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What can be done about teachers being too rigorous?

Original post made by Paly Parent, Palo Alto High School, on Apr 28, 2014

I feel so bad for the students who will fall prey to this sadistic teacher next year. Does complaining to the school help? A shame that students in one classroom are fine while the classroom next door, studying the same subject, are being tortured. Unsure if this teacher has tenure. What can the school do? If they can't fire the person, can they send them elsewhere in the district, such as somewhere they will dislike, like a different grade level, such as corporations sending someone into the corner?

Comments (38)

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Posted by paly parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 29, 2014 at 11:22 am

To answer your question "What can be done about teachers being too rigorous? " The issue is not just what "can" be done but what "will" be done. The answer to both is absolutely nothing.

In my experience with kids for 12 years total at Paly, unless the individual department decides to standardize the teaching level of its teachers, the teachers can do what they want. As long as our test scores are high, we have lots of National Merit scholars and our students get into Ivy's and other top schools, the attitude is if it is not broken, it doesn't need to be fixed.

There are many, many wonderful teachers in PAUSD but all it takes in one as you put it "sadistic" teacher to make a student's (and their family's) life miserable. And I found that issue started in 7th grade at Jordan and continued from there.


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Posted by There is Always One Bad Apple
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 29, 2014 at 3:31 pm

Ten years ago, my freshman son had a biology teacher that students and parents alike complained about repeatedly. We, and many others, complained to his counsellor, the dean, and the principal, and all claimed that for years they had tried to talk sense into her, but she insisted she was teaching a college level course, she was tenured, there was nothing they could do.

During this teacher's tenure at Paly, we later found, no student had ever received any grade higher than a C from her. Many of her students went on to become math and science majors in college, but many still complain about her to this day. Others were totally turned off to the sciences because of her. She informed all her students on Day One that her class was their most Important, and if they were overloaded with homework skip the other homework in favor of hers. The year my son had her she assigned so much homework over Xmas that it ruined the Day and the whole vacation, which we found we were not alone in complaining to the principal about. Again, we were told this teacher had been reprimanded, she replied that she was teaching a college-level course, she was tenured, there was nothing anyone could do.

And that is the way it was until she retired!


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Posted by Me, too!
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 29, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Any suggestions for parents of a child in the class of a teacher that has too rigorous a class?

My son is has become convinced that he hates science and that school has become a torture chamber.

Yet his natural inclination is to observe deeply and figure things out. He likes science, but hates school science.

He'll put in 1-2 hours a day for weeks preparing for a test, because he didn't learn the stuff well enough as it was taught. Some of this stuff is simply beyond him; the best he can do is try to remember answers to likely questions. This is an otherwise bright-seeming kid.

So do I let him alone? Push him? What works here?


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Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 29, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Something like 10 yrs ago an elderly female English teacher at Paly retired - she was flat out mean. I was stunned and it was unpleasant for my student. What an awful experience. I had ONE experience to send an email to this teacher owing to my student planning to be absent from school for a situation I will describe here vaguely as an honor; she was snippity and unenthusiastic. Completely uninterested and unsupportive, although I witnessed her being a smidgen nicer to a parent who kissed up (at back to school evening). Should NEVER have been a teacher.
But, I don't know about "rigor" being the issue per se. I don't know what teacher you are referring to, but I believe your account. A department should be all on the same page, more of less, with regards to curriculum and expectations. We have high stakes environments here in PA schools. What you want is to LEARN and while that takes effort it shouldn't be gratuitously unpleasant.


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Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 29, 2014 at 4:43 pm

@ Me, too!
Know that many Palo Alto parents have their students extensively tutored. You will have to decide whether to join that bandwagon or what. I suggest leveling with your student, stating you don't want this teacher to permanently sour your student on that subject, that there are alternative ways to learn things, one one's own, even. There is a good future and a big wide world out there outside of the sometimes unpleasant Palo Alto bubble. Perhaps visiting some scientific places, good museums, etc. may keep interest in the subject going.


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Posted by Private Parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 29, 2014 at 5:05 pm

What can be done?

I know it isn't an option available to everyone, but switching to a school that actually had to pay attention to what the parents thought certainly worked for my family.

Private schools don't have tenure, and if parents are unhappy, the school loses donations, students and reputation, and the school will fail. So they work very hard to make sure everyone is happy. Note that that _includes_ being sure that the education is good.

When my child needed a minor exception to a certain school policy, it was no big deal whatsoever to go in and talk to the principal and work out a mutally acceptable solution. Good luck when you need something like that at Paly or Gunn. Much less when you need a teacher switch.

