Sunday, July 14, 2013

Letter Of Resignation

TO:  Barbour County, Alabama Board of Education

FROM:  Alfred Lehmberg
              Enterprise, Alabama 36330

RE:  Letter of Resignation as Special Education Teacher for Barbour County

October 2000 

Sir and Madam;

I've never quit anything in my life. That I retreated from this opportunity so abruptly is a testament to the dauntingly apparent practical impossibility of the task. Regretfully, it is also an indictment on society for forgetting its own, damning them to their squalid perditions, and even willfully encouraging them to take their eventual places in prisons of low wage subservience or very real prisons. Finally, this letter is more than a letter of simple resignation, it is a regrettable report from the field on the state of public education as it is served up to poor black American citizens from a state very near the bottom of a total educational effort.

I embraced this opportunity to teach wholeheartedly, but as I continued to look to the near, mean, and far term, I could forecast neither a positive student outcome, or even the most minimal personal success for my absolute BEST effort. Indeed, I was fearful of becoming embroiled in a subsequently discovered ongoing legal entanglement specifically with regard to special education at Clayton high school. But I digress. My unfavorable conclusion to quit was based on a careful analysis of my limited experience, the tools and materials available to me, the lack of a knowledgeable, and in my opinion crucial, special education coordinator, and the quality, serviceability, and acceptability of the facilities and equipment. This only begins an incomplete list of contraindicating qualifiers.

Additionally, the incomplete IEP (Individual Ed Program) records were in abominable condition on receipt, left in a cardboard orange-box in an unlocked room, and (in my admittedly limited and inexperienced estimation) did not match the reality of the student concerned. Moreover, the numbers of students, well over fifteen in some classes to begin with, were an unending flux of changing behaviors as students seemingly wandered from class to class with confusingly abrupt schedule changes. This suggested a lack of any clear plan or consistency, and a complete lack of individuality for the Barbour county special needs student. Lastly, the transit time, while rather long at over two hours, was still a pleasant country drive on nice roads with the news of the world piped in by National Public Radio as an added educational bonus, and so was not a real factor in my regrettable decision to leave.

My experience as an educator is limited to military platform, a recent college education I took FULLadvantage of, and a successful internship. My public education experience, admittedly, is nil. It may BE that I assess my Barbour county experience harshly as a result of it not living up to some rose colored view of education, in general, that I may have had. But that, Sir and Madam, would not serve accuracy.  I believe I have a clear understanding of what is required for the successful outcomes of students in public education. I believe I have an effective grasp of the prerequisites entailed in the production of successfully usefulyoung adults. Moreover, at a world weary advanced age I have very few comfortable illusions that I would even WISH to continue or maintain. Hardships and challenges have been my stock in trade for many years. This was not my first time at a rodeo, not even one of this type.

The tools and materials available to me were, frankly, a humiliating embarrassment to the sensibilities of this *junior* educator. Reluctant to even handle the moldering mounds of immaterial, tattered, and outdated books in a fetid pile, I discovered, amidst the roaches, candy wrappers, and mouse excreta, that no collection of irrelevant volumes was younger than twenty years. By all educated accounts, most of these books take a step forward only to take two or even three steps back with regard to engendering stereotypes, incorrect information, and corrosive bias. Besides, how can we expect students to find respect for books so OBVIOUSLY disrespected?

In addition to their stridently bogus relevancy these *books* also stank like old sweat and vomit—further increasing their ironic lack of appeal. Echoing this astonishing lack of simple relevant textbooks was a complete lack of even murky field-specific curricular guidance far beyond the wishes of a new teacher to have a clear idea and understanding of *what* to teach. There was NO established curricula—only the chance *finding* of skeletal documents explaining (tersely) the  occupational diploma, and a vague pamphlet regarding the life skill portfolio, pointed in the area of WHAT I was supposed to teach—at all. Given a supreme or even super human effort perhaps an experienced teacher could manufacture (certainly have already funded) a complete curriculum of some relevant quality... but whatever it was, it was clear that it was to come from ME if it was to come, and this was a condition (subsequently discovering the ominously ongoing lawsuit) that THIS new teacher found particularly unsettling and disquieting. Finally, I found the worrisome lack of forthcoming-ness from Barbour county regardingthese matters outside the bounds of what one could call a zone of minimal comfort. This worrying development did not contribute to a desire to stay.

