Kerr e-mail to STEP students, December 2008

By December 11, 2008

From: [Michele Kerr]
Sent: Monday, December 11, 2008 [forwarded]
To: []
Subject: On my standing at STEP

Hey, guys. I wanted to thank everyone for their responses to my last letter, which were very helpful in the matter below. While I realize many of you may not be interested in my little saga, I thought it was important to let everyone know the reason I’d written the first time. Feel free to delete this now if you have no interest and there’s no request for anything in particular so if you’re interested but busy, you can save this document for when you’re stuck at the dentist’s office with nothing to do but catch up on soaps.

On November 24th, Rachel notified me by letter that she and other instructors had “concerns about my suitability for the practice of teaching”. Rachel told me several times “not to panic”; I confess, however, that I found the charge that to be an extremely serious one. As her reasons for declaring me potentially unsuitable had nothing to do with my supervisor rating, I was deeply concerned that my rating would be Exhibit B, with the reasons in the letter being Exhibit A–and all of it being documented for the purpose of eventually removing me from STEP.

Thus, the inequities of my rating seemed important to figure out one way or another. Many of you wrote back reassuringly about the impact on my grades; as I mentioned to some of you, I was not worried about my grades, but my presence here at STEP.

Last night, I was informed as to the details behind Exhibit A, the reasons Rachel and other instructors have “concerns about my suitability for the practice of teaching”. Yes, I repeat that phrase a lot. I’m not supposed to get hung up on it. I do anyway. The notes below are my recollections of the meeting; obviously, Rachel and the dean who attended may differ as to the details.

Reason 1: I am late to class.

I asked Rachel if she kept attendance logs. She says that she does, but she’s not sure about other instructors. I asked if she had already established that my tardiness rate was of an order and kind substantially different from all other students, and she said (I believe) that she had not. I asked if she had tracked attendance and tardies while she was absent, and she said she had not. I asked if she had ever notified me that she believed that tardiness to class was a leading indicator of “suitability for the practice of teaching” or even just told me she was concerned, and she said she had not. Finally, I asked her if she had checked with my attendance and timeliness at my placement, and she said she had not even asked about it. Consequently, I told them both that I was unconvinced that my tardiness, such as it was, provided sufficient reason to warrant concern about my “suitability for the practice of teaching”, as she didn’t even have evidence that I was the most extreme offender or that my tardiness to class, such as it was, was an indicator that I was late to my actual teaching assignment.

Reason 2: I turn assignments in late.

I asked Rachel if she had established that I turned in assignments substantively later than other students. She said she had not. I asked, for that matter, what assignments I had turned in late at all, and she said, immediately, that my reflections were the problem, that she had no knowledge of other late assignments. Here, fellow STEPPies, your responses proved most helpful. Without mentioning names of candidates or their supervisors, I told Rachel that I had, in fact, researched the reflection submission rate, and that if turning in late reflections with no knowledge of a 48 hour turnaround was evidence of “unsuitability for the practice of teaching”, then she had a distressing number of candidates in a similar condition. We moved away from this one pretty quickly.

Reason 3: I am unprofessional to my instructors

This was a combination of reasons and much of this reason was actually given last. While Rachel wasn’t specific, she said that instructors were “concerned”. I asked if any had complained before she checked in with them about me, but I don’t recall her answering. I asked if any of them had emailed me about their concerns; she agreed that they had not formally done so. I asked if this supposed unprofessionalism had resulted in poor academic results, and the dean said that those were entirely different issues, that a candidate could have excellent academic performance yet still raise concerns about professionalism. I asked again if any of the instructors had notified me of this, and they agreed (I believe) that they had not. I think that Rachel said that some of them had said that they tried to do so verbally; I believe I said that I had never had any conversations with any instructor outside of class during class time, but if I didn’t remember to say that in the meeting, it is nonetheless true.

The gravamen of this charge was the November 19th meeting I had with my supervisor, in which he informed me without prior warning that he was switching my secondary class, that he was unhappy with my lack of professionalism, and that he wanted me to stop teaching my algebra support class in order to go to many more observations. In addition, he told me that I was impossible to supervise, that I challenged him constantly, that I turned supervisories into a constant quarrel, and so on. Rachel never consulted me about that meeting before she added it to the list of reasons I am “unsuited for the practice of teaching”; she agreed that she had accepted I was at fault and that the meeting was evidence of my unsuitability without ever consulting me about my side.

Neither Rachel nor the dean evinced any concern at the fact that my supervisor told me I lied, that he met with my CT without my knowledge, that he never expressed any concerns about me before the meeting of November 19th. I asked them to investigate the fact that he said several times I was lying, and they finally agreed to do so.

Nonetheless, Rachel said that she had not seen my supervisor’s assessment (I have, and noted that he reconsidered giving me straight no evs on professionalism, although my ratings in that category only were still low) and that her concerns about my unsuitability were restricted to my interactions with my supervisor on 11/19 and unstated, vague concerns that my instructors offered up when asked but hadn’t ever told me about.  She has no knowledge at all about my assessments and what they say about my unsuitability for the occupation of teacher.

