My Side of the Story

There are multiple sides to every story.  I know this as a writer, and as an adult that has lived and faced conflict.  But multiple sides to stories are not the issue.  The issue is that it is often the winners that dictate the narrative that everyone else hears.  Through this, the voice of the losers are often lost, progress is negated, and opportunities for justice are missed because their narrative is erased.  To only hear from the winners is boring, but also causes worlds of harm.  

In this story, I am the loser.  The winning narrative goes like this: Mr. Bratt was a minimally effective teacher, and he should not retain employment in this district.   (You can read that story here.)

This narrative was presented to the Board of Education of the Grand Rapids Public Schools on 6/6/16.  After hearing the narrative, as delivered by the head of human resources, followed up by Yours Truly, and rebutted by the head of human resources, the Board of Ed voted.  The final vote was 7-2, and The Real Tom Bratt was ousted from the district.  This was on a Monday, and the following Friday (6/10/16), I walked out the doors of Ottawa Hills High School as an unemployed man.

I was about fifty pounds heavier than when I started with the school district in 2012, sick spiritually and physically, and emotionally drained.  During the 2015/16 school year, I'd been assigned to 19 schools, physically assaulted by students five different times, and yelled at by several teachers and administrators alike.  

Without getting into too many technical details, I was in multiple positions during the 15/16 school year because my official position was 'secondary sub'.  I was placed in this position, because the year before human resources attempted to fire me, but I won.  By "winning", I had a position for the 15/16 school year, and when I finally found out what it was, it was as a sub.  Of the 19 schools that I was in, there were three, maybe four, that were doing ok; the rest were deplorable.  There is one middle school, where the entire 7th grade cannot read.   There is another where students are promised free college, yet don't have an official science teacher.  But I digress.  I only mention these things, because they began to take a toll on me.  It felt like hell, physically, walking into these schools and seeing all this money and time spent mis-educating, ill-informing, and lying to students.  It felt like a game with no winner, a living example of the story The Emperor Has No Clothes.  

The question that spun round my mind over and over was: Who is benefiting from this?  Who does this lie help?

The only answer that I can come up with, after months and months of reflection, is between the people on the top.  GRPS is a very top heavy district, and the same people that make the most money have very little interaction with students.  But as they collect large paychecks, the children suffer.  The children suffer year after year, yet no one does anything.  

That's why I spoke to the board of ed.  That's why I'm writing this.  I'm nervous, to be honest, to present this narrative to the public.  It's a little scary to expose a system, but I also know that I must do so.  

It's a long story that ends up with me getting fired a year ago today.  And a part of the reason I got where I got was that I was honest.  This honesty is a major part of what got me fired, so I'll end with one story and then post (tomorrow) the typed up version of what I presented to the Board of Education.  You can read exactly (minus the edited names) what I presented to the Board.  My presentation was done in a public meeting, and there was supposed to be video footage, but this footage was never posted to the GRPS website.  

The story I end on will not sound like that big of a deal, but it was and it went like this:

I was teaching at a school, and in a room with me was the principal and one other teacher.  It was just the three of us.  As we were talking about the school, and things that should be changed, the principal and the other teacher pointed out only the good.  I pointed out a few suggestions that we could do to improve performance; (ex. there was a group of students that were part of a program outside the school.  These students arrived 15-minutes after class started every day.  When a class period was an hour long, and half the class is on-time, and half the class is 15-minutes late, it doesn't work well.  Either half the students are behind, or half the students are bored.  I suggested fixing this.  They said it was fine.)  When the principal left the room, the other teacher turned to me and said, "This place sucks."  I looked at him, and said, "Why didn't you say that when we were just talking about it and things could have been changed?"

He had no answer.  But that interaction was how almost every interaction went for me in GRPS.  When there was a chance for truth and change, it was met with lies.  The people that spoke truth were shunned, moved, or fired.    

I am one such person.

Now, even as I read back on the above, it sounds a little more dramatic that I perhaps even mean.  I don't think there's a grand conspiracy.  Rather, I think there are a lot of people in the wrong places, and those people being in the wrong places do very real, daily damage, to kids.  Kids that my taxes pay to educate.  Kids that have hopes and dreams that are very much hindered every day they walk into many GRPS schools.  

Things could be changed, easily in fact, but someone has to follow suggestions.  In my presentation, I gave many suggestions.  

The next several posts are going to be about my side of the story.  Just how someone with enthusiasm and a desire to teach kids could end up subbing and being fired by a district.   I share my side of this story because the official narrative is bullshit, and the same people that told it are still in power many places in the district.  But just like I did to the board, these posts will lead to what we, as citizens and taxpayers can do.