Every school system that I have visited, observed ...where I have volunteered or interned —each has had a "hands on" special education coordinator that knows the system, reviews the records, assesses their quality, and generally (I would imagine) saves these institutions of public education thousands of dollars in avoidable due-process imbroglios. Barbour county does not appear to have one, or having one, is so fractionated and over burdened with other duties that this oversight of crucial auditing is just not getting done. Moreover, this oversight is so critical to the first few years of a serious special education teacher's development because so much of the process is EXPOSED by the records! It's quantifiable results are measured by them. It is in fact the very curriculum, as I understand the process. The lack of respectful attention to the records I examined was daunting to this new teacher at any rate, and certainly contributed to my decision to leave.

I arrived a week early to prepare my classroom and found, on the floor, a pile of outdated and unserviceable computers. The room smelled like a pile of soiled clothes (the lack of a serviceable air conditioner would have made the room truly uninhabitable), the bulletin board was gouged and almost unusable, and there was, inexplicably and astoundingly, NO WAY TO INITIATEcommunication with the front office!

The vice principle was in the next room behind two doors, but I had to leave the classroom to get him, and he was often away from his office. Add to this a broken desk, and a chair too large for the space, and one has the beginnings of the less than ideal classroom. I cleaned all the surfaces of the room with my own materials, cobbled together the best of the computers, and begged, or otherwise appropriated, the rest of the equipment from fellow teachers: a broken lectern, an overhead projector older than I was, and an old Macintosh (the rest of the school is PC) I was never able to get to work. The classroom was regularly used (over my protest!) as a shortcut by school personnel and casual students. On one occasion (and right in the middle of my class) it was invaded by a crowd of chattering students and the school nurse who noisily wheeled a screaming young woman (who was having a baby) right through my classroom as if we were not even there.

Indeed the classroom was a maze of meaningless and even bizarre interruptions—two of my most socially useful and crucial senior classes were both interrupted midstream for breaks or lunch. The breaks were especially inconvenient as the kids spent the time loading up on candy and soda to be burned off nonproductively in my classroom. When I asked the beleaguered but valiant principal why this was so he embarrassedly reported that it was one of the few ways to raise revenue for needed supplies.  God but it all seemed to be such patent disrespect to the students and the spirit of the school. Finally—there was no room to physically manage the overpopulation of students contributing to a powder keg that was predictably eventual. The classroom was, as already mentioned, infested, and many times provided disruption to the class. At this point I am beginning to feel DRIVEN away.

The IEP's themselves were on the way to being in the same condition as the textbooks and classroom, left (as already mentioned) unsecured in an unlocked room. I did not have a record for every student. The information I got when I asked about their whereabouts was that they were, perhaps, in the counselor's office, or even in the offices of the Barbour education board. Regardless, these records were not current, relevant or readily available to me making me feel like I didn't have the tools necessary to drain what was becoming my own ever increasing swamp. The records I DID have also seemed decidedly inaccurate, making impossible demands of students who did not demonstrate to me the requisite skill to accomplish the demanded task. Asking one student to pull main ideas from a passage that in reality the student could not even read, is an example. The professional anguish this suggested was daunting to this educator of limited experience and made me consider at this point even gracelessretreat.

It is understatement to merely report that there are too many children in the classroom for efficient special needs teaching—too many total, too many exceptionalities, and too capriciously changing. The classroom was packed for critical instruction with no room, potential, or capability for isolation, or any kind of physical student management. Isolation is CRITICAL to reduce stimulation in a conflicted young adult, to provide for meaningful individualization, and to keep an unwelcome and inappropriate exuberance from precipitating to the rest of the class. There was no room to physically manage these children but to take another child who may have been on task from that task , and move the offending student to another location. In many cases the students flatly refused to comply, anyway. My only recourse was to eject them from the classroom away from the task to a largely ineffective meeting with a large wooden paddle.

