The teacher disparity in pay teeters on the tip of the iceberg. How American culture treats teachers, through entitled parents, social media and lack of support from administrators, is the deplorable underbelly of this glacial mass.
Navigating the waters of an adolescent accidentally lighting her hair on fire during my class and having a parent threaten my life, I awoke one spring day, the victim of forced retirement.
My memoir comes laced with narratives of success, failure, passion, teachable moments and what it means to be called teacher. Exceptional educators are leaving the ranks. Our educational system is broken. This book not only addresses the brokenness but more importantly contributes real solutions gained through 46 years of research.
I’m forcing myself to put this down, so that I can have time to read, sit, think and reflect. My favorite junior high school teacher wrote this. I cannot wait to read it cover to cover!
Paula Baack, thank you for being brave, tough as nails, compassionate and teaching me how to love those students that others have given up on. I see so much of you in my teaching. Thank you for providing sanctuary to me during those brutal years at Irving Junior High.
I received mine today as well! On page 52....cant put it down. Very good read!
So proud of Paula, my long time forever friend and very talented lady. Her newly released book is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. A must read for all educators! Love you girlfriend❣️#authortellingthetruthfromherheart
One of my most influential and memorable teachers throughout my education was Mrs. Paula Baack. I cannot wait to read her book!
Kelsey’s HS Choral director has written a book! I’ve read excerpts and what I’ve read has been excellent! I’m buying it today. I would encourage you to do the same!
Your comments ring true from a number of my teacher/retired teacher friends. I look forward to sharing your book with them!
Your classroom was a shining example of how classrooms should FEEL
I am so happy that I set aside a full day to read the book! I COULD NOT put it down! Thank you for writing this and for showing support for all of us who have “had” to leave teaching! You did an amazing job as a teacher and now as an author! Congratulations! Well done!
Wow, what an amazing book! Paula Baack has always been a wonderful teacher and I proud I was able to be a part of her choir and part of that journey. It’s a fantastic book that really discusses issues we should be talking about when it comes to education, it’s definitely worth the read and I would suggest it! Thank you for making so many lives brighter Mama Baack
What's been described as a charitable act by some and favoritism by others has led to an unexpected reassignment and subsequent abrupt retirement of the choral director at Air Academy High School.
Paula Baack, who declined to comment, said in an email she sent to parents and students Tuesday that she had been reassigned, after "being accused of misappropriating money due to my trying to help a student in need through collecting change in class."
Baack started a GoFundMe account to raise money for a student whose family did not have a car and also passed around a donation bucket in class.
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"We feel like we have been sucker-punched," parent Susan Davis said.
Baack was told this week she would be overseeing study hall next school year. As a result, she decided to retire, "with regret," she said in her letter.
"Mama Baack," as she is known to many students, is in her 46th year of teaching, nine as choral director at Air Academy High. In 2014, she received the Boettcher Outstanding Colorado Teacher award and a $1,000 grant for the choral program.
"She has a reputation as one of the most respected choir directors in the Pikes Peak region," said parent Eric Mason. "She didn't have any plans to retire for several years."
Air Academy High senior Sam Huntington said Baack had obtained permission from the school principal to do the fundraising and did not mention the name of the school in the appeal.
"She's a very caring woman who does everything she can to help her students," Huntington said.
Some parents accused her of making students' grades dependent on giving. Huntington said that was not the case and that Baack did not keep track of who contributed and who did not.
"It was nonsense," Huntington said. "She said if you feel so inclined to donate to this cause, please give to this cause. She didn't force anyone to."
Another Air Academy choir student posted on social media that "Mama Baack told us a child was in need and that we could give should we feel led to, and that if not, it was 100 percent OK."
In her letter, Baack said, "The phrase used (by school leaders) was that I was 'blinded by my passion' to reach out and help kids."
Baack said school officials told her they had received four complaints about her teaching style and relationship with students, which "gave the impression of favoritism and had a negative impact on students." Officials also said they could no longer trust her with the choir program or the choir funds.
"Whereas the district investigated this parent accusation, I was never brought in for questioning and thereby was absolved of any charges," Baack wrote in her letter.
The Gazette found no arrest records regarding the matter or any other criminal actions under Baack's name in Colorado courts.
Academy School District 20 spokeswoman Allison Cortez said the district cannot comment on personnel matters, claims or accusations.
"We empathize with parents," she said, adding that Baack "voluntarily submitted her intent to retire."