For the record, while I try to take Rachel’s concerns in stride (and often fail miserably), I am deeply upset by the events with my supervisor. There was no charge of my having been abusive at the 11/19 meeting; the stated problem was that I was loud. It’s true. I’m loud when I’m upset. I’m loud when I’m not upset. I’m loud when I’m quiet. Known bug; my son isn’t nearly as loud so it looks like things got fixed in version 2.

Reason 4: my interactions with my classmates

Rachel said that I was overbearing and domineering with my classmates and that they had complained and that this was again evidence that supported her concern–but just a concern, so far–that I was “unsuited for the practice of teaching”. I asked for specifics.

1) 1 student anonymously wrote in feedback that I made my class section “intolerable”.

2) In practicum, an unspecified number of students came up to Rachel and specifically asked that they not sit with me. I asked Rachel if they had said why. She said no, of course not. I asked Rachel why she was using their requests as evidence of my overbearing and domineering nature and consequent unsuitability. Wasn’t it possible, I asked, that classmates had asked not to sit with me because they didn’t like my views? In my estimation, Rachel had clearly not anticipated that possibility and realized at that moment that evidence she obviously considered extremely telling to her case was utterly worthless. Rachel has expressly said that her concerns had nothing to do with my views (I am unconvinced, but don’t take her denials personally), and she could not deny the possibility, at the very least, that a request not to sit with me had nothing to do with my overbearing personality and everything to do with my views.

3) In mid-November checkins and meetings, a number of students complained about me. Rachel says that she never brought the subject of me up directly, that in meetings the complaints were entirely unsolicited. She was unspecific about what the problems were. I asked if any of the students had complained to the instructors; I can’t remember what her answer was but it was either no or she didn’t know; I would have remembered an affirmative response.

So there’s the reasons for Exhibit A and the reasons for Rachel’s letter.

I told Rachel and Dean Callan formally that I considered these reasons shockingly weak gruel for declaring me unsuited for the occupation of teaching and that I would vigorously resist any efforts to move forward.

Dean Callan said that this meeting was just “personal communication” and that if I worked hard to improve, that none of this would be moved forward to expelling me from STEP if I showed “willingness and ability to address [the charges] and perform at a satisfactory level”, so if I “worked to improve” then none of this need go further. I told the Dean that it appeared I could have satisfactory grades, satisfactory assessments of my teaching, and yet still be deemed “unsuitable for the practice of teaching” if my classmates complained about me, and that this struck me as an incredibly bizarre criterion. I also told them that I would not be meeting with either of them again without a lawyer present, and that I didn’t wish to hurt their feelings in saying this, but that I believed that they were trying to create problems for me because of my views on teaching. I personally find it very difficult to believe that I would have been notified of their “concerns about my unsuitability for teaching” if I were 100% on board with STEP views. This is my opinion based on the evidence. Rachel assures me it isn’t so.

I have no idea how many of my classmates complained. More than two and less than sixty (I hope, anyway). I have known of the complaints for a long time; Rachel has hinted of them before now, other classmates have mentioned it before as well. No one has ever complained to my face until a classmate did recently, and I will generalize my response to him to all those who find me a horrible blot on their classroom experience:

1) I genuinely like and respect every STEP candidate I have ever met. Some of you I know pretty well; others of you I’ve done little more than speak to in passing. But you are all fantastic, passionate, committed people who I think will make outstanding teachers. However, if I despised one of you, hated what you said in class, held my breath and turned blue every time you opened your mouth, I wouldn’t even think of complaining to the instructor or Rachel. And if Rachel invited me to complain about any student, I’d have laughed in her face and told her to go find a whiner who actually thinks she should be running around guaranteeing her babies a safe and nurturing environment. Which ain’t me.  This is just one other sign, I suppose, that my values aren’t in line with those of STEP.

2) If you can’t speak up in a STEP classroom to assert yourself and reach out for the education you’ve been paying for, if you are sitting in class privately seething because you feel that I or anyone else is derailing a conversation that you wish to go in a different direction, then you should reconsider your own priorities and values as a novice educator.  SPEAK UP.
Fight for the education you want. And if you don’t feel you should have to, if you’d rather complain to the powers-that-be in the hopes that the power will take care of an interpersonal problem, then how on earth are you planning on going out in the far more ruthless world of public education and effect any change worth mentioning?

3) For those of you who wish to continue requesting that you not sit with me in practicum, make sure you mention the reason so that Rachel can build her case for the next time we do our little dance. “Rachel, I do not want to sit next to Michele in practicum. It has nothing to do with her views; she’s just an domineering, overbearing bitch.” DOB. We could print up cards or something. Don’t Sit Me Next to the DOB!

I don’t want to be expelled. The last three weeks have been miserable and terrifying. But I like clear and preferably compelling standards. I am being told that I’ll be expelled if I can’t figure out how to stop my classmates from complaining about me. That’s a valid standard for a fifth grader clique, but it’s not one I’ll accept in a graduate academic setting. I’ll continue being me, and those of you who feel uncomfortable can maybe learn how to speak up. Or not. Your call.

Enjoy the winter break,

Michele

Schools: Stanford University Cases: Stanford University: Education Program Tries to Keep Outspoken Student from Enrolling, Demands Access to Private Blog