Charity Magazine

The Famous Lucille Clifton Letter That Caused Houston ISD to Retaliate Against Me (Apollo School)

Posted on the 21 June 2013 by Lawanda @lawanda43

When I signed up with the Houston Independent School
District, I didn’t know I was going to have a 28 year old principal. I didn’t
know I would be working under an emotionally giddy, and tender, 26 year old assistant
principal that was hand raised and coddled by my School Support Officer. I had
no idea the men at Hattie Mae White accepted this kind of low quality
leadership and obvious cronyism without question. I didn’t know I was in the
midst of a true Shakespearian drama (more on that later). So, I did what I
always do; I wrote a letter.

 Now, don’t laugh if you know me, this is serious business. When
you are retaliated against for communicating with your superiors, and asking
for help, then all of the people who have fought for your freedom have been
disgraced. Think carefully about what our country would be like if everyone was
afraid to have a voice, express an opinion, or offer a suggestion. Think about
how oppressive it is in a workplace
that discourages open dialog. Ask yourself if good ideas and innovations are
created in places that stifle their workforce.

 What would be the point in teaching literacy if all you want your
citizens to do is follow like sheep?

Why did the men at Hattie Mae White betray me? Why did they allow my administration to retaliate against me because of my letter? Why didn't they investigate the facts in my letter, and leave me out of it? Ask yourself what this means for countless talented and smart employees with ideas and enthusiasm.

Orlando Riddick

Chief of High Schools

Houston ISD

4400 West 18th
Str.

Houston, TX  77092-8501

 October 6, 2012

 RE: Kashmere HS  

Dear Sir,

 Last Spring I was hired by
Jeremy Beard to teach English at Kashmere. I went to the campus, met with
students, and taught the class a lesson on Lucille Clifton’s poem Sorrows. Had I known that my brief
tenure at the school would have meant this much sorrow for myself, and my
students, I would never have considered the position.

 Last week we proctored the
Apollo benchmark. While my students attempted to take the test we were
interrupted by impromptu announcements, students were called out of my room,
students were roaming the halls beating on my door, looking in my window, and
the noise from the classes on each side of mine was clearly audible.

 Maloney insisted on letting
the makeup test be taken in my room yesterday during instruction time. I was
able to send a few of my students out, and I was able to seat one in the math
lab. However, these arrangements clearly interfere with student success, and
the data gathered from this exam is completely unreliable.

 My room is equipped with a
mounted Smartboard. Data Projections never completed the installation. On two
separate occasions I had technology from HISD assess this situation. Both
workers told me that my board is wired for a Bluetooth, and that a new plug is
installed behind my desk. Furthermore, I have no Smartware. Other teachers have
looked at my board, and I have made numerous requests to the administration to
please have this technology repaired. Nothing has been done.

They gave me a projector that
doesn’t work, and a document reader without a cord. I remember Dr. Grier’s
statement at the Apollo pep event, “I have spent plenty of money on these
schools, and the teachers should have what they need!” All I know from my 25
years of operating equipment across the country and into foreign states, is
that if you want to get the ‘load’ moved, then you must have the equipment on
the job. And if something is broken, then somebody gets on the phone and gets
the problem solved. In this case, we have children of poverty who are very
difficult to engage. They are required to fulfill an EOC successfully; however,
their English teacher is prevented from assisting them in this endeavor because
she has no modern digital technology.

 I went out and bought my own
four-hundred-dollar mini projector.

 Since the beginning, I have
been bombarded with negative emails about my performance from Maloney and
Wilson. Many of their complaints are completely without merit, and this
insistence on smearing me with a narrative of negativity is making me
physically sick. In fact, it is my belief they have intentionally created this
narrative to replace me, and they have damaged the whole English department
willfully and irresponsibly. I have even been ordered to sign documents that
clearly exaggerate, or completely distort, the facts. It is onerous and
libelous to make these claims, yet, they insist.

 Nothing happens in my
classroom that is out of the norm for Kashmere. My students are tough, they are
noisy, they are rough, and they are sometimes rude; but I do the best I can. I
try to choose the battles that count. I have never had an act of violence in my
class, I have never caught a student with anything dangerous, and even if they
act out in an ugly way, I give them a smile the next day. I do everything I can
to keep them out of the office and maximize their learning.

 After only five weeks, we
were accused, via email, of squandering our PLC time. Wilson claimed we were
not meeting her ‘expectations.’ We were never allowed to work together or talk
about English anyway; discussions were generally led by Maloney who never
seemed comfortable giving us any true planning, or collaboration, time. But
when she wasn’t there, we were able to learn from XXXXXXXX how to operate
the grade book, and talk about what students had been reading and doing in
previous years. We were even able to access some of our classes’ previous
scores. These are all items of importance that Maloney never intended to
discuss.

 Taking this hour out of our
schedule meant adding a class. A few of these classes consist of only a small
handful of students; however, I was given a third period comprised of 21
inconvenienced students that were bonded and comfortable with XXXXXXX.
To this day, they are extremely angry about this sudden unexplained schedule
change.

 The entire ninth grade class
was called into an impromptu assembly and lectured about their “embarrassing”
behavior. During the course of the lecture a child was arrested by Officer
XXXXX. She literally stood up, and walked right up to the policeman. He told
everyone in the assembly that she had an “open warrant.”  I watched her walk into her new role as a fugitive outlaw in front of all of her
peers, and I was horrified. Inexplicably, she was back to school the very next
day. How does this serve the motive of discipline? What message does this send?

