It is a conversation educators dread. An administrator calls you for a “chat”. “By the way,” they say, “Instead of teaching 8th grade next year, it best suits our needs for you to teach kindergarten.”
Every educator knows what this means. While the teacher in the scenario still has a job and is teaching a certified subject – kindergarten and eighth grade are two different planets.
This is a tactic that can be labeled as “malicious re-assignment.” It is used to give a not so gentle signal to a veteran teacher that it is time to leave. We see it happen on several occasions. First, when a principal or administrator believes someone’s teaching methods are “too old-fashioned” and their years of experience and craft knowledge are not valued. Another is when an educator is considered too expensive and the administration would like to them to retire early. Or last, when a tenured teacher becomes too vocal about union or social justice issues. It’s an attempt to silence.
We also know that no one is amazing their first year of teaching any subject – including veteran teachers who are asked to take on totally different assingments. With the new accountability systems in place for teachers it becomes increasingly difficult to gain a superior rating when your job is totally redefined.
Why does this matter?
Let’s look at the recent events in Chicago. Educators were laid off in droves. As of May 3,000 educators (teachers, assistants, and school related staff) will not be returning to their work with students next fall. Now, there is a protocol for laying teachers off in Chicago. But as part of this list, tenured teachers with satisfactory ratings are number 4. We can see that re-assigning teachers into extremely different teaching positions puts them in jeopardy. It is meant to intimidate and control.
To be sure, malicious re-assignment affects a teacher’s work life, but we need to also realize that it disrupts programming and destabilizes the smooth functioning of the school. It hurts children, too.
What should we do?
First of all, recognize this practice for what it is. Then strategize with our colleagues to form responses that decrease the impact of this hurtful tactic. This is when building strong on-site allegiances with union members makes a difference.
Teachers who are affected by this practice need the support of others to go back into the workplace with their heads held high and ready to stand their ground. As colleagues we need to be very careful not to isolate these teachers but give them the support and help they need to be successful. Share materials, help with suggestions, and make a visible show of solidarity in front of the administration.
Because this is what good people do. We help others when they are harmed, we stand up for what is right, and we carry ourselves forward in dignity even when others attempt to bring us down.