Palo Alto Unified's management doesn't have to give a flying flip what you or anyone else thinks. They are so many elections and layers removed from you as a parent that it doesn't matter at all.


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Posted by watch...
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 29, 2014 at 8:44 pm

And all of these teachers are going to get a nice hefty 5% raise this coming year, maybe more.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 30, 2014 at 8:01 am

We had problem in the 70's and 80's. Had a niece who struggled in math- although as an adult she was successful in her demanding profession. She was put in a remedial class, and the male teacher would come in and say "Good Morning, you losers" !!! She was in top classes in music, art, literature, writing. For our son In the 80's also there was a math teacher so hung over in the morning that he had to hang on to the podium. Then there was the science teacher who refused to bathe. Said she had been raped once and would't take a shower- for some weird reason. The students finally went to the principal en masse. Teacher dismissed when counseling didn't help her. Tenure should be totally revised-now. The abuses have gone waaaaay too long.


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Posted by PAHS Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 30, 2014 at 10:26 am

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Private vs Public
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 30, 2014 at 11:50 am

My niece and nephew went to an expensive private school in Santa Cruz. One year recently, my nephew received a "D" for a semester grade in History. My sister-in-law went to the Headmaster and complained that she had " paid handsomely for a perfect transcript!". Eventually the school caved and changed the grade to a "B".

How's that for customer satisfaction???


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Posted by I know, teacher, pick me!
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 30, 2014 at 12:40 pm

"What can be done about teachers being too rigorous?"

Ummm, homework?


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 30, 2014 at 12:56 pm

"I know": What does THAT mean? This teacher gives so much homework that it takes time from all the other classes and impacts our entire family. This teacher is fine with assigning "D" grades to hardworking students. The class is a regular lane class, not an advanced lane.


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Posted by Private Parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 30, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Private vs Public:

If that actually happened, then that school's accrediting agency would love to hear about it.

But, whether true or not, Paly can't even keep students from streaking on campus. I know which place I would prefer my kids to be.


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Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 30, 2014 at 1:26 pm

@Private vs public
I happen to have some knowledge of private schools and I find that story very difficult to believe. Each private school I know has good ethics and reputation. If a private school were to change grades as you state, then colleges would be skeptical about offering admissions and there would be a very real repercussion in the ability of the school to even operate at all.

The PALY streaking nonsense should be stopped pronto.


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Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 3, 2014 at 12:19 pm

The best solution when you have a student in a class with such a teacher is to try and move the student to another class. Changing the system is worth doing, but will not help the student with today's problem. Other things you can do; try and find another place to have the student take the class for credit outside the school, hire a tutor, work with the student yourself every night, accept that the grade this semester or year will not be good, and let the student proceed with an imperfect gpa. For the long run, in order to help other students who will be saddled with a bad teacher, continue to pressure the department, the school and the district to remove this teacher. I've had success with all of these tactics in different situations. What you can not always do is guarantee that your student will get straight As. Straight As are not owed to every student by the school district. This is life. The best lesson for a student to learn is, persistent effort through a short term hardship, while keeping focused on long term goals will pay off in the end.


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Posted by Experienced Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 3, 2014 at 7:46 pm

@My Take: Elaborate? It's impossible to change teachers based upon dislike. Students can only change teachers if they are changing lanes. I have never heard of a parent pressuring the school and BoE with the result of the teacher leaving, other than the threat of a lawsuit. How did you succeed?


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Posted by Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 3, 2014 at 10:29 pm

Which teacher is it?


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Posted by perhaps
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2014 at 11:20 pm



My take

"try and find another place to have the student take the class for credit outside the school, hire a tutor, work with the student yourself every night, accept that the grade this semester or year will not be good, and let the student proceed with an imperfect gpa."

Perhaps these are the tactics you were referring to, to help your student.

though if you had success with "continue to pressure the department, the school and the district to remove this teacher." to not have other students saddled, do share


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2014 at 6:33 am

There should be departmental standards for classes so that some students don't get an "C" and others get an "A" for the same work with a different teacher. That would be unfair to students who are trying to get into very selective colleges.

However, for the more average student, it can be a learning experience. When my guys were in high school, I just told them that it would help them learn how to cope with a difficult boss-- a life skill. And, even if the teachers are nice, some are better teachers than others. It is the student's job to learn how to learn the material, even if the teacher is not the best. Out here in the real world, bosses and co-workers come in all sizes and shapes, and effective people have to learn how to be effective regardless.


