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.

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