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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."

Bill Turque

By Marcia Davis  |  November 13, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Education  
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Comments

Typical TFA product. Stay a few years (sometimes days or weeks), complain, then leave. These are the same folk who, by and large, supported Rhee's proposed pay plan. They thought they could make out like a fat cat for a few years and leave with the spoils, many after fulfilling requirements to have their student loans forgiven. Many of us veterans, however, are in it for the long haul. Most of us are invested in our children's future and are determined to make a difference!! Good riddance, Migdon!! DCPS doesn't need any "happy-footed" resume toters!

Posted by: schooletal | November 13, 2008 8:35 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry but now that I have heard what the "assault" instances were and have been given a better sense of Migdon's history I have come to the conclusion that she is no more mature than many of the students that she taught. She taught 9 year olds and she allowed 6 of them to run her out of the system. But if you are a careful reader of her blog you realize that she was looking for an excuse. In several blogs, long before she quit, she mentioned wanting to quit but not leave her children in the lurch. One of the titles was "Where will Chic teach next year". Another thing is that on her blog she made it seem that her principal was out of the school by choice - she was not. All principals were at a Rhee called meeting that Wednesday - my principal was, every principal was. Her portrayal was a disservice to her principal and it was petty.

The saddest part is that many reporters have used her as a kind of voice for DC teachers, or at least a portion of us, and they haven't gone out of their way to find other voices and give a more accurate picture of our system. I have worked at schools like Nalle and schools that are better in reputation. I have been hurt in both. It does come with the job. Her life was not in danger - certainly not with the flimsy plastic rulers DC supplies us with. I have known teachers who have been truly assaulted - injured getting between fighting students, injured in rage attacks. Should they have quit, maybe, but they didn't. They finished their job. Nalle has its deserved reputation but I have known teachers there who stuck it out and left on good terms.

People want simple answers to some very complex problems for DCPS - fire teachers, throw money around, etc. etc., How about getting out and into the schools. How about a real, in-depth look and questioning more than a few teachers. There are good teachers out there going into some rough schools every day who have a better track record than Ms. Migdon. How about talking to them.

Posted by: adcteacher1 | November 13, 2008 9:09 PM | Report abuse

I think it's heartbreaking that such a passionate educator would receive so little support from her principal. Why are the DCPS administrators such poor disciplinarians? When students are allowed to run a "Bust the Teacher" ring without consequences why is anyone surprised that they become little monsters? How much of a masochist is the teacher supposed to be?

Frankly I'm a little skeptical of the veteran teachers with their wagging heads and "shame on her" messages. I suspect that under the same circumstances the good veteran teachers would've done exactly what Chic did - left. The ones who stayed did so because they weren't able to find better alternatives but they cloak their lack of options as "dedicated to the students." It isn't exactly a noble sacrifice if you had nowhere else to go, you know.

Posted by: pfish | November 13, 2008 10:10 PM | Report abuse

So in order to change DC schools the best teachers should just quit when the going gets rough because no one should be a masochist and a truly good teacher would never put up with such behavior. Plenty of veteran teachers, good veteran teachers, stay every day and fight for their kids. They do so against a lot of odds, not the least of which is the mentality the last post expressed. I don't understand, those of us who have stayed and tried to change things are part of the problem but those who quit in the middle of the week are heroes?

As for getting other jobs - I can name quite a few teachers in DCPS who have given up career jobs as journalists, lawyers, university administrators and other viable, and sometimes lucrative, careers to become teachers in a system they want to change. It's easy to quit, you walk out the door. Staying is the hard part and that seems to be something that Migdon had trouble doing even before she walked out on this job. Seven schools in six years! What she is passionate about is herself.

Posted by: adcteacher1 | November 14, 2008 12:14 AM | Report abuse

As a teacher at the same school, I can tell the cynics honestly that this is nothing like what you've seen before ... the kids are out of control and the administration is uncooperative and immobilized. Anyone, veteran or new teacher will tell you that it's the worst they've seen. Heather is, in fact, a "veteran teacher" by this school's standards. Almost no one makes it longer than a year!

