***Please read the disclaimer to the right. The following is the latest in several installments by former teacher and school board member for the Highland Community School District, Nick Smith. They are lessons to a future student, Cal-Em (read Screwed: Lesson #1 and Screwed: Lesson #2 , Screwed: Lesson #3, Part I, Screwed: Lesson #3, Part II , Screwed: LESSON 4–I START AGAIN , Lesson 5: A Nation At Risk report [part 1], Lesson 5: A Nation at Risk report [part 2], Screwed: LESSON 5–A Nation at Risk report [part 3])
LETTERS TO CAL-EM A PERSONAL HISTORY OF HIGHLAND
By Nick Smith
Once, Cal-Em, one of the Richard Heads decided that Highland needed to cut their teaching staff by three teachers. Those hard decisions must be made, but Mr. Richard Head targeted three veteran teachers for termination in violation of the agreed upon contract between the Highland Community School District and the Highland Education Association and the discrimination laws of Iowa and the United States. In short, seniority was not used as the instrument determining the terminations, all three were female and all three were over the age of forty, a protected class under State and Federal employee age discrimination laws.
As the union rights chair, I had the task of protesting and opposing this discrimination and contractual violation. I arrived at the office, only to be ordered out accompanied by swearing. I then wrote a formal, second step grievance complaint, which outlined the contractual violation and complained about the obvious discrimination involved. Mr. Head tore the grievance into unbelievably small pieces, tossed them into the air and snarled, “It doesn’t exist! Get the hell out of my office!”
Later, I took a copy of the grievance and a witness back to Mr. Richard Head’s office. This time he accepted the grievance, but rushed around his desk, pushed me to the wall, and then struck the witness who fought back, pinning the superintendent against the wall. I thought the witness was going to injure Mr. Head badly, but they merely told him to keep his hands to himself. Of course, the grievance was denied in writing before we left the office. The next step in the procedure was to present the grievance at step three to the same district representative that step two had just been denied, a flaw in the procedure that never could be corrected.
A few days later, Mr. Richard Head interrupted my class and presented me with a pink-slip. True, it was actually a pink slip of paper, which announced my termination at the end of the school year, emphasizing the fact that my contract would not be renewed. I wasn’t the only teacher terminated that day between the hours of noon and three o’clock. Every teacher in the district was terminated on that day, the Ides of March. I think every teacher in the building was out in the hallway, some angry, some crying and some dumbfounded. I don’t think much teaching occurred the rest of the year.
The Highland Association President was ordered to come up with a better way to reduce staff if they could. Of course, by applying the procedure outlined in the contract, the correct three teachers to be terminated were identified. They each requested a meeting with the School board and all of the terminated teachers began the grievance procedure for wrongful termination and civil rights violations of discrimination. Eventually, every teacher was issued a contract for the next year, even me. Mr. Richard Head said he was just kidding. It was a joke, and none of us had a sense of humor. The results, Cal-Em, were predictable.
When I accepted the nomination and election of “rights chair” by the Highland Education Association, little did I know how much that post would affect my life. I didn’t know that I would hold that position for 25 years, nor did I know of the great retaliation and harassment I would endure for the sake of other teachers, students and parents. The “rights chair” was a targe
t for every new administrator entering the district. I understand some of their animosity; after all, people do not like to have their decisions questioned, nor do they enjoy having their decisions held up to scrutiny by others. Employer decisions affect people, and teachers are people, too, regardless of what some may think. Teachers are not property, they are not big students, and they are not cattle. Teachers may have been ground down to less than people due to the constant bashing they have and are enduring from the likes of the Nation at Risk report, business agendas, private and government reform groups and the uninformed public, but I assure you, they are people.
Once I was in the central office in the high school. One of the secretaries [as they were known at the time] said, “Hey, didn’t I see you in church at St. Patrick’s in Iowa City this last Sunday? You have a lovely family. Sometimes we get to the later service at St. Pat’s when we don’t get around so early in the morning.”
Suddenly, before I could respond, Mr. Richard Head came crashing out of his office in a visible state of anger. His face was a bright red, his fists clenched, his body language flashed rage and he could barely control his own movements.
“Catholic!” he screamed, spittle gushing from his mouth like a spray bottle, covering the counter and the floor. “If I would have known you were one of them Catholics, I never would have hired
CLICK HERE to read Tenure haters’ big delusion: Why Campbell Brown and co. are wrong about teaching
by GABRIEL ARANA
Photo: Campbell Brown (Credit: Reuters/Andrew Burton)
you. I’ve been trying to get rid of all you mackerel snappers!”
He turned as if he were on military parade and marched himself back into his office. I was shocked, stunned into disbelief. Looking around, everyone’s mouth was agape in disbelief. No one spoke a word, but several people rolled their eyes and one woman spun her index finger around her right ear, indicating that this Richard Head might also be a lost nut from a fruitcake. We looked at each other, stunned.
“That little girl of yours,” one woman gratefully interjected through the shock and tension, “is just adorable. How old is she, anyway?”
