Saturday, March 31, 2018

The English Department Faculty at Lyons Township High School Was Asked for Feedback on the Performance of an Incompetent English Department Chairman in 1991

The English Department Chairman has not inspired trust or developed a sincere rapport among most of the English Department teachers and himself but continues to alienate many members of the department. Both students and teachers also fear reprisal for their honesty about this situation.

The English Department Chairman does not exhibit openness and humaneness in dealing with many members of the department but shows a penchant for vindictiveness and hypocrisy; he is not adept at treating members of the department fairly; teachers who speak out against his policies believe they are in jeopardy, especially in the scheduling of classes.

The English Department Chairman uses a win/lose strategy when attempting to resolve conflicts with department members: “I am the department chairman and you will…” He shows little tact, diplomacy and discretion in dealing with many of the department members.

The English Department Chairman does not involve teachers fully in the decisions related to their work; he makes unilateral decisions regarding the Freshman Honors Program, the Senior Research Project, for instance, and imposes textbook choices and revamps some courses without input. He ignores the fact that the acceptance of any decision by members of the department is critical to its implementation; efforts that have been made in the past on significant issues in the department are disregarded or forgotten.

The English Department Chairman does not listen to or give precedence to differing opinions or ideas unless they are congruent with his own; the minutes from the department meetings are sketchy at best and often reflect only his opinions. Department meetings do not focus on substantive issues, such as the department’s direction: long and short-term goals, curriculum development, ability grouping, research requirements for students, writing across the curriculum, to name just a few. 

The English Department Chairman does not participate with teachers developing curricula; he does not appear to have an overview of the course offerings within the department or understand the course transitions from south to north campus, level to level, etcetera. He does not exhibit competence in planning, organizing and follow-through of important issues concerning the Writing Discovery Center. He is often inaccessible when important decisions need to be made.

The English Department Chairman uses evaluative procedures instead of descriptive and non-directive feedback techniques when observing members of the department, especially with new staff members. He destroys the self-esteem of the new teachers with negative and judgmental evaluations.

The English Department Chairman imposes his will on members of the department; he attempts to force change instead of making teachers the agents of change; he claims consensus of opinion based upon a minority in the department. He does not have the ability to relate effectively and empathically with faculty members with different value systems and educational philosophies. There is a perceived sense of isolation and aloofness given by him.

The English Department Chairman appears to not have thorough knowledge and understanding of all aspects of the English field, i.e., writing assessment, the broader scope of the English curriculum, the process approach to teaching composition, reading theory and research… He lacks the innovation and vision the department needs; he often refers to research jargon without showing an understanding of the integration of that research.

The English Department Chairman does not effectively implement the department’s policies and procedures; he maintains a double standard concerning department policies and procedures. He uses the department’s secretary as his own personal secretary: department requests are prioritized after his own; the department secretary types his personal correspondence, and answers the office telephone with his name instead of English Department Office. The office is no longer a center for camaraderie and formal or informal dialogue.

The English Department Chairman has not established a healthy, cooperative, and professional environment. Most of what is being accomplished in the department is done in spite of him.

The English Department Chairman has not contributed toward improving and maintaining the reputation of the English Department; instead, he promotes ill-will outside of the department and lacks sufficient respect from faculty and staff members of other departments.

The English Department Chairman does not provide the necessary educational, instructional, organizational, supervisory and administrative leadership essential for our English Department. He does not encourage an esprit for learning and good will among the department members. The morale of the department is at its worst. The climate is indifferent and cynical. There is a strong perception that the department chairman does not care about the school, its programs, its teachers and the community. 

-Glen Brown

Friday, March 30, 2018

Addressing an Incompetent English Department Chairman in 2007

To: The English Department Chairman
CC: The Administration of Lyons Township High School
From: Glen Brown
Subject: The English Department Chairman
Date: February 2007

Based upon my conversation with my colleagues and all of our on-going dialogues with more than 20 tenured and non-tenured English teachers at Lyons Township High School, we believe we have a serious leadership crisis in the English Department. Though non-tenured teachers, for fear of losing their jobs or reprisal, have remained silent, their silence must not be construed as an acceptance of the current state of affairs, nor are the tenured teachers’ voices that you have heard recalcitrant. 

On the contrary, we are willing to follow superior leadership that will help us to provide our students with the very best instructional practices and educational resources available to date. Moreover, we would be remiss and hypocritical if we contradicted the critical and challenging thinking we all admire and encourage in our own classrooms.

It is apparently alarming that our department’s morale is so low that some of the non-tenured teachers are talking about applying elsewhere. For the first time since the fall of 1991, we believe our classroom autonomy is threatened by unnecessary, officious demands and that the once respected and acknowledged teacher input within the department is not being heard and, most importantly, acted upon.

We believe a department chairman who makes unilateral decisions without building consensus from teachers is a foolish and dictatorial disregard of how successful implementation of ideas work. A top-down decision-making policy and procedure will never work in any high school department, especially ours. To not listen to teachers’ concerns is to ignore the rich history and plethora of knowledge available in the English Department at Lyons Township High School. Congenial efforts and spirited, intellectual debate leading to group acceptance has always been the road taken on significant issues that affect both teachers and, ultimately, the students.

To the English Department Chairman:

It is evident that you are not listening to our concerns; it appears that you have no concept of how to move this department forward and no original and insightful ideas or instructional leadership; nor do you know the various types of students and courses that we teach.

It wasn’t long after our first department meeting that you began bulldozing your limited teaching experiences over us, without recognizing and utilizing the vast expertise of this department and without understanding its outstanding tradition of writing assessment, process writing, portfolio use, reading theory and research.

