Teacher news



This Teacher Is Suing Her District Over Working for Free, Buying School Supplies


Teachers everywhere have had to buy their own school supplies, or been asked to work beyond their contract hours. Now, a South Carolina teacher is taking those issues to court. 

This summer, Shannon Burgess, a 6th grade English/language arts teacher, filed a lawsuit claiming that the Cherokee County school district required her to pay for necessary school supplies out of her own pocket and work for free at after-school events. The lawsuit is open for teachers across the state to join the class action. 

“It has long been a pattern of practice throughout this nation and the state of South Carolina that school districts … have unconscionably and impermissibly shifted operating costs of the classrooms directly on the financial backs of our teachers,” the lawsuit reads.

John Reckenbeil, Burgess’s attorney, said he expects the litigation to reach class-action status in the start of the new year. While he can’t sign other teachers on until then, he said there has been interest, especially on the issue of school supplies. 

Teachers Spend Hundreds of Dollars a Year on School Supplies. That’s a Problem (Opinion)

This case isn’t saying that teachers shouldn’t have to pay for any supplies out of pocket, Reckenbeil said—but rather, they shouldn’t have to pay for supplies that are deemed essential to do their job. 

“If a teacher is required to literally pay for copy paper, and they have to go make copies of tests that are mandatory under state law, … then I think that copy paper is going to fall under a category that is mandatory for a teacher to do their job,” he said. “It’s not going to be stuff that is arbitrary or stuff that they want to have, like orange thumbtacks for a Thanksgiving bulletin board.”

The lawsuit alleges that the district has a budget for supplies and materials, but Burgess was still asked to pay for items that would benefit her employer—which cut into her paycheck.

National data show that 94 percent of public school teachers spent their own money on classroom supplies without reimbursement during the 2014-15 school year. On average, these teachers spent $479. Many teachers told Education Week that they felt obligated to purchase supplies because otherwise, their students would go without.

‘Taking Advantage of Our Professionalism’ 

Burgess alleges that she was required to sell concessions at after-school sporting events—time that was outside of her contract hours and that she wasn’t paid for. She also claimed that her principal required all teachers to purchase a gift basket that would be auctioned off to benefit the parent-teacher organization. 

In a statement provided to WIS News, the Cherokee County district said it could not comment on specific allegations, but it thanked teachers for their willingness to “go the extra mile” for their students. 

But to Sherry East, the president of the South Carolina Education Association, this is an example of districts “taking advantage of our professionalism.” And it happens all the time, she said. 

“Nobody was shocked” at the lawsuit, she said. Instead, educators thought, “someone finally is taking it to the next level. We get calls about similar things every day. Teachers are doing extra duties that are not academic duties. … A lot of teachers are buying their own paper.” 

For instance, teachers are often asked to be present at after-school events, or even bake for fundraisers or events, said Lisa Ellis, a high school journalism teacher in Blythewood, S.C., and the founder of the grassroots teachers’ group, SCforED. 

“Teachers always do what’s in the best interest of students, and so the status quo has been able to take advantage of that,” she said.

Poor working conditions are partially why so many teachers are leaving the profession, East said. Last year alone, more than 5,300 South Carolina teachers left the classroom. 

“Teachers are like, ‘We’ve had enough. I just can’t do anything else for you,'” she said. “It’s time to stand up. … I hope [the lawsuit] will be an eye-opener for the whole state, that this isn’t an isolated incident, that it’s common practice.” 

In May, thousands of teachers across the state of South Carolina left their classrooms to protest at the state legislature for a pay raise and smaller class sizes. The legislature raised teacher starting pay, gave an across-the-board 4 percent pay raise, and gave early-career teachers an up to 10 percent raise. 

In the coming legislative session, East said the state education association’s priorities are an additional 5 percent across-the-board pay raise and improvements in working conditions. They’re asking for elementary teachers to get 30 minutes a day of duty-free time, lower class sizes, and fewer required tests. 

