Claims of non-tenured teachers of color being let go in New York
SENEGAL MARBRY | 7/16/2015, 2:35 p.m.
New claims have risen regarding non-tenured teachers of color here in New York City being dismissed from their positions without cause.
In an interview with the Amsterdam News, African-American teacher Steven Mollette, a 10-year veteran who was let go last year from M.S. 232 in the Bronx, said, “I don’t know why I was discontinued. The documents they submitted were my evaluations, which had all satisfactory ratings, not great, but satisfactory rather than ineffective. Not grounds for termination, and the other thing I submitted was my attendance record. Out of 180 teaching days, I had only three minutes total lateness for an entire school year. I don’t know why from that information I was discontinued.”
Continuing, Mollette said, “I was the only Black male teacher in the whole school. The principal goes on out-of-the-country trips with students every year. He never takes African-American students and never takes African-American teachers. He knew I was trying to get tenure so he discontinued me then, because it would have been harder for him to do it later.”
His former principal, Neifi Acosta, could not be reached for an interview. However, because Mollette claims this case is an open case with the Department of Education, Acosta may not be able to legally share the reasons why the teacher was discontinued.
An organization helping to fight for educators who claim to have been fired without cause is Don’t Tread on Educators, a grassroots nonprofit working as a line of defense for teachers who believe they have been left out in the cold by the United Federation of Teachers.
Mollette, a member of DTOE, regarding UFT’s response to the attacks on non-tenured teachers, said, “The union told me I would have to wait about six months for a hearing, but I have been waiting for a full year now. I know teachers who got their hearing within the first few months. Something is going on here and isn’t right.”
When confronted with these opinions, the UFT press office linked the Amsterdam News to a statement about the process of protecting teacher’s jobs after administrators request that teachers’ positions be discontinued. The excerpt, from May 8, 2008, states, “You do have some rights to appeal a discontinuance, which you can opt to exercise at each step in the process. It is a good idea to contact your chapter leader and, if necessary, your UFT borough office as soon as you receive notification of a discontinuance so you can get the appropriate and expert advice and assistance of your union’s representatives.”
Two big questions arise. The first is why some African-American and Latino teachers are unable to get tenure to protect their jobs. Obtaining tenure means making it through a three-year probationary period, where you will be graded on categories such as classroom management and lesson planning. A teacher must then get a recommendation for tenure by the principal, have a record of his or her work during the probation period and pass all of the certification exams, which is where the problem for teachers in minority communities starts. On the Praxis core licensing exams of 2013, only 35 percent Latino first-time test takers passed, the rate being 21.5 percent for African-Americans. Also data from last year’s most difficult of the four certification exams shows that 64 percent of whites passed their first time, which is much higher than the 46 percent of first-time Latino test takers and 41 percent of first-time African-Americans who passed.
The second question is why a decreasing number of tenured African-American teachers even matters. Don’t children get the same quality of education with a good white teacher as a good Black teacher? Well, in “Teacher Diversity Revisited: A New State-by-State Analysis,” published by the Center for American Progress, Ulrich Boser writes, “Teachers of color can serve as role models for students of color, as we noted in our previous report, and when students see teachers who share their racial or ethnic backgrounds, they often view schools as more welcoming places.” Having diversity in schools gives students a better environment in which to learn and enhances their perception of what is possible for them to achieve.
Additionally, as educational leaders Richard Ingersoll and Henry May wrote in their report “Recruitment, Retention and the Minority Teacher Shortage,” “This view holds that minority students benefit from being taught by minority teachers, because minority teachers are likely to have ‘insider knowledge’ due to similar life experiences and cultural backgrounds,” giving even more grounds to the importance of diversity in today’s educational field and giving communities of color more reason to support effective minority teachers achieving tenure and retaining their positions in schools.