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Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 4, 2014 at 8:58 am

Complaining about a teacher eventually can have some effect, but it takes literally years. 4-5 years ago, my daughter had a world language teacher that all the kids dreaded having. The guidance staff dreaded their students having her too (you could tell by the look on their face when yet another student showed up in tears after class...) The teacher is finally not teaching that subject and is a spot where less damage happens, but unfortunately, were stuck with her because of tenure.

As far as taking classes outside of PAUSD, both Lydian and SIL are great, but expensive. And you can only take classes that are not graduation requirements.


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Posted by perhaps
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2014 at 10:42 am

Anon,

"There should be departmental standards for classes so that some students don't get an "C" and others get an "A" for the same work with a different teacher. That would be unfair to students who are trying to get into very selective colleges. "

It would be unfair to any student. When you have a damaging teacher, the damage is with the students who get a D or an F for work that other students got a B for. The idea that departmental standards would matter only to students trying to get into very selective colleges - ask Lydian and SIL if their business is thriving because of these students.

Your thinking though appears to be what rules. The grades of average students don't count. What follows your thinking and the rationalizations? "Not everybody deserves and A"

Nobody "deserves" any particular grade other than the one earned. But if a teacher is a "sadist" per the original post, is college selectivity the only problem that comes to mind? Not the average students? Why would a sadist teacher be OK for an average student? An average student risks becoming a failing student, the stakes are so much higher for average students.

original post -

"A shame that students in one classroom are fine while the classroom next door, studying the same subject, are being tortured."

I would agree that is a shame, and rationalizing is it just as bad.


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Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 4, 2014 at 11:22 am

"Posted by Experienced Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
15 hours ago

@My Take: Elaborate? It's impossible to change teachers based upon dislike. Students can only change teachers if they are changing lanes."

Hmm we remember witnessing powerful parents get their students into superior classes (what I mean is: class sections taught by superior instructors). Sorry to disagree on this with you. Especially true in Math at MS and HS.
However, I DO agree that incompetent teachers are not fired, just as outstanding teachers are not particularly recognized (think of the outstanding Mr. Vito La Sala/Jordan School, years back, who should have had a raise in income and stature)compared to his peers!


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Posted by Talk to Teri Baldwin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2014 at 11:30 am

Talk to Teri Baldwin, president of the teachers' union. It is known by more and more stakeholders that teacher quality may vary widely classroom to classroom, and this is the issue that Teri should demonstrate some leadership skills on, not just the raise that PAEA and Teri will be asking for publicly very soon. Past president Triona Gogarty did nothing about this during her reign. We have to wake up and admit that there is considerable varying degrees of competency in our tenured teachers. Don't believe me? Look at Phil Winston the teacher, he has full union protection and is almost untouchable at this point.


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Posted by perhaps
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Talk to Teri,

If you read the thread, we have parents who can rationalize bad teachers as being OK, especially for average students!

These rationalizations that bad teachers are "the real world" should keep this as a low priority item for Baldwin and PAEA. In the real world, bad employees get fired and good employees get rewarded, as former paly parent points out. Good and bad companies can fail, people have to lose jobs, change or restart. PAUSD teachers are not in the real world. They perdure for years, and are not managed (another real world thing). They can refuse to change.

There is no incentive, maybe even political gain for Baldwin and PAEA to protect teachers. It's easier.


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Posted by just wondering
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 4, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Why is the real world relevant here?
In the real world driving age is about 16+. No one argues that younger children should face the real world and actually drive.
In the real world colleges may go and have a drink together after work, discussing the annoying boss. Silly examples.


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Posted by Truth Is
a resident of Community Center
on May 4, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Most parents do what they can to help their children get through the class, whether it's hiring tutors and/or doing the work for them. Once the year is over, they want to get the Hell out and not think about it anymore, but I salute those who want to fight for other students. [Portion removed.]


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Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 4, 2014 at 6:13 pm

Thanks, Truth Is, for stating the name of the teacher and which subjects he teaches. The editors deleted it, although they allow for people to bash Winston, Skelly, and the School Board. Biased editing!


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Posted by perhaps
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Paly mom,

Winston, Skelly, and the School Board are public figures.

In the real world you also would not single out an individual employee on the town cryer.

Singling out and speculating about teacher names on anonymous blogs speaks for protecting teachers, and makes it harder for real parents to be taken seriously.