Thanks for getting the story out in the media, and for this piece of good reporting. This is only the tip of the ice burg, and I hope more teachers' stories will come out. Perhaps some attention will change things at this school.

Posted by: anotherrealteacher | November 14, 2008 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, but "being there for your kids" shouldn't mean sticking around while they assault you at school. Are any other employees, besides armed law enforcement officers, expected to take that?

What would happen if disgruntled citizens attacked members of the Mayor's staff? Would the mayor overlook it? Would it be OK to tell employees they needed to "be there" for their constituents? or respond to employees' resignations with "good luck in your future endeavors" farewell notes.

Posted by: efavorite | November 14, 2008 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Here's another story for you to follow up on, Bill --- How did Halle Principal Kim Burke-Ables go from '06 "DC Teacher of the Year" to the sad situation at Halle?

She also attended the "New Leaders for New Schools" Program, a "highly selective program in several cities across the US recruits and intensively trains teachers to become principals in urban school districts."(http://www.mff.org/mea/mea.taf?page=netnews&_function=detail&MEAWebsite_uid1=1625&part=none)

She doesn't exactly sound like a slacker.

Posted by: efavorite | November 14, 2008 1:37 PM | Report abuse

I'll take a stab at that last question.

I think Kim Burke was probably an outstanding teacher. She won countless awards in addition to DC teacher of the year. She is intelligent and energetic. But these qualities do not automatically translate into being a good principal.

She was a brand new principal when I started at Nalle in 2007, so her lack of experience as a principal might explain her faults. I'm not sure.

What I do know is that every teacher at the school will tell you behavior/discipline is out of control, and most would agree that Kim Burke is doing nothing about it. Her plentiful good qualities and expertise as a classroom teacher do not make up for the chaos in the school building.

Posted by: dcteacherchicblogspotcom | November 14, 2008 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, dcteacherchic. I still wonder how the discipline problems got so out of control. She could have asked for help if she couldn't handle it herself. If she did, why didn't she get the requested help sooner? If she didn't ask for help, why not?

Posted by: efavorite | November 14, 2008 7:16 PM | Report abuse

Okay, here's the deal with Teacher Chic (TC) plain and simple. TC arrived at Nalle last year and was handed a supreme group of children. These students were almost golden and needed little or no classroom management intervention thanks to their former fourth grade teacher. This year things were a little different for TC, this year she actually had to form teacher/student relationships with her students and needless to say she failed in this area. TC started the year off by allowing her students to set the tone of her classroom environment. Although, Nalle has a school wide discipline plan, TC failed to implement the plan until the third week of school. Any teacher with any sense of classroom management knows that the first week, no the first day of school is critical to the creation of a well functioning classroom environment. Anyhow, the students in TC's class were allowed to get too close to her, they were not given any boundaries.What really makes a student comfortable enough to approach a teacher with a ruler or ask for a piece of candy? Students were allowed to use profanity toward each other and use insulting remarks toward each other in TC's presence. Additionally, TC would often time make snide and rude remarks toward her students including telling one young man that he had a small penis in front of the class. As for the assaults, TC conveniently forgot to mention that on each occasion, those students were reprimanded. Now, I'm not sure which TC you guys interviewed, but the TC that I know basically needed about four or five years of maturing. It is impossible to lead/educate children when you exhibit childish behaviors. I think TC will make a good educator eventually, so maybe this hiatus will allow her sometime to grow. Nalle like many schools in DC is well on it's way to becoming an academic powerhouse, but this will not happen overnight and may not happen at all if teachers like TC continue to give up on students. A hit on the back by a 70 pound 10year old, a scratch from a ruler? Give me a break, start ducking chairs and blows from parents and then complain about rough goings. Finally, the one fatal mistake of TC was her involvement in system-wide politics. When a teacher spends 95% of her time on Union issues and only 5% on lesson planning, classroom management strategies and all of the other wonderful components of being a true educator there’s a problem. In essence, TC failed to adequately plan for her students in terms of instruction and particularly in the area of classroom management so, in turn the 10 year olds in her class found the loop holes and acted like 10 year olds. So, who’s to blame for TC's hasty exit? That’s easy TC not the students or the administration.

