Parent Writes Letter Supporting Teacher to the School Board:
Principals cleverly arrange to set up parents against teachers by staging events that anger the parents in spite of their cost to the children. In April of 1998, Horwitz, Avoca School District in Illinois, called in sick on a Sunday, and the next day she saw her internist complaining of chest pains. She described the deplorable working conditions at her school and told the doctor she had no way of knowing if the pains were related to her heart or to anxiety as the district was constantly harassing her. Her doctor determined she needed to remove herself from that hostile environment for two weeks and see how she felt.
The next day, Horwitz notified the substitute caller, indicating she would be out for the rest of the week. Rather than say two weeks, Horwitz thought perhaps one week would suffice, since she wanted to spend the least time away from her students. Monday, a colleague called Horwitz to see how she was, indicating that the floating substitute had been in her class. (The former librarian had been demoted to a floating substitute in a strategy to drive her out of her position using the humiliation technique, but they had to maintain her salary by contract.) Knowing that this sub was being paid $70,000+ to be on call, Horwitz knew that at least her class would have continuity until she returned. Rarely do districts pay for a full time substitute unless the district is sizable, and then the normal pay is closer to an aide's pay, or about $18-20,000 per year. Since Avoca District had less than 700 children in total, even paying $20,000 for someone to be on call and possibly do nothing, or co-teach to keep busy, made no sense. So Horwitz assumed that the principal would not dare play games and pull this person from her class as the parents would protest spending all that money and still not having continuity for their children. They would rightfully demand that this excess should minimally buy them this. At that point, Horwitz was unaware that administrations have so much power they can get away with anything as parents are virtually powerless too. Squandering tax money is the administrators's pleasure.
On Tuesday, the substitute phoned to check on Horwitz and assured her that her lesson plans were fine. She had looked over the entire week and felt things were under control.
Horwitz, who felt like one week off might suffice, didn't want to take any chances, so she went to see her cardiologist that Thursday who did a test and later determined her heart was fine. While she was at the doctor's office, she received a frantic call from Rosemary Weiss, a parent and occasional substitute with whom Horwitz had had a friendly relationhip who was subbing in Horwitz's class that day. When Horwitz returned home, on her answering machine she heard Weiss sounding desperate saying "everything was a mess." She didn't know what to do. There were no plans and no one could find the work" that had supposedly been copied for class that day. Horwitz knew Weiss had to be put up to something since she knew she had left plans, which the former sub had confirmed the plans were fine for the week. Furthermore, that sub had been pulled from her class. That made no sense. In addition, the time on the answering machine indicated she had called during the free period. Thursday mornings consisted of Horwitz' extensive free time. The students came in for morning check in and within ten minutes they were taken to physical education for thirty minutes. Then they went right to art for another fifty minutes. This meant that Weiss had a minimum of eighty minutes to make more copies if she couldn't find the ones left there, as well as check with other fifth grade teachers for plans as indicated on Horwitz's sub guide.
Then when Weiss mentioned she had spoken with Joe Baker and Vinni, the principal, and they couldn't find anything, Horwitz was even more certain something fishy was happening. On her sub folder Horwitz had indicated the other two fifth grade teachers as people to consult when she was out. They were more ifamiliar with what Horwitz was doing. Furthermore, Baker had proven to be a buddy to the principal, reporting Horwitz's every move that year. The principal had managed to stir up all kinds of animosity between Baker and Horwitz and Baker fell for it. Although they had a cordial relationship, it was compromised due to his propensity to tattle.
Furthermore, Horwitz surmised that the sub had been pulled from her class so that Principal Biancalana could manipulate things. This teacher was too friendly with Horwitz and would not have gone along with lying, or at least Biancalana would have thought that at the time. Also, Entin was wise to Biancalana's cruel treatment of teachers as she had been demoted to this position and humiliated by her, being called in for going to the washroom during a meeting amongst other petty issues. Weiss most likely had no idea of the evil politics brewing at this school. And Biancalana could kill two birds with one stone. Not only could she stir up problems in the classroom more easily, but by changing subs each day, she could get the parents angry at Horwitz for causing this. Later Horwitz found out that Weiss was the third replacement for Horwitz, since another sub had been placed in her class on Wednesday. In one week there was a total of four subs.
Lastly, Horwitz was certain this was harassment orchestrated by the principal because earlier that year she had been accused of not having lesson plans when all of the post-its on her plans were mysteriously removed. Horwitz knew she had left plans with post-its secured on them and locked her door. The substitute for that day, who was an aide at the school, had written a note indicating that all the work was in the folder so she managed to deal without the plans and the day went fine. But Biancalana wrote a memo accusing her of having no plans, along with a copy of a letter written to Biancalana from that same sub saying there were no plans. Confused that the sub had written a positive note to her but a negative note to the principal, Horwitz asked that sub whether her red binder with the plans was on her desk. She replied that it was, but nothing was written on the basic template Horwitz had created. Horwitz realized that the sub was more than likely indirectly coerced into writing that, so she ended the conversation cordially and said no more. The next day Horwitz received a memo accusing her of intimidating that sub by asking her about the letter that she had written saying there were no plans. Horwitz simply saved both of these false accusations as more issues to address in court. She knew it was hopeless to get any relief within this district at that point.