 That day served the interest
of no one on our campus. The behavior has steadily been declining since the
beginning of the school year because the administration has no consistent
discipline policy. For example, after the assembly, we were to give Wilson a
list of chronic offenders that should be placed on a behavior contract. Most of
these students have violated the agreement, and they are still walking around
the campus engaging in the same old conduct.

 Wilson sent me a very testy
email about a phone she confiscated from a student in my class. When a teacher
does successfully confiscate a phone, there is no chain of command, and no
paperwork trail. There is no system, even though students were told
differently. So now students are very brazen about using their phones. For
example, I caught a child using a phone in my class. The student refuses to
surrender her device. I use the call button to have the office send an AP. The
student is obviously defiant, and has caused me to lose face with the entire
class. The secretary tells me to “just write her up.” The student keeps the
phone, and I am forced to do paperwork that has no meaning, no follow-up, and
no consequences.

 One day I actually took a
phone to the office and gave it to the secretary. Gullible, I thought they had
some kind of a system for handling the confiscated property. The secretary just
shrugs and throws the phone in a desk drawer. A week later, this child is
demanding her phone back. In disbelief I go ask in the office, but no one knows
anything about the phone and the write up has disappeared.

 I check books out to my
children because we have no functioning library. I tried to give them some
independent reading time as a Do Now activity. I brought in all kinds of books,
magazines, and periodicals for the students to enjoy. My TDS told me to tie the
silent reading time to the exit ticket. This gave me an opportunity to build
habits of literacy in my classes. Some of my students would waste those minutes,
but many of them were starting to enjoy the reading time, and even argue over
the books. I was starting to enjoy my results. Wilson ordered me to stop my
daily independent reading activity claiming it was an “inappropriate” Do Now.
We have no DEAR program, and no way of encouraging literacy with this
administration. We have a Reading 180 teacher who was told not to do the
program. Sometimes my students will ask, “When are we going to get to read
again?”

 Even though we have no money
for a librarian, we do have money for a teaching assistant with no
certification. According to him, as of Friday, he has been ordered to stay full
time in my classes. I do not mind his presence occasionally, but this is an
intrusion on my responsibilities, and an insult to my abilities. They have not
appropriately detailed a plan for this assistant, and they have communicated
nothing to me officially. This is typical of the management style at Kashmere.

 Many of my students call me
their ‘favorite teacher.’ Some of them would be devastated by my departure. A
handful would be happy to see me go; they say my assignments are too hard, or
too boring. These students might have an argument, but I will never know unless
I am allowed to grow as a teacher. If I am not allowed to collaborate with my
peers, (we don’t even have a campus directory) if I am forced to struggle in
isolation, create all of my own lessons from the ground up,  keep accurate records of my students, and manage
all of their discipline needs by myself, what are my chances for success?

 What are my chances of
achieving discipline if I am consistently undermined in front of my students by
administration?

  I remember when I taught basic composition for
my university. My professor told me I would have challenging students that
would be angry for their placement in remedial writing. In my classes at
Kashmere I have students that are angry with the entire world. They are hungry,
displaced, underserved, undervalued, abused, suspicious, but beautiful in their
own unpolished way. Sometimes I will ask my own little thirteen-year old boy
what would happen to him at school if he behaved like my students. I already
know his answer because I spent 14 weeks student teaching in that school. Low
expectations are a sin, and this applies to behavior as well.

 The administration should
hold my students consistently accountable with appropriate systems, paperwork,
and codified procedures. The student population is largely categorized as “at
risk.” To treat them inconsistently is to prepare them for a failed life.

 In the early 1980’s, I
started driving a truck cross country. In 1986 I started hauling swinging meat
across the mountains of British Columbia all by myself. Gradually, and it took
years, the men started to accept me into their profession. But they never
treated me as badly as I have been treated by the administration at Kashmere. I
have never felt more unwanted, or misunderstood, in my entire life. When I look
around my classroom, I know I have never had this much to lose.

Sometimes I wonder if my
English Degree is not enough, and maybe I need more than my Texas certification.
After all, I am a nontraditional woman in every sense that has worked for most
of my life in a male dominated vocation. However, I was accepted into my university
education department, and I successfully completed my Oklahoma and Texas tests
on the first attempt. I am a Kappa Delta Pi member, and I have closely studied educational
and composition theory. I am a mother, and I have worked for XXXXISD. My classroom
experiences include working as a substitute, volunteering at an alternative
school, forty hours of observation in Texas, and forty hours of observations in
Oklahoma, and countless visits with principals, and class times with my own
child, hours upon hours of educational courses, student teaching, professional
development. I never expected this to
happen.
I have close friends who are veteran teachers, and they encouraged
and supported my career change, and now they are appalled at my circumstances. But,
I am not the only educator in shock at Kashmere. My highly educated colleagues
have their own personal narratives, and some of them are very poetic.

 If you have read Lucille
Clifton, and I am certain you have, you understand:  

 they have heard me beseeching as I whispered into my
own cupped hands

enough  
not me again

 This is my purpose for
writing,

 LaWanda Eckert

Kashmere HS

CC: Dr. Terry Grier


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