Posted by: spindoctor2 | November 14, 2008 10:24 PM | Report abuse

Spindoctor,
I know a number of teachers who are struggling at Nalle. Do you suggest that they ALL lack classroom management, maturity, and dedication? I also know that a number of teachers (veterans) who, in the past couple of years, have left because of the declining situation. These women are some of the most talented and caring educators I have ever known.

You were particularly nasty in your response. Does it matter if it was a little smack or scratch? These behaviors are not acceptable. You make it sound like teachers should only complain if a chair comes flying at their heads.

DCTeacherchic does spend a large amount of time with the "politics", but those "politics" directly effect DCPS teachers. She has also done some outstanding things for her students. She provided opportunities her advanced students to learn 7th grade math. She organized for Nalle to participate in the "Art Around the Corner" program, which has an application and interview process. She partnered with the Kennedy Center and the Street Law program.

I am not here to sing DCTeacher's praises, but I think it is unfair to criticize teachers because they do not want to hate their life.

Nalle is a struggling place. The environment that is not a positive place for students or teachers. If you say otherwise then I do not believe you work there. This is not about making Nalle look bad, it is about getting help for a school that is out of control. Nalle has many things to recommend it, but the situation there is deteriorating. Ms. Burke maybe a talented educator, but she may not be up for this challenge on her own.

Posted by: SS34 | November 15, 2008 7:12 AM | Report abuse

spindoctor2 is Kim Burke, principal of Nalle Elementary. I know this for two reasons. First, no other adult at that school would say with a straight face that Nalle has a behavior plan. Ask any classroom teacher in that school what they think of said "plan." Second, the "small penis" comment was something told to her by a student who was very angry with me at the time, and this student later admitted I never said anything like that. I would never make a comment about a student's anatomy! I'll respond further on my blog, because Burke's inaccurate comments and my response really deserve the full attention of my readership (over 1,000 page views a day!)

Posted by: dcteacherchicblogspotcom | November 15, 2008 8:08 AM | Report abuse

Here's a link to my full response:

http://dcteacherchic.blogspot.com/2008/11/nalles-principal-writes-in-to-dc-wire.html

Posted by: dcteacherchicblogspotcom | November 15, 2008 8:56 AM | Report abuse

7 Schools 6 Years( Not including current new school.) Heather "Happy Feet" Migdon. No further discussion needed.

Posted by: jcan0284 | November 15, 2008 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Teacher Chic (TC) are you really that intent on destroying the reputation of Ms. Burke that you would accuse her of wasting her time to respond to your blog? Well, as much as I am flattered that you believe that my writing is worthy of an award winning educator, I must admit that I am not Ms. Burke. However, I am a long time employee of DCPS and have seen teachers like you. It’s not enough to say “hey, I couldn’t cut it so I bailed out”; you are looking to take someone with you. As a member of the Marshall Heights community, I have watched Nalle evolve for sometime now and understand the types of issues that the teachers there face. I also, know that many of the teachers there come not to teach and nurture our students, but to find some place to hide out and wait for either retirement or student loan reimbursement. I also know that many come to Nalle to make a difference. You my friend were in the first category. So TC, a piece of advice, be mindful of where you are DC is a very litigious city and your blogging just make cause you a bit of unwanted legal trouble. If you want to use your blog to rant and rave than do so, but stop including names and descriptions of others. Also, the picture that shows on your blog is of Nalle students taken and posted without permission from parents, just another one of your mismanaged attempts to gain attention.

Posted by: spindoctor2 | November 15, 2008 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Hello Ms. Burke. If anything, it is you trying to destroy your reputation. I wrote days ago that you were an intelligent person, and yet you post a manifesto that has the spelling, grammar, and usage of a typical 10th grader? People are going to think I was being too nice in my praise of your personal qualities.

As I said on my blog, if you wanted to disguise your identity, you shouldn't have included so many details that someone outside the school would have no way of knowing. How would a member of the community know - or even claim to know - the caliber of students I taught last year or the week in which I implemented a behavior plan?

Be sure to take note of all of the current and former Nalle teachers rushing to my defense. I cannot be marginalized if your whole staff agrees with me.

