Sunday, September 13, 2015

Lateness = Fired?

By Stephen Wilson 


(Moscow, Russia) --  Many Russians would not consider him late in the first place.

             On August 19th, an arbitractor in a New Jersey court firmly rejected an attempt by the Roosevelt Elementary School to dismiss Arnold Anderson, a maths teacher for allegedly being 'late' for school, 111 times over a period of two years.

             Instead, Arnold Anderson was suspended without pay into January 2016. The case appears to have baffled many Russians who fail to see what the fuss was about! Second City Teachers wondered what Russians thought of this case.


             Roosevelt Elementary School finally lost patience with maths teacher Arnold Anderson who accomplished the amazing feat of being late for school 111 times in the space of two years!

             For some reason, the educational authorities are affronted at Anderson's lack of punctuality considering it an example of 'unprofessional behaviour' unbecoming of a teacher. The media as if in tacit collusion with educational officials, often support the case for dismissing the maths teacher not on a rational basis, but often in a hysterical, illogical and absurd way which raises countless questions.

             For years many politicians and officials have been attempting to introduce stronger legislation which would allow them to to not only fire teachers at will but practically remove every statutory legal protection of their jobs from unfair dismissal.

             One such legal measure has been the Tenure Reform law signed by Governor Chris Christie in 2012 with the aim of removing what he calls 'Ineffective teachers'. One such teacher in a high-profile case which made International
headlines was the case of Arnold Anderson.

             The educational authorities case against him was that he was late 46 times this year, and 65 times the previous year. He was late for school but not class.

             Arnold Anderson presented quite eloquently convincing arguments in his defence. Firstly, he argued that being late did not prevent him from delivering a brilliant educational experience which inspired his young students. Therefore he was hardly 'ineffective'. In fact, 'being late for school ' was reduced to being irrelevant to the point of sounding petty and pedantic!

             The second point that Anderson made was that he was only one or two minutes late to school 'at the most'  but was always prepared and was never late for class. The latter point is so subtle it appears to have been either overlooked or ignored by some journalists and by angry critics.

             The third line of defence which Anderson made attracted the most media attention. Anderson stated, 'While eating my breakfast I lost sense of time'.

             THE VERDICT

             Although the arbitrator in New Jersey found Anderson's arguments unconvincing, he rejected the case for dismissal and instead chose to suspend Anderson from school without pay until January 2016. This is by no means a light punishment.

             The Arbitrator came to the conclusion that the district school had failed to give the teacher adequate warning so that he could correct his behaviour. The district authorities have to provide a teacher with 'due process' by giving him a formal warning of his incompetent behaviour and allowing him a period of 90 days to correct his behaviour. A teacher can only be charged with inefficency after two consecutive
annual  evaluations. The arbitrator in this case decided that the educational authorities had failed to observe the proper letter of the law and hence felt obliged to give a verdict of 'progressive discipline'. In other words, don't fire the teacher
without warnings, but give him an opportunity to improve his
behaviour. This seems quite reasonable. That is not how many officials see things. Chris Christie states, 'Think I'm tough on the teachers Union? This is what we are dealing with in New Jersey. ' In his eyes being late for school represents a cardinal crime comparable to murder or rape. Being fired is the least one could do, Christie would argue, the fact that you are dismissing an seemingly confident and inspiring teacher for the children be damned!

              Many critics complained about the alleged injustice of Anderson being paid 90,000 dollars a year. The view is 'How dare teachers be paid 90,000 dollars a year!' ,' Those teachers get away with murder' and the  teachers union has too much power.  Strangers who are unacquainted with Anderson were quick to claim he was an inefficient  teacher despite the fact they have no teacher qualifications, no knowledge of the case and have never observed him in action.

             RUSSIAN VIEWS

             Many of the Russians I spoke to were not so harsh. And this is in a country which many Americans accuse of being 'authoritarian'. Firstly, they take issue with the fact that
Anderson was late.

             'I thought Anderson was late for class and let his students down but he never. He was just late for school. Most of the Russian headmasters will forgive you for being late for school if you are not late for class.  Of course, I try to go to school earlier before the classes starts so that I can relax and plan the lessons better. Russian schools are more
concerned about you being late for class than school. If a teacher is late often another teacher will take over for you. At the universities the situation was not so strict.

             I remember how many university lecturers were late for classes and even one teacher who was two-hours late for
an exam. But we waited. At the Institute where I currently
teach English, students are permitted to leave if the teacher
does not turn up after 15 minutes, stated Russian English
teacher Oksana Chebotareva.

             Leonid Perlov, a representative of the Union 'Teacher', stated in a recent interview that 'there are good and bad reasons for dismissing a teacher. For example, being late for breaking your leg is not a good reason to be fired'. However, like many Russians, the excuse of being late because of spending too much time at breakfast might well leave him stumped.

             A Russian teacher, Olga, who runs a thriving language company called 'Linguist', asked, 'I'm not sure how Russian schools deal with such cases. What I would like to know is what the teacher was having for breakfast?'

             What is clear is that a Russian teacher won't get into trouble for being late for school but for not turning up for class or being constantly late for class. Most teachers agree that being late for class tends to serve as a bad example to the pupils. The main point is not to be late for class! So they
largely agree with Anderson's defence.

             However, there are quite legitimate reasons for being late. In Moscow there are constant traffic jams and many fatal accidents are caused by people hurrying to avoid being late for work. But if being late for work has no connection or
relation with Anderson's performance as a teacher then how
can officials genuinely claim he is ineffective?

             However, all the Russian teachers I spoke to kept on asking me, 'What does Anderson eat for his breakfast? ' A Russian pupil screwed up his face saying,  'It certainly can't be that horrible buckwheat that our parents force us to eat!'

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