With this history in mind, Horwitz knew Weiss could not be sincere. Horwitz became extremely upset, feeling as though this was going to set her back and make it impossible to return to her job the next week. To think another friend would turn on her like that was quite despairing. She called her husband, who was acting as her attorney at that time and together they decided she needed to protect herself from their cruelty for the sake of her health. It was obvious that Biancalana had enough power to engage almost anyone to harass her. He immediately faxed a letter stating that Horwitz's doctor had ordered that she remove herself from the hostile environment and that no one from the district was to contact her until her cardiologist indicated a clear bill of health. That way Weiss, or others ordered to harass Horwitz, would not be able to do so. Later Horwitz discovered that Weiss had written a letter to the principal stating that this was the "worst situation" she had ever encountered as a substitute and that she would never work in that class again. She also wrote a letter to the Friday substitute, who was to be the fourth substitute teacher that week, saying that there were no plans for Friday, when this was not true.
It never ceased to amaze Horwitz how the administrators could produce the documents they wanted. There was always some method of creating the "truth" with the power they had in their position. To this day she has not figured out why Weiss did this. In fact, the next year, she encountered her at a parent night at the high school and as she was walking by Weiss, she called out to Horwitz to say hello and to chat. Horwitz hadn't seen her, so she had a total opportunity to dodge Horwitz, something one would usually do after writing fabrications and attempting to ruin someone's career as she allegedly had. Weiss couldn't have been friendlier. It made Horwitz wonder if Weiss had written those notes. She knew, however, that Weiss had called. She also decided it was fruitless to question Weiss, as the truth would be impossible to discern. She figured she needed to wait until her day in court, thinking she would really have one. Obviously, it is so easy to manipulate an employee, that anything was possible. When Horwitz returned to her classroom, her lesson plans were there and there were plans for Friday.
Needless to say, with four different substitutes in one week, and lesson plans sabotaged, the classroom was chaotic. Children went home complaining to their parents, and one parent decided to phone and get to the bottom of all this. This parent knew little if anything about problems between the district and Horwitz, since Horwitz, attempting to remain professional, told no one unless they approached her. Upon phoning, the principal told the parent that Horwitz hadn't given them enough notice, which was why they had to have so many substitutes. Even though this parent was unaware that she was helping to pay for this $70,000 substitute that was available every day, but conveniently not available to stay with the class for the week, the parent knew that the comment discrediting was not right. She knew that it was the administration's duty to deal appropriately with absences of teachers and that they rarely did have advance notice. She realized that this principal was trying to blame Horwitz - the plan backfired.
Rather than becoming angry with Horwitz, she became angry with the principal. She wrote a letter to the board stating how pleased she was with Horwitz and how her son was in Horwitz's class for a second year, as the parent had requested, since Horwitz "knows how to teach to every pupil at his/her level so that the child can achieve what he/she is capable of."
She went on to say how dismayed she was over the conversation with the principal. She stated that, Ms. Biancalana did nothing to suggest that Ms. Horwitz was ill and that the course of her illness was of uncertain duration, or of concern to the administration. Instead, she told me that Ms. Horwitz caused this situation by calling last minute to inform of her absence, and that Ms. Horwitz was the continued cause of the lack of a consistent sub, since she did not know when she would return. She mentioned that, Ms. Biancalana was certainly hostile in her discussion of the teacher's absence. Her inference that Ms. Horwitz was responsible for the absence made me think she wanted me to join in placing blame on the teacher. She referred to another incident earlier that year where the principal created problems for the classroom by disappointing the students. The parent mentioned her fear that the principal might be intentionally jeopardizing the children in the class due to a dispute.
The principal's attempt to divide and conquer backfired further since this parent called Horwitz at home for the first time in two years, telling her of this episode and volunteering a copy of the letter. She asked if Horwitz had an attorney, offering her names of employment attorneys also.
However, it is not often the case that the parent sees through the games. Parents normally fall for these plots and develop ill will toward teachers, since the teachers rarely discuss any details, in fear the retaliation will escalate, or that they won't be believed. With parents assuming that the administrations are for the children, it is impossible to believe that a principal would behave like this, and much easier to believe that the teacher is at fault. With the playing field as unfair as it is, situations like this occur regularly. Not only is this teacher abuse, but it is institutionalized child abuse and few have a clue, or had a clue prior to NAPTA forming to get our voices out.
"Critical thinking is a double edged sword. And once a teacher starts to do it, she becomes dangerous in the age of decay."
Rotten Apples by Patti Powell.