Thursday, February 13, 2014

Days of Our Work Lives: An unvarnished look at work today: Part II: Susan's Saga. Episode 8: A Hostile Environment

Part II: Susan's Saga  
Episode 8: 
A Hostile Environment

In the previous episode, Susan's volunteering at King Middle School paid off: She got a six-month contract to fill in for the school's attendance officer.

On her first day, she arrived early, both to check out her room before the school day's chaos began and because she wanted to go into the teacher's room, that inner sanctum she had never penetrated except when, as a child, Susan's teacher told her to bring in her coffee cup from the classroom. 

After congratulating Susan, the teachers settled in to their usual talk, which often pitted the Idealists against the Burnouts. The Idealists, for example, were excited about the latest innovation: The Common Core Standards, which would establish high standards for all kids: "High expectations are so important!" In contrast, the Burnouts had been through many cycles of innovations du jour: hope followed by a disappointing reality followed by the next innovation du jour. This morning, one Burnout read from the 6th grade math standards: 
Apply the properties of operations to generate equivalent expressions. For example, apply the distributive property to the expression 3 (2 + x) to produce the equivalent expression 6 + 3x; apply the distributive property to the expression  24x + 18y to produce the equivalent expression 6 (4x + 3y); apply properties of operations to y + y + y to produce the equivalent expression 3y. "
The Burnout's punchline: "You really believe the best use of our time, of our kids' time, is to teach them 1,000 standards like this?"

The principal, Linda Wright, had been through many such cycles and at a staff meeting cynically took the middle ground, blithely: "I'll support you when you want to adopt the new program and I'll support you when you're ready to drop it."
For Susan's first three months as attendance officer, everything went fine. She was able to track down more truants than did the regular officer, who had been doing it for years. 

Then one day after school, Linda came to Susan's room: "Susan, I really hate to say this but the mother of one of your student assistants claim you have created a hostile environment for gays."  

"What?! Who?!


"What? I can't believe it. He kept asking for days off for no good reason and after a while I kept saying no. I'll bet he went to his mother and made up that hostile-environment stuff so he could get his days off."

"Susan, whenever an accusation is made related to race, gender, or sexual orientation, I'm required by law to conduct a thorough investigation. You might want to contact the union lawyer. And our lawyer advised that it's safest if we suspend you---with pay, don't worry--until the investigation is concluded."

Susan was so offended. "I'm not at all anti-gay. I did absolutely nothing anti-gay. And now I have to endure this?!  For nothing?!" Still, she felt scared.

Two months and three depositions later and still no feedback. Susan was really scared now. "If they were finding me innocent, Wright would be saying things like, "Don't worry, it's just a formality." But nothing. 

Finally, she received a terse letter from the investigating attorney: "Dear Ms. Sapian, the investigative panel found you innocent of wrongdoing. You may resume your position at your earliest convenience. Thank you for your patience in this matter." 

She was relieved but incredulous at it all. And she was embarrassed because she was pretty sure all the teachers knew about it and assumed she must have done something: "When there's smoke, there's fire." Every time a teacher would see her, she'd be thinking, "There's Susan the gay-basher." Especially with just a few weeks left on her contract anyway, Susan decided to quit.

Linda begged Susan to stay but when Susan asked whether her employment reference would mention the bogus claim, Wright decided to cover her butt: "If you agree not to file any employment claim, I'll agree not to mention it."

Susan was again incredulous: "I deserve a great reference. You just said I deserve a great reference and now you want me to give you something so I can get what you should be gratefully giving me, especially after what you've put me through?"

This time, Susan won.

"I'm sorry, Susan. You're right. You'll get a strong reference with no mention of that claim.

"That bogus claim."

"Right, that bogus claim."

Susan couldn't resist a parting shot:

"You let that parent trigger a massive, demeaning investigation of me whom you know did nothing wrong, yet you ignore terrible, burned-out teachers who, year after year, damage kids."

"Susan, those burned-out teachers didn't start that way. After two years, they get tenure and I can't touch them."

"You can't?"

"Not without years of remediation efforts you know won't work, documenting every little thing, and then the union's high-powered lawyers usually find some a way to get the teacher off on some technicality. It's easier to just use my time and stress where it's more likely to make a difference."

And with that, Susan walked out, again back to the starting line. Now what?

The next episode is HERE.

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