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Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 4, 2014 at 9:04 pm

I agree that because a student may be aiming for a more elite college, this does not make them any more deserving of good teachers than any other student. For one thing, from what I've seen, it is often the parent who is actually aiming, and this may have no correlation with the student's actual merit, academic or otherwise. Every student deserves good teachers. This is why I don't stop with helping my own children through the crisis of having a bad one, but have always made an effort to improve the lot of students where possible. Neither do I believe that aiming for a selective school grants any student the right to perfect grades. These are earned, and sometimes through sticking with their goals even when they become challenging. Again, the reality is that bad teachers exist within our schools, and they do not vanish instantly when a student's family complains. If this were the case, we'd have no teachers at all because even the best teachers are not always perfect for every student. Apparently, it would be better if the district was more responsive than it is, although they need protection as well. I've seen perfectly good teachers under attack from parents who believe their child is owed perfect grades, whether they earn them or not.


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Posted by Huh?
a resident of Southgate
on May 5, 2014 at 10:24 am

My Take, I believe the issue is hardworking, regular lane students earning Cs and Ds, not Tiger Moms expecting As. It's a socialist system whereby bad teachers can continue and good ones are only compensated from outside sources (students who enjoy them and give them gifts). What a disservice to our students. Too bad Diorio is allowing the teachers to run amock - she's just keeping the chair warm.


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Posted by mom of teenagers
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 5, 2014 at 10:39 am

mom of teenagers is a registered user.

The topic of this thread is what can be done with truly terrible teachers. Not the ones that just don't fit your child's learning style or ones that demand a lot. This is not about hard classes and doing homework. There are some teachers, thankfully not too many, that simply shouldn't be teaching. They are deliberately mean. They don't teach the subject. They simply don't care if the kids learn or even worse, enjoy making them miserable.


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Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 5, 2014 at 9:16 pm

The topic is what can be done about teachers who are too demanding. In fact, one of the main reasons it is so hard to get rid of a bad teacher is that this district has long been under siege from parents who believe their student is owed perfect grades. The staff are so used to this that they do not listen or respond when parents complain about anything. This directly causes bad teachers to remain in the classroom. The problem, as I have pointed out, is the parents who are always on the front lines advocating for their students to remain on top, whether they have what it takes to be there or not. Is the original poster a normal parent whose student is in a class with a too demanding teacher, or is it a parent whose student is in the wrong class for his or her abilities? We have no way of knowing from what is presented here.


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Posted by well done, everyone
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 5, 2014 at 11:27 pm

Did the person posting this really think that anything useful would come out of this??? Post vague statements about a vague situation and hope for what? Just another opportunity for people to vent and then make wrong generalizations from their limited perspective, and lo and behold a handful of negative people become the dominant voices on Town Square, again. I hope you know how often I hear some people love the same teachers that some people can't stand. I teach in another district but I know teachers here are sick of Town Square. It's not that some teachers aren't problems, anyone would acknowledge that but this isn't a good way to handle it. It just makes people defensive. If you want to improve a situation you don't open this kind of thread, it's just so counterproductive. If you try working with the school and fellow parents in a constructive way you might have a chance but this way does nothing. If you can't get any results from any teachers or admin or district folks or anyone, your approach could be totally off or, well, maybe the problem isn't what you think it is. Just sayin'.


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Posted by perhaps
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2014 at 7:44 am

well done everyone,

[Portion removed.]
What role do teachers have? Most industries self-regulate to some extent. They make themselves better, and I'm not referring to the millions of dollars that the district spends on professional development, which does nothing to correct a real problem.

I will go with mom of teenager's definition of the problem. "There are some teachers, thankfully not too many, that simply shouldn't be teaching. They are deliberately mean. They don't teach the subject. They simply don't care if the kids learn or even worse, enjoy making them miserable." or your definition "It's not that some teachers aren't problems, anyone would acknowledge that."

The schools are unresponsive. You can't work with anyone that is unresponsive. The suggestion for parents to work together is interesting, how? If TS makes teachers defensive, try parents working together against a teacher. Parents and students don't have time to work on dealing with a problem teacher they will never have again, there are no brownie points for complaining.

Parents and students leave, teachers stay - what do teachers do about this issue?


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Posted by Hassle-Free
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 6, 2014 at 8:13 am

There was an English teacher at Paly for many years who was truly mean and showed every evidence of burn-out. Even at Back-to-School Night she was quite short-tempered with parents. She would give an assignment and then change her mind several times as to what she wanted, sometimes at the last minute, before the due date. She insulted kids,,other teachers, counselors, and parents.

[Portion removed.]

This woman was a total waste of everyone's time, and the district's money, because no one got anything out of her classes. She spent most of the class time complaining!

She was the very picture of why tenure should be ended!