“Teachers have been dumped on here for a long time,” she said. “You wouldn’t ask a mechanic to fix your car for free. … Yet we think it’s OK for teachers to do stuff all the time off the clock for free. All of the non-academic stuff that gets dumped on teachers is really starting to weigh” on us.  

Reckenbeil said he hopes this lawsuit is a chance for teachers to get some relief without waiting for legislative action. The lawsuit is seeking an award of unpaid wages and restitution of money used to buy mandated items for all those in the class action. 

“This is just really a point in time where [teachers] have to have an advocate fighting for them, and they’ve been getting screwed, I think,” he said. 

Image via Getty



A new law in Texas will make it easier for schools to discipline students who harass teachers

(CNN)As students in Texas head back to school in the coming weeks, a new law will make it easier for schools to discipline students who harass teachers.

The law, which goes into effect on September 1, was passed by the Republican-dominated state legislature in May after a statewide teacher association asked for it to be considered. It requires that public school students who harass school employees be removed from their regular classrooms and be referred to disciplinary alternative education programs, also known as DAEPs.
DAEPs are currently used in Texas an alternative to suspension or expulsion for students who are considered disruptive. Students in DAEPs take classes and learn behavioral management skills separate from their peers in traditional classrooms for a temporary period of time.
The Texas Classroom Teachers Association said it had been receiving reports of students threatening teachers without consequence, and that the law was necessary to ensure educators felt safe in their workplaces and to minimize classroom disruptions.
“One of the main reasons teachers leave the teaching profession is working conditions and we think that this is going to make working conditions a little better,” Lonnie Hollingsworth Jr., general counsel for TCTA, told CNN.
It’s unclear how often teachers or other school employees in Texas are harassed by students, because the state doesn’t track specifically track those incidents.

Opponents say the law is too vague

Some social justice advocates are concerned that the law’s broad definition of what constitutes harassment will lead to a significant increase in the number of students that are sent to DAEPs. They also argue that it would disproportionately affect students with disabilities and students of color.
Under the law, a student could be removed from their regular classroom and placed in a disciplinary program for behavior that includes making an “obscene” comment, threatening to inflict bodily harm, falsely saying that someone has died or been injured and making repeated phone calls.
“Young people, especially those in middle and high school, might have playful dynamics with their teachers, might have rapport where something can be misinterpreted very easily with this new law, where a young person curses or says something in jest,” Andrew Hairston, director of the School-to-Prison Pipeline Project at Texas Appleseed, said.
Take for example, a student who says “F*** you” to a teacher. The Texas penal code defines an obscene comment as “containing a patently offensive description of or solicitation to commit an ultimate sex act.” But the decision on whether that comment is considered obscene is up to school administrators to decide.
“Is that an obscenity under the Texas penal code? I would say it probably isn’t,” Hollingsworth said. “On the other hand, I would also say if a student does engage in that misbehavior, they should be considered for removal to a DAEP because that kind of disruptive activity seriously impacts the education of the other students in the classroom.”

Advocates point out safeguards

Hollingsworth said the law contains safeguards to prevent students from being removed from classrooms in situations that might not warrant it.
Before school officials determine whether a student is placed in a disciplinary program, the teacher who says they were harassed has to meet with that student and the student’s parent. Administrators also have to consider whether the student acted in self-defense, what their intent was and whether they have a disability, among other factors.
But Hairston said he fears that school districts could overlook such factors in an attempt to resolve these situations more quickly, landing students in disciplinary programs indefinitely. He said he was concerned that the quality of instruction in those programs was inadequate and could put disciplined students far behind their peers.
Hairston said that state legislatures should allocate resources for schools to hire more trained mental health professionals, including counselors, psychologists and social workers.
“I think that would pay significant dividends in both the cultural shift that needs to take place in a lot of schools across the country and in fostering an environment where young people and educators feel like they are supported and they can thrive and they can flourish,” he said.
Joy Baskin, director of legal services for the Texas Association of School Boards, said how the law is applied will ultimately depend on the districts in which these incidents happen.
“It is important obviously to protect teachers and other employees and allow them to do their work without fear of harassment or threat. So in those respects, this is a helpful tool,” she said. “On the other hand, I think there is some potential that it could be viewed more broadly than it needs to be and I think it’s going to come down to a case-by-case assessment about whether the factors have been met.”


