Whose Class Is It? – CM

Parents want to choose their children's teachers. A bright, iconoclastic teacher wants to ignore technology. Administrators wrestle with the meaning of "collaboration" in promoting student success. How will Dr. Edith Wiley communicate her vision of effective teaching and shared responsibility?

Dr. Wiley, the principal, meets with parents.

It is Monday, August 21, two weeks before the opening of school. Dr. Edith Wiley, the new principal at Cedar Street Elementary School, has been on the job since the last week in July. This is her first principalship; she had been team leader of the 6th grade teachers in a neighboring community while working on the doctoral degree she received three months ago. She is eager to get the year underway and get off to a good start. As has been the custom in the district for many years, parents receive notification of the names of their children’s teachers during early August. The notice has prompted this morning’s meeting with three parents—two mothers and one father.

Dr. Wiley opens the meeting by introducing herself and then asking each of the parents to do the same. She then says, “Thanks for coming in. Welcome to my first parent meeting. What can I do for you?”

Dr. Edith Wiley, Principal, Cedar Street Elementary School

Mr. Renfrew states the case for all three parents. “Thanks for meeting with us. We have a very serious problem to discuss. We have received notification of which teachers our children are scheduled to have; all our children are scheduled for Miss Lowry’s class. I’ll get right to the point. We are unalterably opposed to having our children in Miss Lowry’s class.”

Dr. Wiley calmly listens without commenting.

Mrs. Whitehouse says, “My older son Ralph had Miss Lowry for fifth grade and has hated school ever since. He’s in the tenth grade now and he still resists getting up in the morning to go to school, doesn’t like to read, and has to be dragged to do his homework. Miss Lowry is the cause of my son’s problems; I do not want my daughter to face the same situation; in fact, she won’t face the same problem if I have anything to say about it. Dr. Johnson, a psychiatrist who has seen Ralph, agrees that being in a stressful situation was one of the causes of his negative attitude toward school. Miss Lowry bullied him and made him feel stupid. I won’t have it for Rachael! I trust that I am making myself clear. I don’t care how much effort it takes to move a child from one teacher to another. I simply do not want my daughter in Miss Lowry’s class.”

Mr. Renfrew concurs, “I agree with Rose; I will not have my son William in that class. There is another matter besides the way Miss Lowry treats the students. She does absolutely nothing with computers. From what I hear, all the other teachers have their students in the labs doing things with technology. I have heard that Miss Lowry never uses any of the new computers that are right there in her classroom, and she doesn’t even allow students to do projects using their own computers at home. I want William to be able to take advantage of these things. He has a computer at home and goes online all the time to find information. It’s criminal in this day and age for students and teachers not to use this stuff. ”

Mr. Renfrew listens to Dr. Wiley.

Dr. Wiley looks at Ms. Beauful, the third parent, who simply nods in agreement. Dr. Wiley thanks the parents for expressing their concerns and says, “I will certainly look into this matter right away. But I don’t know that I can guarantee moving three children without serious consideration. I trust you understand that.”

Mrs. Whitehouse notes, “Yes, we understand what you are saying, but we are too concerned about our children to let matters stand. I know that you’re new here, but we are quite confident that you’ll come to the same conclusion that we have. None of us can figure out why Miss Lowry is still here anyway.”

More heated discussion ensues, after which Dr. Wiley again thanks them for coming in and says that she will get back to them after she explores the matter further. She is thrown off by the tone and content of the meeting. The three parents rise, express thanks, and leave.

Mrs. Whitehouse, Mr. Renfrew, and Ms. Beauful discuss the meeting afterwards.


Watch the parents talk about class placements and Miss Lowry. (dialupOR broadband)

Dr. Wiley meets with Ross Austin, the assistant principal.

Dr. Wiley closes her office door after the parents leave and mutters to herself, “Whew! What a way to start off with parents. I wonder what’s with this Miss Lowry. She certainly seemed nice enough during my interviews last spring. I need some information.” She telephones Ross Austin, the assistant principal who has been at Cedar Street Elementary for 13 years—10 years as a teacher and the last three as the assistant principal. “Ross, I need to talk with you.”

Ross enters her office and sits down in the chair near the window. “What’s up, Edith? You look a little puzzled.”

“Ross, I’m more than a little puzzled; tell me about Miss Lowry.”

“So you want to know about Florence, huh? I don’t know where to start. She received district tenure in her first assignment, but I think every principal in town has a story or two about her. She’s taught in five of the elementary schools, you know. And from what I understand, she usually starts off well in a school, then about the third year or so, students start complaining about grades, harshness, a quick temper, impatience. Around this time, she usually requests a transfer. When she applied for a transfer to Cedar Street Elementary, I advised Mr. Bowen, who was principal then, not to take her, but he didn’t want to go through the trouble it would have meant to turn her down. So, five years later, here she is.”

“Hmmmm. And here we are,” sighs Dr. Wiley. She tells Ross of the meeting with the three parents, the manner in which they left, and their demands that their children be removed from Miss Lowry’s class. “Is it true that Miss Lowry doesn’t ever use computers?”