“She’s eleven months old,” I replied. My mind, however, wasn’t on my response. I thought I was done with Catholic haters; I thought that had ended a long time ago. Sure, when I was a kid there were people who didn’t like me because of my faith, but I thought that had disappeared with the movement for civil rights and the various laws passed that prohibited discrimination of all types, even religious discrimination. I was wrong. I apparently was working under a true bigot who hated me, not for my color, but for my religion, and I hadn’t even picked it. I was born Catholic—what is known as a cradle catholic—and raised to believe what the Catholic faith taught in its dogma. True, my family was the only Catholic family in my entire extended family. My grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins and my other relatives down to third and fourth cousins were all Protestant on my mom’s side of the family, and that’s where we lived. My dad’s people were all catholic, but we only saw them once a year and they had no cousins my age. I grew up understanding that denominations didn’t really mater very much because no matter what you called yourself, you were still a Christian. You believed in Christ and that’s what mattered most.
Sure, there were a few misunderstandings because the rituals that Catholics followed were different from the mainstream Protestant view of church, these differences led to marvelous discussions with my cousins as we grew older and helped to broaden all our understandings of faith and truth. Now, I’m working for a Catholic hater. I could feel the hate ooze from his pores every time I was around him. The worst part was listening to the bulls#*t [I am sorry Cal-Em for the language, but during that time in Iowa, that is what we called lies and half-truths] he spewed from his mouth in great torrents of half-truths, idiotic side steps and outlandish claims of superiority. Almost every weekend, Mr. Richard Head ran in a foot race, a marathon or distance run. Every week he’d come in showing a trophy he’d won. Sadly, we learned that the trophies were not presented to him, but made by him in his own woodshop, and then passed off as being some sort of official award.
Richard Head signed an agreement granting me a Specialist Degree equivalency if I completed 36 hours of graduate work beyond my masters. The University of Iowa dropped its specialty degree program the year before I wanted to start, so my only option was to work toward a PhD degree. One of my personal sadnesses was in finishing all of the course work for a PhD, and then being told that I needed to work as an associate professor for two or three years while writing my PhD thesis paper. I remember telling my advisor that I couldn’t do that because I had three children that wanted to eat every day. He told me there was a stipend of $4,800 per year for associate teaching, but that wasn’t nearly enough to pay my bills and keep three kids in breakfast cereal.
When he [Mr. Richard Head] found that I was going to accomplish the task, he flew into a rage and denied he’d ever agreed to such a thing. His replacement had to honor the agreement because it was in writing; thus, I moved to the last and highest pay lane in the Highland pay matrix system. I believe I was paid $800 additional for having the Specialty Degree, about $66 dollars per month more. I was happy to make the extra money and the Highland Community School District got the benefits of having basically, a PhD degree teacher in their English department for a very small price.
I was interviewed for an English teaching position in Iowa City. A delegation of administrators and teachers came to Highland to observe my teaching as part of their interview process. They were going to observe during the first and maybe the second periods but ended up staying for the entire day, observing all of my classes. They left very impressed with one member telling me that the job was mine for sure. All four observers mentioned how impressed they were with my teaching, having never seen anything like it before and declaring that I was onto an entirely new method of instruction. I didn’t hear from them until I received a letter in the mail informing me that the position had been awarded to someone else. I asked an Iowa City Principal who lived in my neighborhood and was a member of the interview team what happened—why wasn’t I hired? He said, “Your superintendent caught us on our way out, saying you were a trouble maker and a big union guy. He recommended we have nothing to do with you, so we backed off.”
I confronted Mr. Richard Head on Monday concerning his comments and negative recommendations, asking why he would do such a thing and take this job opportunity away from me. He simply ginned his idiotic smirk, the kind of smirk that everyone wants to wipe off the smirker’s face with something more than Kleenex. “That will teach you to stick your nose in where it doesn’t belong and isn’t wanted,” he said through curled lips. Then, he uttered a little chuckle and walked away. There are those people in the world that are just evil because they are just evil. He was one of them.
One year before on the last day before what used to be known as Christmas break, two Highland board members came to school drunk on their asses. They wandered about the hallways holding each other up and bouncing off lockers, shouting Christmas cheers and happy New Year’s around the school. Bursting into my classroom, they offered drinks of “booze” from quart jars held in their hands. “Come on,” one complaint, “ain’t none of you f!#*you [you get the picture] gonna have a teeny-weenie drinky-pooh with us?”
“Come on,” the other begged, “just one little drinky. Party pooper! You have a drink right now or I’ll have your butt fired!”
Then they went staggering down the hall to another room. I had another teacher watch my room and her own room—no student was learning anything anyway, so I and beat a path to the superintendent’s office. The superintendent was unresponsive. “It’s hard enough to have some sort of meaningful class on the last day before Christmas vacation,” I stammered, “but this disruption is ridiculous!”
“Handle it yourself,” Mr. Richard Head chided, “you always think you’re so smart.”
I did. I took his phone and dialed the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, reporting unwanted intruders at the high school causing a disturbance. You should have seen that Richard Head move then. He got the drunken board members out of the building before the deputies arrived. My popularity with the school board and Mr. Richard Head was not very good after that.
That my dear Cal-Em is how a teacher starts to be labeled a troublemaker.