Why ineffective teachers rarely get low ratings

While kids enjoy their summer vacations, most teachers are still working. Why? Because many across the U.S. are struggling to make ends meet.

In fact, the amount teachers make can vary greatly by state. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the lowest 10 percent of high school teachers earn less than $38,180 and the highest 10 percent earn more than $92,920.

That’s one reason why Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, decided to move to Texas, where teachers are paid significantly more. He told NPR, “It feels good because I know I’m doing the right thing for my family, but it also feels sad.”


Sheehan and his wife Kaysi, also a public school teacher, bring in $3,600 a month. “After all bills are paid, we’re sitting on about $400-450 per month,” he explains.

When the Sheehan family had their first child, they had to reassess their finances. “Sure, life can be done on $400, $450 a month, but I would challenge others out there to buy diapers, groceries and all the things that you need for a family of three on $400,” he says.

The average salary for a high school teacher in Oklahoma is $42,460. In Texas, the average salary is $55,500, but the Sheehans will be making even more than that. Both have been offered positions that include $40,000 raises.

Oklahoma pays its teachers less than any other state, according to the BLS.


Hero Images | Getty Images

The five lowest-paying states for high school teachers:

1. Oklahoma

Annual mean wage: $42,460

2. Mississippi

Annual mean wage: $43,950

3. South Dakota

Annual mean wage: $44,210

4. North Carolina

Annual mean wage: $45,220

5. West Virginia

Annual mean wage: $45,240


Jetta Productions | Getty Images

As states compete to best educate their students, they also are vying for the best teachers. Hawaii, a state where the average salary for a high school teacher is $58,480, is currently facing a teacher shortage. The state is having difficulty filling 1,600 open teacher positions.

Barbara Krieg, assistant superintendent for the Office of Human Resources, told the AP, “Teachers are in such demand everywhere. Every school district is trying to steal from the other’s district.”

The five highest-paying states for high school teachers:

1. Alaska

Annual mean wage: $82,020

2. New York

Annual mean wage: $81,410

3. Connecticut

Annual mean wage: $76,260

4. New Jersey

Annual mean wage: $75,250

5. California

Annual mean wage: $74,940

In order to best recruit talented educators, some states are paying up.


Why heroin and classroom sex aren’t enough to get teachers fired anymore


The city’s bad-apple teachers have a surprising new ally these days — Manhattan judges.

The jurists are increasingly refusing to side with city education bigs to punish rogue educators fired for drug- and sex-related offenses, according to a review of recent cases by The Post.

At the heart of the troubling trend is a legal standard that requires the courts to defer to the city’s Department of Education when it terminates a teacher — unless the judge believes that the firing “shocks the conscience,” experts said.

Given the growing number of overturned punishments, it is clear that the “shock” threshold is “getting easier and easier to meet,’’ a court source noted.

Some legal observers insist that the judges aren’t to blame, arguing that it is really the fault of city education officials for leveling overly harsh punishments against bad teachers in the first place because they don’t want to be criticized in the press.

But disgusted education advocates aren’t buying it.

“To me, this just exemplifies the lack of common sense that permeates our legal system,” said James Copland, director of legal policy at the nonpartisan education think tank the Manhattan Institute.

“We worry about the quality of our classrooms, the quality of education we’re providing our children.

“But the legal system seems bent on protecting the rights of teachers to extraordinary degrees and leaves the students vulnerable.”

The controversial “conscience’’ standard has been around since the 1970s, when it was established by the state’s highest court.

The Court of Appeals wrote in Pell v. Board of Education that judges should typically defer to education officials because they are ultimately responsible for their 77,000 employees.

For decades, the ruling meant that judges rarely second-guessed DOE arbitrators’ disciplinary rulings. But experts, citing several overturned high-profile cases in recent years, say that way of thinking is rapidly changing.