You told us how much you “loved teaching”; nevertheless, you quit teaching full time after just three years. Your inexperience as a teacher alone should have propelled you in the direction of involving more experienced teachers fully in the decisions related to their work.

You lost our trust when you began to change our working conditions; when, without our input, you unilaterally changed - without sufficient information and without regard for sound educational purposes - the way we had been conducting writing assessments and evaluations under the previous department chairman. 

You lost our trust when you demanded “detailed notes” from us for every meeting; you lost our confidence when you developed an evaluative form for us to prove to you, in an end-of-the-year conference, that we were teaching writing to our students; and, most recently, when you requested that we give you a rationale for our course preferences.

Furthermore, you lost our respect when you ignored our most sincere overtures that proved our very real and most successful writing program at Lyons Township High School, as evidenced by our students’ multiple writing awards, recognition and excellent test scores; our intricate syllabi and curriculum maps, and the myriad of thank you letters we receive each year from our alumni and parents.  

You lost our support when you ignored our well-substantiated three-page document regarding our writing program and when you disregarded our attempt to communicate with you in small-group conferences about our concerns.

In our last department meeting, you responded evasively to our comments and questions. You were dictatorial about how you wanted us to respond and evaluate our students’ writing and demeaning about how you wanted us to use a rubric from junior high schools in our district. Such examples reveal a violation of the professional respect, personal integrity, and autonomy we have been afforded by previous chairpersons.

We love what we do here for our students. We work hard at school and at home because we love teaching. We are passionate about our profession, and we do it well. We are always held accountable by the highest professional standards we place upon ourselves. Many of us are at the top of our game right now because of an unwavering commitment and dedication to making the English department at Lyons Township High School the best it can be, and we believe we deserve the best, experienced leadership available to complement our continued success, which we believe you cannot provide.

Our department will move forward, but built upon the framework of this department’s collective vision and voice. We are worried about the morale of the department; we are worried about your strait-jacket approach to teaching, your specious regimentation of sameness and number of student compositions, and your inexperience and incompetence. We encourage the administration to use any method of evaluation to confirm the validity of the English Department’s most resolute concerns.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Many years ago, I had to defend why I taught this novel in my World Literature class to the school board and principal at Lyons Township High School.

“It is our belief, as English teachers, that all students have the right to materials and educational experiences that promote open inquiry, critical thinking, diversity in thought and expression, and respect for others in the public school classroom. Denial or restriction of this right is an infringement of intellectual freedom”—The Joint Committee of the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English.

Rationale for teaching the novel, The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski:

Thematically, The Painted Bird is a study of human and moral dilemmas, of the individual’s need for freedom in a society that not only threatens him but will not tolerate him. It’s an examination of prejudice and of the mindless cruelty and violence that exists in a war-torn world. 

By reading The Painted Bird, we come face to face with the horrors of the 20th century and throughout the history of mankind; we attempt together to understand this irrationality and to condemn it. The book makes us question our beliefs about good and evil. It makes us aware of hatred in this world and, through guided discussion in the classroom, our recourse to fight against it.

The Painted Bird offers an excellent study in character development as well: the child protagonist travels and meets various people and is confronted by their treachery and violence but escapes because of his resourcefulness and his will to survive. We find that despite the protagonist’s witnessing of the atrocities around him and his attempts to understand and rationalize these horrors, he will embrace humanity at the end of the novel by attempting to communicate to his fellow man after being mute for several years. The book ends with optimism.

The Painted Bird also offers an excellent study of symbolism: the young protagonist is “the painted bird” and is, thus, persecuted for being different. It is a study of racism and its ramifications. (He is dark haired and dark eyed and speaks the educated dialect among blond and blue-eyed peasants). The novel, with its dispassionate and objective point of view, allows the reader to examine the bitter realities of this world during WW II. The language does not titillate or incite us but rather it allows us to feel the terror of this child, all the while knowing that we, the readers, are safe from harm done to this protagonist, for it is through the child’s eyes that we are observing.

In teaching The Painted Bird, we prepare our seniors to meet the diversity of good and bad experiences in life to which they will be exposed. It is true that one can witness the horrors of war, violence, and terrorism at any age. Current evening news, newspapers, and our magazines will attest to the atrocities committed in the world. According to Kosinski, “if students are exposed to situations which depart from their ethical sense on a daily basis, it’s better that this occurs within the school’s classrooms than elsewhere.”

Essentially, schools are among the few remaining places that can help tomorrow’s adults become thinking individuals who are able to judge and survive in a world of conflicting values and moral ambiguities. Our high schools and universities offer one of the few structured forums for analyzing irrational acts of violence. They give our students the opportunity to critically evaluate the human condition under the auspices of a teacher and to engage in the interchange of dialogue among peers. 

It is true that much of modern literature deals with a reality that might be offensive to some people. It is also true that much of modern literature is shocking as is life itself. In a World Literature class, it is crucial for us to read and discuss precisely this reality along with other points of view. When the book raises the issues of brutality, it does not applaud these acts of violence but rather condemns them through diction that is not suggestive but clinically objective. 

The World Literature curriculum that I helped design at Lyons Township High School provides the context for understanding and for dealing with these terrors at a safe distance. It allows the student to raise the question of evil and empathize with the victim’s plight. Just as importantly, it allows the student to witness man’s inhumanity towards man not only as an organized and mindless form of terror and violence as seen in the study of the Holocaust found in the book, but one equally as mindless though spontaneous as made evident by the villagers themselves.