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High School Without The Teachers

As part of Assignment Detroit, is working with 11 high school students from the Detroit area. They come from all walks of life, from suburban prep schools to city schools both strong and weak. The project will illustrate the Detroit region from their point of view—what it's like to live there now, and whether the area has a place in their future or not. Today's post is from Taylor Trammell, a senior at Mumford High School in Detroit.

Detroit Public Schools have been rushing to close a budget deficit of more than $200 million. This has meant closing dozens of schools and forcing scores of teachers into early retirement. This has meant teacher-less classes and interrupted educations.

My high school, Mumford, has more than 2,000 students. This year, the administrative staff was replaced, we gained some new teachers, and we are losing others. Eight teachers are retiring this year amid the chaos within the school and the system. (Read TIME's profile of Detroit Public Schools chief Robert Bobb.)

As of Jan. 29, two teachers had already retired. And on that day, for reasons that aren't entirely clear, 19 teachers out of 91 were absent. A school counselor told me that the Board of Education would not send that many substitutes to Mumford, and that counselors had to cover for them. Students who did not have teachers that day were sent to the auditorium.

There, students were divided up by classes. Some students listened to music. Others talked to each other or tried to talk on cell phones. Counselors watched to make sure students remained seated. The air roared with conversation. Some students decided not to go to the auditorium and either played around in the hallways or left school.

I was one of the students in the auditorium. I tried to do work for my other classes, but with the noise swirling around me, I couldn't get anything done. It was a waste of my time. And it is worse for students who have teachers for longer periods of time. Without teachers, school becomes simply a social gathering and a waste of educational time.

According to senior Laniesha Evans, one of her classes fell victim to this chaos: “My business law teacher left, and I was never told her reason for leaving. As soon as she left, a substitute teacher was assigned for a semester. I feel like that semester of this class was wasted. I was not taught anything until I finally received a business law teacher. While I'm now benefitting from this class, I feel like I am behind.” (See TIME's video interview with Detroit Public Schools chief Robert Bobb.)

Why are some teachers retiring or not coming to school? One reason may be that, to reduce the deficit, Detroit Schools told teachers to defer $5,000 in pay for each of the next two years. Many teachers feel that they are being forced out. Some just cannot take any more.

For some students, it may be fun to walk the halls or spend some days in the auditorium, but we will not be fully prepared for college. What these students and the district need to understand is that interrupting our education hurts us. This is the time to acquire the knowledge for success in college.  If the basic skills are not acquired by high school, there will be trouble ahead for us. (See TIME's slideshow of Detroit public school children.)

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  • 1

    This saddens me to observe our students being disregarded by the very insitutions that will impact thier very existence..

    Many of us in the activist realm are doing our very best to elevate the plight of folks in the city from students to seniors...

    • 1.1

      Probably the most common reason for teachers disappearing is the random transfers that happen without notice by the district. Recent layoffs ordered by Bobb were to put this into effect in the coming weeks. This have been rescinded in response to community pressure.
      Students ask me "will you be here next year?" and I can't answer them honestly. This school year I had been laid off and called back the Friday before school started.
      The recent pay deduction is not actually a deferment. Many teachers will be laid off and never get that money back if Emergency Financial manager Bobb follows through on mass lay-offs
      Combined with threats of new state legislation to cut retirement benefits for those with 30 years who don't retire by the start of next year, some teachers would actually be paying the district to work if they continue.
      One teacher told me recently she has lost a lot of weight and become ill due to depression from being forced to retire. She is clearly the "anchor" teacher in her school arriving some mornings before the door has even been unlocked, and not the old, run-down burned out sterotype.

  • 2

    Detroitteacher is incorrect. Teachers who are laid off will still get their money back. They do need to wait until they are removed from the layoff list and no longer active employees.

  • 3

    From page 2 of the Master Settlement:

    2009 Termination Incentive Payment

    Bargaining unit members who retire or resign from the District following ratification of the 2009-2012 Agreement shall receive a Termination of Service Bonus of one-thousand dollars ($1,000) for each year of service with the District up to ten (10) years of service, with a cap of $10,000. Bargaining unit members on layoff status shall not be entitled to this Bonus until such time as they are removed from the layoff list pursuant to Article Fifteen.

  • 4

    "Bargaining unit members on layoff status shall not be entitled to this Bonus until such time as they are removed from the layoff list ..."

    Exactly - they get their money when they are removed from the layoff list.

  • 5

    When (really if) they are removed from the layoff list, which is the opposit of comment 2

    • 5.1

      Article Fifteen describes removal from the layoff list as being called back to work by the district. If one is working in another district and recalled, they have some time, I think to finish the school semester, then must return to DPS to be considered removed. This is my understanding of the contract as I have read it and discussed with others.

  • 6

    This has some common elements of the Central Falls High School situation. Firing the staff does not directly or adequately address all the reasons for students' failure. They need to be accurately examined and diagnosed to determine their learning abilities and deficiencies and provided with effective remediation. There also needs to be an effective system of student discipline put in place. Finally, there needs to be a system to promote effective parental involvement put in place. Staff changes alone do not guarantee anyone's academic performance.

  • 7

    As a 2007 Mumford grad, I'm speechless. I can only imagine Mrs. Todd ripping and running in addition to all of her primary responsibilities to the students as counselor.

    This problem is deeper than Robert Bobb. It's deeper than the devotion and dedication of educators. Detroit has reached an all time low status in every category, and the list of necessary restructuring continues to grow.

  • 8

    Wow. This article reminded me of the chaos within my school last year. You had a powerful generation of teachers leave and then everything fell apart. Kim Gray, the former principal, was like CMA's life support system and, when she left, it was like literally ripping the heart of the school out.

    This is very good work Taylor! Be sure to continue informing people. Nothing like seeing a fellow young person dedicated to shed light on such dark situations. Let's just hope that real change can be integrated into our city.

  • 9

    The whole system is now being rearranged like a 4-H club.

    Teachers fatten up the animal for the county fair. That is their job. Then the judges look at the animals put into competition and decide which one meets the 'standards'. The animal that wins gets first prize, the student gets 'merit pay' for her work. And then the animal is led to the slaughter of the killing floors of the corporate run wage slavery.

    We are now being told to accept Hansel and Grettel politics from Race to the Slop.

    Like veal in a cage, we are to feed the students until they are fat enough to be slaughtered.

    See my articles on Wal-Mart and the story of Jamal, a Detroit student at

    You will have to look for it: Barbarians at the Gate (see author posts, go to Danny Weil and click and you will find it along with countless articles on the tragedy.

    Jamal is a young high school student from Detroit whose name I have hidden due to reprisals.

    You can see the front page on Organizing in D.C. and Jamal telling his story!

    Student struggle is the key, now! Walkouts. For teachers, sick-ins and no shows.

    We must fight

    Dr. Danny Weil

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