For example, trial and appeals courts alike found it “shocking” that a Brooklyn high school teacher was canned for bringing heroin to court in a backpack.

The courts also were “shocked’’ at the firing of two female romance-language teachers over a topless tryst in a classroom.

Last month, the city was forced to appeal a court ruling that sent a Queens elementary school teacher back into the classroom even after she flunked three of her four previous performance ratings.

Veteran PS 2 teacher Lisa Broad had been fired in 2014 after “three different senior administrators found that Broad poorly planned and executed lessons, failed to implement key teaching strategies, confused students, and wasted lesson time,” city lawyer Ryan Mangum argued in the appeal.

Not only that, “the record is also replete with instances of Broad’s professional misconduct, which included her fabrication of grades, flouting of deadlines, and violations of school policy by bringing a knife to school, having physical contact with a student, and leaving school premises during the school day without telling anyone,” Mangum wrote.

Judge Alice SchlesingerRick Kopstein

Still, lower-court Judge Alice Schlesinger — the same Manhattan jurist who found it “excessively shocking and severe” that two Brooklyn teachers were canned for the topless classroom romp — said Broad should keep her job because she was a “beloved teacher who had 27 years of experience under her belt.”

Mangum wrote in his appeal that Schlesinger misread the law, arguing that it only gives her “extremely narrow” grounds for overturning the DOE’s decision to fire Broad.

“The disciplinary process is a crucial aspect of DOE’s operations, because it is the process by which DOE identifies poorly performing teachers, makes efforts to help them improve, and dismisses those who frustrate DOE’s operations or are beyond reasonable remediation,” Mangum wrote.

“This process becomes unworkable when courts freely second-guess an independent arbitrator’s findings regarding disciplinary decisions,” he said.

But the fight to fire the teacher may be an uphill battle.

Cindy Mauro, Alini Brito

The same Manhattan appeals court currently considering Broad’s case upheld Schlesinger’s 2012 ruling reinstating the infamous tryst teachers, Alini Brito and Cindy Mauro.

In 2009, a janitor caught Brito and Mauro half-undressed in a darkened classroom at Brooklyn’s James Madison High School while students performed in a talent show in the auditorium.

The Manhattan appeals panel reasoned in 2014 that the women should not have been fired because the sexual shenanigans occurred after hours and were not witnessed by any students.

Their lawyer, Michael Valentine, said the case has now been widely cited by other teachers in fighting their own ousters.

“The Appellate Division decision in our case really gave the New York County judges some flexibility. I believe the courts are starting to rule against the DOE on the imposition of penalties,” Valentine said.

He claimed that Schlesinger “may have prevailed upon the hearts of some of her colleagues to take a closer look at some of this instead of just blindly rubber-stamping the [DOE] decisions,” Valentine said.

“It’s good precedent,” he said.

Copland, the Manhattan Institute scholar, disagreed.

In addition to Valentine’s two clients, he said it was outrageous that the courts reinstated teachers such as Park Slope educator Terrell Williams — who pestered his students for dates with their relatives — and heroin-holding Williamsburg instructor Damian Esteban.

Terrell WilliamsFacebook

“It’s patently absurd that teachers who are soliciting dates from their students’ moms or having sex in classrooms or carrying around heroin can’t be fired from their jobs,” Copland said.

“But that’s what the courts are doing, and they’re overriding the common-sense decision-making of administrators who are trying to run the schools to help the students learn.”

As with the sex-romp teachers, Manhattan’s appellate court said Williams should not have been booted from the classroom.

Williams, an eighth-grade gym instructor at PS/MS 282, did “not violate any specific rule or regulation,” the panel found in September.

Five female students testified at a DOE hearing in 2013 that Williams approached them at a volleyball practice and asked “whether they had older sisters, how old [their siblings] were, what they looked like and whether he could have their phone numbers,” according to court papers.

The questioning made the students feel “uncomfortable,’’ and one mother filed a complaint when Williams texted her daughter, according to court papers.