"At the end of the year, administrative staff and school reviews are done," Cortez said, "and it is not unusual for staff to be reassigned."
Mason said while Baack is "idiosyncratic in her own way," she's "incredibly loving to students." He called the issues being cited "minor."
His daughter, Elizabeth Mason, an Air Academy sophomore, protested the decision Wednesday outside the school's main office. She held signs that read, "I sing for her," and "Bring her Baack."
"I am standing for someone who has not made a crime against anyone," Elizabeth said.
"They think we as students don't have a say in this matter, but if it weren't for us, there would be no choir program."
Elizabeth said she's never had a teacher with such a big heart.
"She doesn't just care about our academic growth, she cares about our safety and about how we feel," Elizabeth said. "She's always been the one to make this a safe place to call home."
Huntington said students are worried that Baack won't be allowed to finish the school year.
Between 15 and 32 students participate in each of the seven choirs Baack directs, Davis said. Several performances are scheduled for coming weeks as the school year winds down, including a statewide competition Friday.
"We understand she's being forced out," said Davis, whose daughter is a junior at Air Academy and a member of two choirs.
Davis said Baack has raised money for financially struggling students in the past, to no objections.
Baack said in her letter that she and her husband have donated close to $9,500 over the past nine years and called the accusations of her misappropriating money "outrageous."
Some students have already dropped choir for next year in protest, Davis said.
"It's the administration pulling the rug out from a career teacher who's given her life to the field," Mason said.
Two years ago, Paula Baack was packing boxes with nine years of memories as the choral director at Air Academy High School.
She shared tears and hugs with students and parents. She attended goodbye parties and accepted the Peak Performance Award for Excellence in Choral Education from the Colorado Springs Chorale, presented annually to one local “exceptional teacher.”
After 46 years of teaching kindergartners through college students in Nebraska, Arizona and Colorado, Baack, a Monument resident, retired. But not by choice. She said she was unexpectedly forced out of her job for trying to help a student in need.
“I was embarrassed I had my career ending so quickly,” she said last week, the wound of her displacement still stinging.
Baack, who said she wallowed in self-pity for months, constantly replayed in her mind what had led to her being reassigned from her longtime position to overseeing study hall, and subsequently tendering her resignation.
She said she was accused of “misappropriating money” by collecting change in class and starting an online fundraiser for a student whose family was struggling.
Four complaints emerged, she was told, and that was the end of her lifelong work.
But what had seemed catastrophic for the well-respected choir director proved to be a new beginning, as Baack realized she wasn’t the only seasoned educator this type of thing was happening to.
“I started wondering are there efforts in all school districts to unload teachers who’ve been there for a long time,” she said.
The question took her on a 19-month journey researching and writing a book, “Rescue the Teacher, Save the Child!” The newly released book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
The answer to her question is a resounding, “Yes.”
Across the nation, public school districts “want to make way for teachers who aren’t going to cost them as much,” Baack said. “And when you’re on a tenured track and you have success, it’s relatively hard to get rid of you.”
But there’s a pattern in the stories Baack relates in her book from teachers who may not “kowtow” correctly. The path to involuntary job loss often begins with “an underlying harassing tone” from administrators and staff, she said.
Faults on performance reviews follow, often for actions that were praised in the past but are deemed no longer acceptable.
“I’d witnessed colleagues telling me their evaluations had been changed to fit the scenario of them moving closer to being asked to leave,” Baack said.
A closed-door meeting occurs with the principal telling the teacher he or she is not properly following protocol or the curriculum or another infraction.
Then comes the demotion, dismissal or departure.
Why not a buyout, Baack asks, from districts who are too heavily laden with experienced, more expensive teachers?
Baack met some of the teachers featured in the book at a gathering organized last year by a representative of the Colorado Education Association. These were teachers who had been harassed in their jobs, or forced to resign or retire.
Along with relating the stories of other educators, the part memoir, part self-help book includes insight she’s gained from her experience from the time she started teaching in 1971.
In addition to ushering longtime educators out the door, mistreatment on the job takes several forms, she said. Low pay is the No. 1 reason teachers leave the profession, she said, but “angry emails” from parents and other staff is usually the top pitfall of being a teacher today.
“I don’t think a lot of administrators understand the administrators’ job is to protect their staff,” she said. “About three-fourths, when put to the test, would feel compelled to take the side of the parent.”
Throughout the book are “teachable moments,” situations from a student setting a fire in a classroom to a teacher realizing an ultimate achievement, for colleagues to learn from her mistakes.
