What is malicious re-assignment? by Michelle Gunderson. proud member of the Chicago Teachers’Union

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.


  1. schoolgal says:

    Some teachers are moved for “malicious” reasons. That is true. A few years ago a principal in NYC moved a very senior teacher (in her 80s) with a handicap to a new assignment on an upper floor. That caused a stir in the media. Other times they do it to put a stronger teacher in a test grade. But on the whole, principals do act maliciously against teachers who are strong advocators for their students and speak up. They can keep them in their assigned grade level but stack the students in such a way that the teacher gets the bulk of the discipline problems and hence test scores will suffer. This is why principals alone should not run a school. We need to consensus building in our schools so every staff member works for the betterment of the school.

    btw, In NYC, those who still have or never had an early childhood license (K-2) can appeal the decision of their placement if it indeed goes against their license.

  2. Sometimes it isn’t malicious even though it may feel that way. Due to these wonderful educational reforms, administrators have to show they are making changes if test scores aren’t what some think they should be. My mom taught one specific (non-testing) grade for her entire career. She is an excellent teacher (I won’t bore you with the details). She was two years from retirement when she got moved to a testing grade because the principal had to show she was making changes, and she needed a “strong” teacher in that grade. So my mom had to learn a totally new curriculum two years from retirement. Because my mom loves teaching, she poured her heart into it, and she had some of the best scores in our area (even though she doesn’t believe in testing…). This has happened to several good teachers in our area. Because they are good, they get punished for those who may not be as good. What is particularly sad is that my mom still loves teaching and still pours hours into prep and planning, but due to Common Core and the emphasis on testing she will retire after this year. She has been around long enough to know what works, so she doesn’t bend to whatever is new. In fact she pities the newer teachers because she says they are being handed curriculum that sets them and their students up for failure, and they don’t know it isn’t their fault. BTW, we are in Tennessee–the state who sold its soul to the devil for the Race to the Top money.

  3. Gary Moriello says:

    I understand and appreciate the stress of being shifted from grade to grade, but please understand that all changes are NOT done maliciously. I served as a Principal of an inner-city elementary school in Chicago for 20 years, and most changes were dictated by certification issues. We–meaning both faculty and administration–were always there to support our colleagues as they transitioned to a different teaching assignment. It was rarely easy, but it was mostly (unfortunately not always) successful.

    • Bonnie Glassner says:

      Hey Gary,
      Yeah what u said was true for u. But, having this happened to me… From an asshole principal I just realized what he did. Later, or the next year he changed my assignment after he knew I was retiring in June and I got a better assignment.

  4. this happened to me. i got an unsatisfactory rating at the end of my first year teaching middle grades math (6-8) in a detroit charter school. on my eval it said that i was to be put on an improvement plan (never happened) and then, i was given the typical year contract to come back the next year teaching 6th grade ELA (i am certified k-8 self contained, with middle school math/ science endorsements for 6-8). then i am told i will be teaching one section of social studies (with a class set of books shared between 4 classes in two grades). so, this perpetuates for a card marking- no materials to level work with, i got knocked on walk through evals for TEACHING SPELLING, i got knocked for using SRA to give my low level readers more practice, i have the class start reading ‘a wrinkle in time’ but then get told it’s ‘too hard’ by the coach- but no other class novel is suggested so i am forced to use the 1998 basal reader-i also got a rip for not having the kids write rigorously- again, but no suggestions made for improvement. so a week before the term ends i get told i am being switched back to math/ science….and that the other 6th grade teacher who was certified ELA was going to take over and i would take over her stuff (cause they had her teaching math). please remember, along with this re-assignment came LITTLE TO NO SUPPORT from administration either with academic or behavioral concerns. It was almost like kids who did the worst things got sent back so a further case could be built against a ‘lack of student engagement/ classroom management’ on my evaluation.

    i am happy to say that whatever nefarious plan they had in place backfired- when we took the january scantron/global scholars testing, the 6th grade classes were the only classes in the school to meet the growth expectations set by our authorizer- they wanted 68% of each class at level or above in ELA and 72% of each class at level or above in math- and we met/exceeded both goals. talk about a big FU to the admins-after the scores were set the administrative bullying campaign against me got even stronger and i left the school, so i dont know if the scores held on the next round of testing- but i think this is a pretty good example of how the malicious reassignment works.

    oh and during my ‘tenure’ at said charter school i reported an administrator for bullying teachers/staff/students, it was found to be a relevant complaint and the person was fired, as well as meeting with the AFT.

  5. That is so true! Some people do not believe that a Principal can get rid of a teacher, that he/she does not want, in many ways. Yes some teachers may have the tenacity to hang in there no matter what but most will not. It is even easier in special ed. I have seen it happen a few times in 12:1:4 classes. Make sure that at least 2 of the paraprofessionals in the room are known to hate each other and one is known to be loud and argumentative. Then put the students that tend to require the most strenuous physical care. While subbing last year I saw a spec Ed HS class where there were 4 paraprofessionals in a class that had 7 students in wheelchairs and all of them were in diapers and had to be changed twice a day. There were several other classes that had only 3 or 4 wheelchairs and students of the same cognitive levels, WHY??? Just the logistics of getting from place to place around the school were crazy! Did this principal even THINK of the children?? No! this was so unfair to the students placing them in a situation that he/she know would an uncomfortable one, just to get rid of a teacher. The paraprofessionals did fight, the teacher did leave and the students did have a miserable school year! Did anyone report this to the DOE, NO, Why? NYC D75 (spec ed) is the most crony filled department in the DOE from the Top down, everyone is afraid to report anyone as they will be the NEXT to go!

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
    It’s well past time someone actually spoke of the morality of doing the right thing!
    Recognizing a bullying tactic has long been part of our profession when it comes to the kids. How often do we recognize it when it comes to the adults being bullied by the administration? This “malicious re-assignment” is no different than bullying. It’s being done to harm, and it’s being done because the administrator *can* do it — in order to harm. So, recognition is the first step in prevention.
    Yet, you go farther, and this is where you become a great writer and leader! You call on all of us to stand up beside our colleagues who are being bullied by administration. To be an “up-stander” is not an easy task, but, is a necessary one. Up-standers let bullying administrators know, “We’re watching you, and we’re not going to let you put one of ours down.” That, alone, will usually make an offending administrator back down when it comes to offensive and malicious re-assignments and odious evaluations. All bullies are cowards deep down.
    And finally, you state why we should do this recognition and up-standing. You state what was once the obvious – that these are the actions that decent people do to help each other when they are down. Good people go out of their way to lend a hand. Morality requires it.
    So, thank you for putting morals and tactics together.
    It is the work of Jesus, of Ghandi and of M.L.King Jr.
    It is the work of a leader. And we’ve needed one for a long time, now….


  1. […] there’d be a clear process to remove those individuals)?  That’s what the cruel process of malicious reassignment is […]

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