But Williams’ ouster “shocked” the judges — while their ruling horrified parents at PS/MS 282.

“I don’t feel like he should be allowed to teach again,” dad Corey Settles told The Post when the decision was released in September.

With Esteban, the appeals judges ultimately found him unfit to teach, despite what a lower court ruled.

‘As a political matter, [the DOE] would rather see a judge slammed in the New York Post than the DOE slammed in the New York Post.’

 – CUNY Professor David Bloomfield

The higher court rejected the 2013 ruling by Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Manuel Mendez, who decided that termination was too harsh a penalty for having heroin.

The teacher lost his job at the Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design after he was caught with the illegal drugs during a routine security check while he was serving on a jury in Manhattan Criminal Court in 2012.

The higher court reversed Mendez’s decision in 2015, saying that it was “not irrational or against public policy” to fire Esteban for “public possession for heroin.”

Benjamin Dictor, the lawyer who represented Esteban, said that while his client ultimately lost his bid to be reinstated, the courts’ recent trend to back embattled educators is just backlash against an overzealous DOE.

“To the extent there is such a trend, I think it may be a result of the disciplinary process within the Department of Education becoming more punitive,” Dictor said.

CUNY Professor David Bloomfield contends that the DOE would rather be harsh on teachers than be criticized by the press.

“As a political matter, [the DOE] would rather see a judge slammed in the New York Post than the DOE slammed in the New York Post,” Bloomfield said.

Bloomfield said judges also “are really reluctant to fire someone from their job and their career. It’s the individual before them, and not the children who may be affected by this.”

Still, he said, “great deference to administrative decisions is a judicial tradition that makes sense.”

The state Legislature, with the support of the teachers union, created the independent arbitration system to handle such disciplinary issues.

Those arbitrators hold full hearings on the allegations, as opposed to judges who are looking at a record.

Dictor said the department, taking its cue from the judges, might now finally be softening up on teachers.

He said he has cited pro-teacher rulings by Schlesinger and the Appellate Division to recently beat back departmental charges against his clients.

“We’ve had a couple of cases in the past year that we’ve gotten very favorable results from arbitrators on,” Dictor said.

Still, Bloomfield predicted that too many rulings favoring questionable teachers could cause the pendulum to swing the other way.

In its first set of decisions in 2017, Manhattan’s Appellate Division refused to toss out an arbitrator’s termination of a Bronx elementary school teacher named Janet Levy-Napoli.

The PS 146 teacher refused to improve her skills after three years of unsatisfactory ratings.

Termination for her stubbornness “does not shock the court’s sense of fairness,” a five-judge panel wrote in a Jan. 3 ruling.



Amazon Unveils Online Education

Service for Teachers

Just ahead of the back-to-school season, Amazon plans to make a major foray into the education technology market for primary and secondary schools, a territory that Apple, Google and Microsoft have heavily staked out.

Monday morning, Amazon said that it would introduce an online marketplace with tens of thousands of free lesson plans, worksheets and other instructional materials for teachers in late August or early September.

Called Amazon Inspire, the education site has features that may seem familiar to frequent Amazon shoppers. Search bar at the top of the page? Check. User reviews? Check. Star ratings for each product? Check.

By starting out with a free resources service for teachers, Amazon is establishing a foothold that could expand into a one-stop shopping marketplace — not just for paid learning materials, but for schools’ wider academic and institutional software needs, said Tory Patterson, co-founder of Owl Ventures, a venture capital fund that invests in ed tech start-ups.

“Amazon is very clearly positioning itself as a disrupter with this move,” Mr. Patterson said.

Amazon is joining other tech industry giants in a push to expand the use of technology in the public schools.

Last year, primary and secondary schools in the United States spent $4.9 billion on tablet, laptop and desktop computers, according to a report by Linn Huang, a research director at the International Data Corporation, a market research firm known as IDC. Schools bought 10.8 million Apple, Google Chrome and Microsoft Windows devices in 2015, he said.

