Education Opinion

Vindictive Principals Destroy Morale

By Walt Gardner — February 01, 2016 1 min read
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It’s easy to forget the power that principals still wield in K-12. The latest reminder was the clash between a 45-year veteran teacher and his principal at James Monroe High School in the New York City school system (“A Beloved Bronx Teacher Retires After a Conflict With His Principal,” The New York Times, Jan. 26).

Despite a career that led to Tom Porton’s induction into the National Teachers Hall of Fame and other awards, he handed in his retirement papers after retaliation by his principal Brendan Lyons for insubordination. Porton’s offense was distributing flyers that were not part of the Common Core curriculum. Specifically, they listed nonsexual ways of making love, such as reading a book together.

I realize that the U.S. Court of Appeals in Evans-Marshall v. Tipp City Exempted Village School District ruled that only the school board has ultimate responsibility for what goes in the classroom. Therefore, what Porton did technically violated the law. But the punishment meted out in eliminating his early-morning civic 40-student leadership class because it was not part of the standard curriculum was clearly vindictive.

I’ve written before that exemplary careers are no defense against abusive principals by citing events in Brooklyn Technical High School in the same school system. What I’d like to know is why the teachers’ union was not involved in defending Porton. Was he so fed up that he didn’t bother turning to his union? All that the principal did in this case in exerting his authority was to deprive students at the school to Porton’s talent.

I also want to remind new teachers that the same kind of retaliation will befall them if they attempt to exercise their professional judgment. I don’t care how much their students like them or how dedicated they are. They are in total denial if they believe their reputation will protect them. Without a strong union, they are at the mercy of their principals.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.