Ross responds, “I’ve never seen her use them. She takes the position—which she’s stated several times in faculty meetings—that some kids spend too much time at home with technology and that what they need in school are basic things like books and writing and so forth. She can be quite a tiger on these matters.”

“Whew,” says Dr. Wiley, “What do you think we should do?”

Ross is flattered that she is including him. The previous principal, Tom Greene, had rarely sought his opinion on similar matters. He muses to himself, “Maybe we’ll become a real team.” He says, “Let me say one thing first. These parents are not crackpots. I know Mrs. Whitehouse and Mr. Renfrew; they’ve both had kids go through this school, and we never had trouble with them. In fact, they are generally helpful. I do remember a little talk I had with Mrs. Whitehouse when her son had Flossie as a teacher. But that was Miss Lowry’s first year here; I had Ralph in general science and he was doing okay. I told her to give Miss Lowry a break; she hadn’t been here a half year at that point. So, this is not the first time this has happened. Last year and the year before some parents came in and requested their kids be transferred to another teacher.”

“What happened?” asks Dr. Wiley.

“Nothing much. I don’t think Tom wanted to ruffle Miss Lowry’s feathers, so he sort of put the parents off for a while. And they didn’t persist, so things quieted down. He did say that if he acceded to the parents’ request, it might lead to a snowball effect; everybody would want out of her class.”

Dr. Wiley queries, “Did he speak with Miss Lowry? Does she know that this has been a problem for several years?”

“Beats me. Tom wasn’t much for sharing either what he did or what he thought, so I really don’t know. I do know that while she was at Warner School, she was written up several times.”

“By the way, Ross, does anybody call Miss Lowry by her first name to her face? You’ve said ‘Florence’ and ‘Flossie.’ What do you call her directly?”

Ross chuckles and says, “I call her Miss Lowry, just like everybody else does. For some reason she commands that respect; you know, she’s an exceptionally intelligent person. I think she was Phi Beta Kappa in college; she has her masters degree from Harvard.”

Dr. Wiley reads files and makes a phone call.

The central office of the school district contains personnel files on all teachers in the district. Shortly after lunch, Dr. Wiley goes over to the central office and requests Miss Lowry’s file from the secretary. As she hands Dr. Wiley the file, Mrs. Roth sighs and says, “I see you’re getting to the difficult stuff early.” Dr.Wiley declines comment, thanks her for the file, and retreats to an office to read the contents of the folder.

See Florence Lowry’s TPAI Full Review from last year below:

See an observation from one of Florence Lowry’s previous lessons below:

She learns that Miss Lowry has been teaching in Clark County for 25 years. Over the years, she has taught in five of the district’s elementary schools. She has been in Cedar Street Elementary for the past six years. Active in the teachers union, she never misses the annual statewide teachers’ conference, has earned an advanced degree, and is willing to serve on any committees. Her personal statement reveals that she believes in the quality of her teaching and generally resents any questioning of what she does by students, colleagues, administrators, or parents. She never misses deadlines on reports, keeps careful attendance records, and avoids controversy whenever possible. There are two “write-ups” on Miss Lowry, each of which points to recurring issues of outbursts in class, occasional failure to return student work promptly, mild resistance to authority, and general resistance to technology. Also in the file are 10 observation reports on her teaching, all quite vague, but generally positive. There are also reports on the test scores of the classes she has taught; all compare favorably with district averages. However, something about the scores gives Dr. Wiley pause. She photocopies them to study later.

See a comparison of scores below:

When she returns to her office, she phones Miss Lowry and hears her voice message. “I can’t come to the phone right now. I’m away on vacation until August 23rd. Thanks for calling and leave your number.”

“Hmm,” thinks Dr. Wiley, “August 23rd, huh? That’s two days before the staff development meetings begin. According to the contract, teachers are supposed to be in the building preparing their classrooms three days before these sessions. Let’s see; today’s the 21st. I probably won’t be able to talk with her until the 24th.” She leaves a message for Miss Lowry to call her when she returns.

Dr. Wiley and Miss Lowry talk on the phone.

On August 24, Miss Lowry calls Dr. Wiley. “Hello, Edith, this is Miss Lowry. You wanted to talk?”

“Oh hello, Miss Lowry. I trust your vacation went well.”

“It was okay. I just took too much schoolwork with me, and I really couldn’t enjoy the beach as much as I would have liked. I’m sure you remember those busy days from your own teaching experience.”

“Yes, indeed, Miss Lowry, I remember them well. I want to meet with you to discuss an issue that has arisen. Can you come in tomorrow morning?”

“I guess so, but I’d really like to know what the meeting’s about. I don’t like to come to things unprepared.”

Dr. Wiley responds, “Very briefly, it’s about issues that a few parents raised with me at a meeting last week.”

“Oh, dear,” says Miss Lowry. “These things are so tedious. I suppose they’re afraid that their children will have to work too hard with me as their teacher. I’ve been through these episodes before.”

“Let’s hold on any more particulars until tomorrow. How’s ten o’clock?”