Additionally, every day another student or two would arrive, unannounced, with an incomprehensible schedule change—providing another distraction to a classroom condition already well over the line into the untenable. The number of the children, lack of comprehendible records, and their high sugar distractibility made individualization—teaching—laughably impossible. Advice from my "mentor teacher" included teaching one subject to the class and individualizing the evaluation, and adding an addendum to the *records*. While seeming to address the problem this method is a likely waste of the education dollar already so jealously spent, and does not have the desired outcome of drawing everything possible from the individual special needs student. Besides, it contributes to meaningless social promotion, and, I'm convinced, only fills prisons later on. As a sidebar, not spending a dollar now to save perhaps a hundred dollars on black hole institutions of incarceration later on is not what I am in the teaching profession for. I want to teach a kid how to read, and do long division. The field that I am in requires a high degree of individualization to accomplish that, especially necessary with the bafflingly changing population of students. Barbour county makes this extremely difficult to achieve.

Add to this a frustrating lack of real communication that irritated the kids—many times I could just not understand what they were saying (a predictable result of defacto segregation). Additionally, there is a huge capacity for violence (likely sugar fueled) that had me constantly avoiding fights in my classroom—becoming physically involved with them outside, and hearing about others involving, even, the student leadership of the school. All the classes on my last day were noticeably depleted as a result of one morning brawl, for example. It was an interestingly busy first three weeks, but interesting only in the manner of the Chinese curse (may one live in interesting times), and sadly, not suggesting that I would be effective were I to stay on. Finally, it only contributed to my decision to leave.

The harshness of the kids was expected, I hasten to point out. They did not contribute to my decision to quit. It was the seeming disrespect that the county had for them that did. I could not be a supporter of this inexplicable and ironic (certainly ultimately disastrous) defacto segregation. I could not be a member of that kind of team. And, what could it be but the clear and demonstrable disrespect of Barbour county for the sensibilities, moralities, and realities of it's rural special education population and, indeed—entire student body. One wonders what well hidden old southern aristocracy or outdated ideal allows this unfortunate and cross purposed educational conundrum to continue. I mean no disrespect, and then I mean every disrespect!

I gave Barbour county its money's worth. I demonstrated, and was prepared to devote the focus of my life to an educational effort for the special needs kids of Barbour county. I arrived early; I worked late. I financed its production from my own pocket. The experience cost me about $500 dollars. I felt MY responsibility to the county was honored, but Perhaps Barbour county feels that its responsibility to the teachers of its children stops with its inappropriately tiny pay check. This may be symptomatic of the conditions at Barbour county schools. Plainly, it is disrespect personified to be in alert status, playing an educated game of moving selected students from the forth stanine to the fifth stanine, a practice of other alert schools, but a practice gratifyingly condemned by Clayton's principal who would prefer to "educate ALL of the children ALLof the time," The best, and likely only, ethical alternative.

Solutions to insoluble problems are largely a matter of showing respect, I've discovered in the winter of my middle age. This high school needs an infusion of it in the form of facilities, many more teachers, and in as much as I saw as much as a sixth of the entire student body in my class (and I was one teacher in twenty four), many of them should be special needs teachers.

These kids ARE getting their education, sir and madam, but it's coming from their group of peers, "HOT" 105, TV, and gangsta' rap—not from the classrooms of Barbour county. Seemingly, Barbour county is where the student's society demonstrates contempt for them—driving them into the arms of the former.

The lack of respect demonstrated for them in their classrooms with regard to educational materials that smell (as if they have been splashed with urine and vomit) is returned exponentially in the smoky contempt and disrespect that Barbour county students generate, display, and shed reflexively, automatically, and with regularity. This is not restricted to the special needs population but is rampant from its "top" students on down. Please be advised that these are not the piqued and offended sensibilities of an old soldier used to (a largely mythical) military discipline. All allowances that can be made allow for that. My observations try to carry minimal bias. All I mean is to give these kids something to respect, demand that respect, and usually get it! Fill real schools now, or tragic prisons later on . . . right now I perceive Barbour in a tragically avoidable actualization of the latter.

I am reluctant to contribute to that, and so I am regretfully compelled to withdraw. My apologies to the County for any inconvenience I may have caused, but, in all honesty, sir and madam, the fault was not mine.  Remains, finally, the advice of the County's administration to "go ahead and sign" a fraudulent contract I'd already refused to sign because it indicated too much salary based on degrees that I did not have.  That was one straw passed the penultimate, eh?  So, not why did I quit so much as why was I driven away?

I suspect that we can in turn suspect an answer to that question...

Alfred Lehmberg