Because its devices tend to cost more, Apple accounted for the largest slice of school computer sales, amounting to $2.2 billion, Mr. Huang said. By volume, however, Chromebooks — the inexpensive laptops that run on Google’s Chrome operating system — have taken schools by storm, accounting for more than five million devices bought last year, he said.

Even so, ed tech industry analysts said the growing market for digital educational materials, which Amazon is entering, is likely to prove much more valuable over time than the school computer market.

Already, nursery through high schools in the United States spend more than $8.3 billion annually on educational software and digital content, according to estimates from the Software and Information Industry Association, a trade group. That spending could grow significantly as school districts that now buy physical textbooks, assessment tests, professional development resources for teachers and administrative materials shift to digital systems.

In a phone interview, Rohit Agarwal, general manager of Amazon K-12 Education, said the new site was intended to make it easier and faster for teachers to pinpoint timely and relevant free resources for their classrooms.

“Every teacher should be able to use the platform with zero training,” Mr. Agarwal said. He added: “We are taking a big step forward to help the educator community make the digital classroom a reality.”

The site for teachers is not Amazon’s first education venture. In 2013, the company acquired TenMarks, a math instruction site. (Mr. Patterson of Owl Ventures is also a partner at Catamount Ventures, a firm that was an investor in TenMarks.)

In March, the New York City public schools, the largest school district in the country, awarded Amazon a three-year contract, worth an estimated $30 million, to provide e-books to its 1.1 million students.

In the school market, however, Amazon is competing not just with rival tech companies but also with established digital education companies and ed tech start-ups.

A number of popular platforms already offer instructional materials for teachers. Among them are tes.com, a site based in London with more than eight million users worldwide, and teacherspayteachers.com, a site based in Manhattan that more than two million teachers use regularly.

Like Amazon Inspire, these sites let teachers search for materials by subject matter, like fractions or mitosis, and by grade level. Like Amazon Inspire, tes.com lets teachers download lessons and edit them to suit their students. (Some resources on teacherspayteachers.com may also be edited.)

Mr. Agarwal said the company’s new instructional resources site would be able to differentiate itself by being more intuitive for teachers who are Amazon users and by offering compelling new features.

“With the technology, content and expertise that Amazon has, we believed we could provide value,” he said.

Amazon timed its announcement to coincide with ISTE, the annual conference of the International Society for Technology in Education, which about 16,000 teachers and school officials are attending in Denver this week. Other tech giants also unveiled new education ventures during the conference.

On Sunday, Microsoft said that it was working with ISTE to help schools introduce and integrate technology in the classroom. The project includes training programs for school administrators, online leadership courses developed with edX — a learning platform created by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — and services to support schools as they adopt digital learning approaches.

On Monday, Google said it was making Expeditions, a free virtual reality app for students that has been available on a limited basis to schools, generally available. More than one million students tried the app during its test phase, the company said.

Google also introduced two new products for schools: Quizzes, an online form that teachers can use to give tests and automatically grade multiple-choice questions, and Cast for Education, a free Chrome app intended to promote class discussion by enabling teachers and students to share what is on their screens with one another.




Wipe out teachers’ student debt after

seven years, says thinktank

The shortage of teachers if threatening the life chances of a generation, say education experts.Forgivable fees’ for those who remain in profession among ideas for attracting more graduates amid shortage

The shortage of teachers if threatening the life chances of a generation, say experts. Photograph: FangXiaNuo/Getty Images/iStockphoto

New teachers should have their outstanding student debt wiped out after they have been in the profession for seven years, says a report on attracting more graduates into teaching.

The introduction of a policy of “forgivable fees” could mean a teacher who started work in their early 20s could be free of university tuition fee debt by 30.

The policy is one of a number of ideas put forward in a report by the Higher Education Policy Institute thinktank to help tackle a growing shortage of teachers, which experts warn is threatening the life chances of a generation.

The report, published on Thursday, says the current system of bursaries aimed at attracting graduate talent is not sufficiently effective and calls on the next government to think again about how to make teaching a more attractive option.