Miss Lowry responds, “Ten o’clock will be fine. See you tomorrow,” and hangs up.

Dr. Wiley and Miss Lowry meet.

Miss Lowry arrives the next day at exactly 10:00. The two women exchange a few pleasantries about the summer and Dr. Wiley’s adjustment to her new job. Dr. Wiley comments, “We missed you at the breakfast on Monday.”

Miss Lowry ignores the remark.


Watch Edith and Florence during their first face-to-face meeting. (dialupOR broadband)

Miss Lowry closes by restating her position on home computer use. “I’m sure you’ve heard that I do not allow students to turn-in projects completed using home computers. It’s true…There are just too many students with no computer access to allow the others to have such an unfair advantage. I simply won’t do it.”

Click here to see data on student computer access.

With nothing more to say, Dr. Wiley ends the meeting and asks Miss Lowry if it would be alright if she visited her class the following week. Reluctantly, Miss Lowry agrees, cautioning Dr. Wiley that the first week of school would not be the best time to visit with all of the disruptive “set-up” and activities that are inevitable.

“Well, why don’t we choose a day now so that you have plenty of time to plan?” Dr. Wiley tries not to sound too pushy.

Miss Lowry, clearly agitated, sighs, “Okay, Edith, I am planning to introduce the scientific method on Wednesday.”

“Great. If you could drop off your lesson plan for that period by Monday afternoon, I’d appreciate it.” Dr. Wiley wonders if she’s gone too far with this request.

“Fine,” snaps Miss Lowry, lips pursed. “I’ve got to get back to my planning now, if you don’t mind.” She stands and gathers her things.

See Miss Lowry’s lesson plan below:

Dr. Wiley reviews her observation notes and contemplates her next step.

Dr. Wiley didn’t think she would resort to formal observation procedures so early in the year, but with Miss Lowry’s attitude, and the parents breathing down her neck, she wanted to be thorough.

See Dr. Wiley’s observation notes using the Kounin system below:

Staring at her observation notes, Edith wonders how she might use the information she gathered about student behavior to respond to the concerned parents, not to mention give feedback to Miss Lowry. Though she observed no “serious misbehavior” during Miss Lowry’s class, she is concerned that she observed very few students who were “definitely in.” However, nine minutes of data are not much to go on. Called out of the class for an emergency, Edith had not seen much more than Miss Lowry’s introduction.

Ross Austin pops his head in just as Edith is beginning to feel overwhelmed.

“How’s it going?” he asks.

“Ross, I’m trying to make sense of these observation notes for Miss Lowry, and I’m not getting very far. I observed a science lesson this morning, and I’m looking at her old records, but don’t really know what to make of it all.

“Surprise observations this early? Boy, you’re tough!” Ross chides.

“Oh, no. She knew I was coming. I even got a lesson plan out of her first!” Edith states proudly.

“Well, that was nice of you. Tom used to do all ‘surprise’ visits. You might learn more about Miss Lowry and her students if you just pop in.”

“That’s not a bad idea, Ross. I hate to start off on the wrong foot with Florence, but I think that parents deserve at least my best effort to get to the bottom of Miss Lowry’s reputation.”

Dr. Wiley decides to return to Miss Lowry’s class that afternoon. This time she will bring her laptop and use the TPAI Report in an attempt to capture everything that is going on in the classroom.

See Dr. Wiley’s TPAI Observation Report notes below:

Dr. Wiley slips out of Miss Lowry’s class a few minutes before the final bell of the day rings so she can supervise bus duty. On her way, she stops by her desk and finds two messages—one from Mr. Renfrew and the other from Mrs. Whitehouse. “Could this day get any worse?” she wonders.

Mrs. Rose Whitehouse, concerned parent

Once students are gone, Edith heads back to her office to review her notes. Looking down at the pink message slips crumpled in her hand, she almost bumps into Miss Lowry on her way into the office.

“Two visits in one day, huh, Edith? You really must enjoy my teaching!” Miss Lowry challenges.

“Oh, yes, I got pulled away the first time so I thought I’d come back…” Edith’s voice trails off. She is not prepared to meet with Miss Lowry yet. “Do you have some time tomorrow morning to discuss the observations?” Dr. Wiley asks, recovering her composure.

“It’ll have to be short; I have two committee meetings tomorrow,” Miss Lowry replies.

“Ok, how about first thing, around 7:15?” Dr. Wiley suggests.

“I hope we don’t make a habit of these meetings, Edith. I’ll be there, but I don’t think more talk about ridiculous parents will do any good.”

“Good, see you in the morning,” Dr. Wiley smiles, ignoring Miss Lowry’s last remark.

Dr. Wiley closes the door behind Edith and stares at the files and notes strewn across her desk. “Whose class is it, anyway?” she sighs.

References

Good, T, S., & Brophy, J (2000). Looking in Classrooms New York: Longman.

Watch Critical Perspectives from:
 Debbie Drown, Nationally Distinguished Principal

 Dr. Daniel Duke, Professor of Education, University of Virginia

 Dr. Rudolph Ford, Principal Richmond City Schools