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Posted by Metzler
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 6, 2014 at 11:35 am

There are many, many great teachers. The very few bad apples should not be beyond reproach. I brought to the attention of both the principal and Dr. Young of an elementary school teacher with very inappropriate behavior. I doubt anything will happen. In American History, she told the kids that the British were dirty, nasty people who didn't bathe and stole from her country. I cannot imagine anyone standing for any other group being labeled in this manner. There has been years of this teacher belittling students in front of their peers. She will not let parents in the classroom.


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Posted by MoreThanOneBadApple
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 13, 2014 at 7:28 pm

We have had Bad Teachers. There are more than one. Here is what you need to do:
1) recognize that the school does not give a shit about you or your kid. Get this into your head early, and it will save you time trying to "work with the system". The system is broken, the principals don't care and are powerless. They will treat you as if they do care, but this is a stall tactic. When you accept that they WILL NOT HELP YOU, you can move on to a real solution.

2) Get a tutor. I know everyone hates this answer as egalitarian, but there are cheap tutors, and even some free tutoring. A tutor will help your child learn the subject (needed for the test) and will help them with homework (lowers your stress and your childs stress and time). Pay for a good tutor if you can, go 1-2 times a week.

3) Force a schedule change. This is harder than you would think, as basically if everyone with a bad teacher changed classes, there would be 20% empty classrooms, and a real scheduling problem. The principals know this, so they avoid changes like the plague. You can change down a lane. This is often better than torturing your kid with a bad teacher. Heck, often times the bad teacher is so bad that your kid is pushed down a lane anyhow for losing a whole year to bad teaching. Other techniques: change an elective, change a PE class, fake an allergy, complain about Johnny in the next seat bullying - whatever it takes. Cannot guarantee this will actually work.

4) Drop out - go to a private school.

5) If it is Middle school, the grades don't count. Basically skip that class, and take the subject at Lydian over the summer.

6) If you are really ambitious, you can change the system. This has been tried and failed. The reality is that there are more than "One Bad Apple". There are about 20% bad apples by my estimate. When you complain, be prepared for retaliation against your student. It happens. You need to complain to the following:
a) the principal (this is perfunctory, as they will not do anything, but gives you rights to complain about the do-nothing principals)
b) the superintendant. He will not do anything either, as it is "…a site problem. Not his issue."
c) RateMyTeacher.com They have no problem with you posting anonymous comments about problem teachers. PaloAltoOnline is a neutral member of the community and has a professional reputation to maintain locally. RateMyTeacher.com does not have any such issue, and exists soley for the benefit of its users. You will find that your bad teacher is in the bottom of the rankings for the school. THis will at least let other parents know.
d) Complain to the school board members. They love hearing about these problems. They will also try to diminish your experience by telling you that there are always "one bad Apple". But trust me, they have heard this story dozens of times. They need to hear it more. Fill their inbox. They are the only people in the district who care at all about your experience. Maybe eventually they will do something about it. Don't hold your breath.
e) if the situation is really out of control - bullying, physical abuse, etc. Get a lawyer immediately. Report to the OCR immediately. This happens more than the district wants you to know.

7) if changing the system is not your bag, and you have plenty of time, go sit in the classroom. Observe the teacher. A friend of mine is a teacher, and she HATES parent observations. Basically, your job is to make the teacher as uncomfortable with the situation as she is making the students situation uncomfortable. With any luck they will run out of patience and ask you to leave - that is when you can ask them to stop making your students life miserable.

8) punch them in the face. It is probably a misdemeanor, and you may spend a night at county; but you will feel better, and less helpless. Honestly there is nothing more demeaning than the helplessness you are subjected to in this situation, so this will feel cathartic. You won't be allowed back on campus. But if enough parents take the situation into their own hands, then maybe the district will get a clue and ACTUALLY GET OFF THIER BUTTS and fix the problems with bad teachers and unresponsive district. If not, you can at least tell the bad teachers by the bent noses.

There is no reason the community has to tolerate teachers with such horrible ways of treating our kids.

Good luck, it will be difficult, and "next year won't get any better." * This quote trademark by Chris Grierson the principal at Addison.



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Posted by Stanford parent
a resident of Stanford
on May 14, 2014 at 9:28 am

My experience is that even though the schools know that a particular teacher is problematic, they treat each situation - and parents are forced to treat the situation (if they want to be successful on behalf of their child) as if it were a unique problem. Thus the situations keep getting treated as if they are unique, the burden is on the parent and the child, not the school or district, and the fundamental problem never gets addressed. Hmm….sounds like what happened with the bullying situation that OCR addressed.


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