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A Counselor’s Tale

Even first-year educators have rights

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Guidance counselor Jean Maynard knew she was in trouble when her principal told her she needed to reschedule her evaluation meeting so her union rep could be there. The only reason the principal would want a union rep present was to satisfy the contract requirement of union representation at a meeting involving discipline.

“I was a nervous wreck. I thought, ‘What have I done?’” she recalls. “I was expecting bad news going. But I didn’t expect her to end my career.”

That, however, is what the principal tried to do. Maynard was a first-year counselor with very few rights, and the principal announced she was being terminated.

There had been no warning, no feedback, no probation.

But Maynard did have some recourse. The contract did not require a principal to justify terminating a non-tenured educator, but it spells out rules for observations and feedback. Union leaders found nearly a dozen violations in the way the principal had behaved, and Maynard decided to fight.

Why had matters come to this pass? Maynard’s not sure, but they had clashed over student rights to privacy. “She wanted to watch me counseling students,” Maynard recalls. “One time, I was counseling a student who was in trouble with her, and she walked in and sat down to listen. Afterwards, I told her that might ruin my credibility with the student, and she got very defensive about it.”

But the superintendent backed his administrator, and the local school board backed their superintendent, so the union took the case to arbitration—and won. The arbitrator agreed that the principal violated the evaluation rules in the contract.

If the evaluation had been conducted properly, the principal would not have needed to defend her decision to fire Maynard—first-year educators don’t have that protection. But since she fired Maynard on the basis of a faulty evaluation, the arbitrator ordered the district to put Maynard back in her job.

The school board went to court, trying to overturn the ruling, and the case dragged on for two years.

Meanwhile, Maynard, a single mother with three children, was out of a job. “I applied for several openings, but every time I got to the question about why I left my old job, I couldn’t lie. I said I had a ‘difference of philosophy’ with my administrator. That’s not a real good answer when you’re trying to get hired at a school system.”

Fortunately, Maynard was a second career educator. She had spent years as a public assistance case worker, going to hospitals to help people who didn’t have health insurance figure out their options. Finally, interviewing for a job in a related field, she ran into someone she had worked with. Her former colleague knew firsthand how effective she was. Half a year after being fired as a counselor, Maynard was employed again.

Eighteen months later, the verdict came in.

By then, both the superintendent and the principal were gone. The principal, says Maynard,had made life miserable for many other people. They were quitting left and right—victims every year. Finally, some teachers went to the school board and presented them with evidence that she had been lying. I heard she was told she could leave on her own with a favorable recommendation, or they would let her go without a recommendation. She chose to go. She got into the same kind of trouble in her next job and now she’s left the country.”

Maynard, though, is back at work in the same school, with a new principal. “It was his first job as a principal, and I was still new as a counselor—we hit it off and learned together.”

But it took a long time for Maynard to recover. “For the first two years, every time I got an email from him saying, ‘Stop in and see me,’ I’d get that fluttering in my stomach. That’s what it did to my confidence.”

But she got a string of glowing evaluations, and now she has tenure—“That was a relief!”—and she finally knows she did the right thing in deciding to work with children. “Sometimes it’s difficult,” she says. “The kids aren’t getting any easier and their families aren’t, either, but I love it.”

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