“Reflection questions” for students, parents, teachers and administrators are another helpful tool.
If a student is unhappy or unsuccessful, the teacher is the first one parents and administrators blame in 21st-century learning, Baack said.
“We have parents ranging from helicoptering to in absentia,” she said, “and some kids feel entitled.”
And instead of providing mentoring for struggling teachers, administrators often just issue threats of termination, she said.
As a result, teachers are leaving the profession in droves, and not as many young people are choosing the field as a career, Baack said.
She points to a “hostile work environment” as the reason for the national teacher shortage.
“I hope to become the voice advocating for teachers who are demeaned and demoralized in our nation’s school systems,” she said.
Baack also offers solutions in her book. In addition to standing behind teachers, supporting them and providing mentoring, she believes administrators should follow a due process for grievances — a system that she says is now insufficient.
She also advocates for more camaraderie among teaching staffs, a better vetting process in hiring teachers and school boards to have a more active role in determining integral practices.
School districts should ban vitriolic emails, she advises, and encourage class retreats at the beginning of a school year to develop empathy among students and identify students with mental health issues.
“If we do reach out and rescue our teachers from an environment where they don’t feel comfortable and can’t grow, we will save our children,” Baack believes.
The diminutive pulse of national teacher discontent must be superseded with a cogent, thunderous drumbeat advocating the better treatment of our nation’s best asset: teachers. Understanding the point of view of communities, school boards, students, parents, administrators and teachers is paramount to revitalizing our educational system. Who better to elevate the conversation for positive change than a 46-year veteran teacher?
I am a teacher. That is to say I was a teacher until I was summarily dismissed, fired, forced to retire on April 25, 2017. I am not sure which term fits my demise best. Over the past 485 days, I reflected on a lifetime of teaching. In my search for answers, I discovered many esteemed educators are leaving because of a hostile work environment. How do we raise up this noble profession to the reverence of yesteryear?
Communities: Make every effort to vet school board contenders to insure their educational values are based on knowledge and not political influence. What are their educational backgrounds? Have they taught in the public school system? Are they parents of school-aged children?
School board members: Please demonstrate the same pre-election exuberance after being elected. Are you resolved to insure teachers’ freedom from vitriol criticism and frivolous complaint? How do you avoid becoming, inadvertently, a rubber stamp for ineffectual or bullying administrators?
Students: No teacher exists, including the ones you dismiss as inept, who doesn’t feel the day to day rigors of insuring your success. You need to commit to the sweat equity for the work required. Instead of complaining about instructors, challenge yourself to positively impact their daily routine.
Stand up for your vulnerable peers. Demonstrate, through actions, that your school is a safe place. You may need to do something drastic and unexpected to protect the well being of those around you. Become a fierce warrior advocate for kids unable to defend themselves. You hold the power to make a difference.
Parents: For the love of all humanity, step away from your computer! Writing incensed emails to your child’s teacher, hitting send and believing you are entitled to rancorous opinions is the most demoralizing act perpetrated on teachers. If you find it awkward to speak to the teacher face to face, re-evaluate the validity of your complaint. Your children are entitled to an equitable education. They are not guaranteed high grades, a lead in the play or varsity standing.
Allow your child to fail! Even if the perceived failure resulted from unfair selection or grading, supporting children in the how-tos of overcoming disappointment is paramount to their development.
Administrators: Two valuable tools disappeared in the last 20 years: mentorship and due process of staff. The art of constructive criticism has been lost to abrasive and unfiltered attacks. Children are not victims, teachers are not monsters and the parent is not always right. Dereliction in eradicating abusive student behavior and the omission of shielding teachers from unwarranted condemnation wreak havoc for the teaching profession. Administrators must provide judicious faculty assessments, unbiased decisions and guidance.
Teachers: If you are new to the profession, muster your courage and stay the course. Life exists after a poor assessment, admonishment from an administrator or parent complaint. Do not allow naysayers to destroy your passion for teaching.
Are you a seasoned teacher? If you have journeyed thus far without consternation, count your blessings. An extraordinary administrator mentored and shielded you!
Let’s make sure “putting kids first” is not just a clever slogan on a school district advertisement. Our children are the future of this country. Putting them first translates into guaranteeing teachers have a supportive environment to make that true difference in a child’s life. We all wear the same team jersey! If we advocate for the better treatment of teachers, this action could become the single positive force to alter the downward spiral of our fractured public school system.
Paula Baack is a former teacher, voice coach and choral director.