made some mistakes. Some that were big enough to piss off even her die-hard supporters. HOWEVER, I don't think that we (teachers) should fault her for trying to correct her mistakes. (I'm with Potter on that one)Call me naive, but I really believe that she is here to help. I'm rooting for her to pull this off. If she doesn't, who will? Instead of assuming that she isn't trustworthy, and simply hating on her, maybe we should pony up and tell her more. Give her your complaints and concerns a hundred times over. The worst it could do is HELP, right?

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with the last post. And I don't appreciate when people think I'm naive or worse because I don't think Rhee is a demon or manipulator. A while ago, I had some minor issues at my school, not to go into detail. I contacted Rhee, with my principal's knowledge, and Rhee was incredibly helpful and supportive. My problem was resolved and Rhee even emailed me back to make sure it was.
I am a veteran, experienced career teacher (not an ed major btw) and at first was a bit suspicious that Rhee wanted us all out and TFA or fellows in our jobs. Yet I have been cautiously won over by her and her administration. Absolutely every contact I've had with her people, from getting one day added onto a summer school paycheck (done IMMEDIATELY), to helping a non-English speaking family get their free and reduced lunch form processed at food service, to the computer help desk, to having questions answered about AYP, I've gotten results. I've worked for DCPS for awhile. I remember getting yelled at by my former principal for contacting the book storage place, instead of going through the proper channels, when all I wanted was a few extra books for my students. There is a whole new climate downtown at 825 and it's because of Rhee.

Toby said...

I too have had good results with my communications with Rhee's staff. When it first came out that the special ed assisted reading accommodation was being withdrawn from standardized testing, I contacted the special ed office for clarification. I first emailed Nyankori because I had met him previously when he came out to my school last year. He remembered me and forwarded my email to the right person who dialogued with my about the new situation. Believe you me, a few years ago, teachers wouldn't be just emailing or calling people. You'd have to go through you school's SPED coordinator or your principal. People at 825 wouldn't just be taking random calls from teachers. I agree when people say there's a new climate in DCPS because i've seen it myself.

Anonymous said...

Agree: Rhee has taken on an immense challenge; she's made some mistakes

Disagree: I really believe that she is here to help.

Faulty reasoning: If she doesn't [pull this off], who will?
Are you saying we’re desperate and no one can do it but Rhee? Why would that be? Do you think we’re stuck with Rhee? Why? What makes her the only possibility of making positive change. She‘s spent almost two years alienating people - pitting young teachers against old teachers and administrators against teachers all in the name of “what’s best for the children.” Certainly we can better so than that.

Her untrustworthiness is not an assumption, she’s proven it over and over again with her words and actions. I liked her at first. I hate what she’s doing to the teacher corporations. After almost 2 years, if she were any good at all, there wouldn’t be this kind of dissention.

Fine – keep complaining to her. Maybe she’s over her phase of firing principals and excessing or putting people on the 90 day plan who know too much and complain openly. Do you think she doesn’t know what the perceived problems are? Of course she does – until recently, she actively decided to ignore those issues and soldier on with her plan. Just on March 6th in the NY Times, she said “…sometimes you’ve got to lead from the front because if you’re too worried about trying to make everybody happy or get every last detail, then you’ll get bogged down and nothing will actually move…sometimes a leader can see things that other people can’t see, and has to push things that they know are the right things to push, and it takes other folks a little longer to get there.”

Call me skeptical, but that doesn’t sound like someone willing to really listen to teachers.

Anonymous said...

“….I am a veteran, experienced career teacher (not an ed major btw) and at first was a bit suspicious that Rhee wanted us all out and TFA or fellows in our jobs…..”

I am so distrustful, that when I see a glowing post like this from exactly the kind of teacher who often doesn’t support Rhee, I immediately think it’s a Rhee spy. To me it sounds phony. And I don’t put it past her or her staff to put a shill on a blog.

Forgive me if you’re real- and if not – please stop this foolishness – it’s an insult.