Posted by: dcteacherchicblogspotcom | November 15, 2008 4:33 PM | Report abuse

"It isn't exactly a noble sacrifice if you had nowhere else to go, you know."

Amen. In addition, many simply can't or won't go elsewhere. I know many DCPS teachers, and a good portion of them have been so damaged by "the system" that they are virtually unemployable elsewhere. In a bizarre educational version of the Stockholm syndrome, they've been rendered psychologically incapable of teaching in a healthy environment. I don't begrudge anyone for leaving. Not now and not yet.

Posted by: kelly5612 | November 15, 2008 6:42 PM | Report abuse

Once again Teacher Chic (TC), sorry to disappoint you I am not Ms. Burke. Having read many of your blogs including your last reply, I see that you are harboring a huge amount of animosity toward someone who simply expected you to perform your job. Please seek psychological help soon; you have truly gone off the deep end. When I initially responded, I expected you and your bloggers to meet me with intelligent conversation concerning the plight of DC Schools, but I see now that this site is just another Principal bashing tool. So, in an effort to not waste anymore of my valuable brain cells, I am replying to this pathetic blog for the last time. I hope that you find whatever it is that makes you happy. As for my identity ask RB.

Posted by: spindoctor2 | November 15, 2008 9:51 PM | Report abuse

I am really stunned by the lack of insight Ms. Migdon has of herself. She seems to want to blame everyone else and often times does so in immature and disrespectful ways.

It also is very telling that she has been at so many schools in such a short period of time, crossing jurisdictions and school systems going from private to public.

I don't want to put all the blame on Ms. Migdon because she obviously needed a lot of resources and support that were not available to her. But she should at least recognize her areas of weakness without name calling and getting nasty.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | November 16, 2008 9:53 AM | Report abuse

I enjoyed the blog, and was largely sympathetic to Teacher Chic's plight. I have to say, however, that the manner of her departure does not serve her position well now, nor in the employment marketplace. Honestly, would any principal or school administrator with a knowledge of Google discover someone willing to trust and hire? Even if she's a decent teacher, she's not helping herself here. Any future employer will see someone who spills beans all over the floor. Not good.

Posted by: mrjaydc | November 16, 2008 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the concern, Mr. Jay, but I don't want to teach again. My experience at Nalle has soured me from ever wanting to step foot in a classroom again. So I'm not concerned about whether a principal would be interested in me in the future.

However, judging by how fast I was offered a long-term sub position, I bet I could get a full-time teaching job pretty easily if I wanted one. People understand what DC schools are like.

Also, it's worth noting that I was more concerned about my mental and physical health than the health of my resume when I resigned.

Posted by: dcteacherchicblogspotcom | November 16, 2008 7:44 PM | Report abuse

MrJay says, "Any future employer will see someone who spills beans all over the floor."

Right - and I bet that fear is just what's keeping a lot of teachers and principals from telling the truth about their horrendous situations in the DC schools - fear that's ruining their health, making it difficult to teach and difficult for children to learn. I wish there were more outspoken teachers like teacherchic, and I wish people didn't feel they had to risk their teaching careers to take a ethical stand.

Posted by: efavorite | November 17, 2008 7:29 AM | Report abuse

I believe this has gotten to be far too personal. We are no longer on any topic that will actually help students. Chic is gone so let bygones go!

Posted by: kingcjfam@aol.com | November 17, 2008 8:10 AM | Report abuse

I had complained about this principal last year to the school board about her disposition and the way she talked to parents they had a meeting with the elementary school board an they act like this was not a issue. She locks the bell on the front door which i feel is a safety hazard be cause the caferteria door is open and anyone can enter the school thats why I thought they had security at the front door of the school and personnel in the office open the door. They are certain dispilnary actions for certain kids. My granddauhter was hit in the face with a belt by another student she tells me she;s gonna give her in-house suspension that did not go over very well with me. When my grandson had done something it was nothing for her to send him home for some days. I felt that she should have never returned to JC Nalle.

Posted by: kbrown2000_2000 | November 17, 2008 12:39 PM | Report abuse

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