Why Did 'D.C. Teacher Chic' Check Out?
Heather Migdon said she was "100 percent sure" that when she told Nalle Elementary principal Kim Burke last week that she was quitting Burke would talk her back from the ledge, ask her to reconsider.
Migdon, 28, was completely discouraged less than three months into the school year. A ring of a half-dozen fifth-graders, pursuing what they called "BTT" or "Bust the Teachers was dedicated to disrupting her classes at the Southeast D.C. school. She'd been attacked twice, she said: smacked hard on the back of the shoulder by the fifth-grade class bully after refusing her a piece of the candy bar she was eating, and jabbed in the leg with the jagged edge of a plastic ruler by a boy who said, "I'm gonna send you to the morgue."
Four parents from the fifth-grade class came to a school meeting called to discuss discipline. Burke was out of the building a lot, and to Migdon seemed intimidated by parents who fought disciplinary actions against their kids. She said she wasn't sleeping, suffered migraines, and vomited in the morning before coming to work.
Still, she'd gotten good evaluations, had a decent relationship with Burke.
"I thought she would say, 'Take a couple of days off and then let's talk," Migdon said over tea Tuesday at the Dunkin Donuts near the Eastern Market.
Instead, according to Migdon, Burke's e-mailed response was, "Good luck in your future endeavors."
So ends--for the time being, at least--the saga of DC Teacher Chic, a blog that had become go-to reading both locally and nationally for those interested in a ground-level view of life inside DCPS. Outspoken, funny and occasionally heartbreaking, Migdon took no prisoners among the teachers' union, parents or her colleagues.
One particular favorite of DC Wire was a September post entitled, "The Librarian Is an Idiot." Migdon said she tried during the first few weeks of school to reinforce for her kids the idea that they were good, "never mind the fact that I know this particular class was a pack of hellions last year." When she brought the class to the librarian, she announced in their presence that they were "one of the best classes in the school and should be no problem for her."
Most teachers, she said, play along.
"She replied in front of the children 'Oh, no, these kids are not good children. They are all terrible. I had them last year.'
"Moron. And she was outraged when they acted up in her class."
Burke did not return a phone message Wednesday, so it's unclear exactly where she stood -- whether Migdon's blogging or teaching was an issue.
Migdon certainly had the right pedigree for the Michelle Rhee era. A Louisiana native who has a bachelor's in history from LSU and a master's in education from A.U., she is a product of Teach for America, where Rhee started her teaching career. She is also effusive in her praise of Rhee, especially her contract proposal that would boost high-performing teachers into the six-figures. "How Can Anyone Not Love Michelle Rhee?" was the title of one posting.
But one aspect of Migdon's background might have given Burke pause: compulsive job-hopping. Nalle will be her seventh school since she began he career in 2002 at Parkview Elementary. That ended after just a few months through circumstances beyond her control when she was "excessed," or reassigned because of low enrollment, to Garfield Elementary. There she taught in a make shift classroom in the school auditorium.
She moved to Meridian Public Charter School in Northwest in 2003, she said, because she had TFA friends there. But a year later, she said she wanted "something new" and headed to Fairfax County for a year at Dogwood Elementary. But Migdon said she didn't like living in Reston, cut off from friends, so taught at Community Academy back in D.C., followed by Holy Comforter, a Catholic school. Then to Nalle.
Migdon acknowledges that the happy-feet resume sounds a little off, but says she "did good work at all those schools."
"I blame D.C. for being such a hotbed of innovation," she said. "All those options."
She's taking her time looking for the next thing, picking up substitute jobs at a charter pre-school and generally trying to heal.
Asked what she would put in an exit memo to Rhee, Migdon said she would caution her to pay more attention to student discipline issues. "Rhee doesn't talk about student behavior a lot," she said. But Migdon added that the disorder in places like Nalle is grinding away at the souls of her colleagues.
"She should just come to Nalle and talk to any group of teachers," Migdon said. "I can tell you ten teachers who would quit if they had a dime to their names."
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