Anonymous said...

My post was not glowing in my measured approval of Rhee, perhaps optimistically supportive. I'm not a Rhee spy, just a teacher who was never ambitious enough to get out of the classroom and do educational policy or administration. But to hear a child make progress in reading fluency or now be able to subtract with regrouping or know that multiplication is a shortcut for repeated addition, it's more exciting than some great career. Even if the bathrooms in our school have no doors and are horrible.

Anonymous said...

Getting doors for the bathrooms seems like somthing an efficient central administration could do quickly (like getting air conditioning) and should have done last summer, without specific teacher or principal requests.

Anonymous said...

It occurs to me that while it’s good that teachers can contact central administration directly and get results, that some of the simple things they’re requesting should be available through the principals and the normal chain of command. Teachers shouldn’t have to be in the business of communicating for basic needs via 825. And while it might be a thrill for teachers to get follow-up email directly from Rhee, I personally think it’s bad management for the head of the school system to be following up with individual customer service issues. That’s a job for an responsible entry-level employee.

This implies that the principals can’t or won’t provide this function themselves. Surely if Rhee said – “give your teachers what they need,” the principals would do it, or risk their job ratings. Teachers asking 825 directly makes it clear which principals are not responsive.

So is Rhee not making meeting teachers’ basic needs a priority among principals? Is there some reason why 825 responds to requests from teachers and not from principals? I’m curious and would like to know what others think or know about this.

Mr. Potter said...

In response to this last comment, I can tell you what Rhee said about this at the meeting at our school.

She basically said that she knows that a system that runs properly should not require that teachers go to the chancellor with every request. Eventually, she says, we'll get DCPS to the point where the processes in place in and between the schools will actually work so that teachers can get what they need from their principals, business managers, etc.

However, she also said that she recognizes that we don't have working processes like that in all schools (yet). While we revamp those processes so that they actually work, she wants teachers to have what they need to do their jobs.

So, you're right. But I also agree with Rhee that teachers can't wait for the principals to get their schools together. When there's no air conditioning or paper, there needs to be an immediate fix. So I'm thankful that she's willing to help.

Anonymous said...

Mr Potter, Thanks for the response. I'm glad this came up at the meetings and that Rhee responded. However, I don't get this: "Eventually, she says, we'll get DCPS to the point where the processes in place in and between the schools will actually work so that teachers can get what they need from their principals, business managers, etc."

What is so complex about getting school admins to contact central admin with teacher requests? That is a part of their basic responsibilities. This sounds a lot simpler than many of the other things she's struggling with (SPED, etc.) The big boss tells the school admins to respond to teacher requests. This is a lot easier for principals to do than raise reading scores by 10%.

It seems that if Rhee cared about kids and teachers having basic services, she'd urge her principals to do this and give bonuses to principals who identified and filled the most teacher/student needs in their schools.

Toby said...

So will you give us a run down of what was discussed at your school's Q & A with Rhee?

Anonymous said...

Here's what Rhee said on Sunday to NY Times columnist Kristof: “If we come to an impasse, we’re going to move forward with our reforms anyway,” Ms. Rhee said. “Then it potentially gets uglier.”

Sounds like she's back to “cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building are way overrated.”

Anonymous said...

Oops! Just yesterday, coinciding with Obama's town hall meeting, in which he said teacher-buy in was necessary to the success of any reform, Rhee announced a series of sessions getting teacher input on her evaluation plan.

that doesn't quite fit with “If we come to an impasse, we’re going to move forward with our reforms anyway,” Ms. Rhee said. “Then it potentially gets uglier” - which sounds like her plan is a done deal and not open to anymore input.

Do you still trust her?

Anonymous said...

Here's more on Rhee and her need for speed. This is a quote from her 8/18/08 PBS interview.

"A lot of people, I think, over the last few months have said, you know, "It's too much," or, "It's too fast," or both. But this is the kind of change that's necessary, the scope, the pace."

Maybe you should ask her if she's changed her mind.