Principal Peter Cahall, Woodrow Wilson Senior High School
United States of America

August 14, 2010: The latest letter from Joe Riener


To all those who’ve supported me in this struggle at Wilson:

I am happy to report that I’ve accepted an offer to teach at Wilson part time. I’ll have one junior and one senior AP class. I also will be faculty sponsor of Wilson Players.

Thank you. Your protest has been a comfort to me. You asserted my value as a teacher, when it was being denied. I firmly believe all the letters and communicated feelings prepared the political ground for their offer. Given the number of teachers who’ve been let go from DCPS, without even so much as a fare-thee-well, your voices allow me to start another chapter at Wilson.

So a week from this Monday, we begin. Let’s turn to page .........

Joe Riener


An open letter from Joe Riener


To all those who’ve asked about my status at Wilson for next year:

Given the threats I faced, I’ve had to retire from Wilson. I’d much prefer to have kept teaching AP English teaching and working with the school newspaper, The Beacon, and with the Wilson Performing Arts program. But the choices I faced left me with little recourse.

I scored so low on the DCPS teacher rating system that I was slated for termination. This system, called IMPACT, in use for the first time this year, specifies that any teacher receiving below a 1.7 on their 4-point rating scale should be fired. I was informed by a DCPS official that if I am terminated, I will lose both my health insurance and my pension. For a cancer survivor with a list of other ailments, that was a prohibitive prospect.

Even if DCPS jiggled the numbers such that I had receive a 1.8, say, and would be eligible to continue teaching, I faced a teaching schedule for next year that has me teaching three grade level sections and two junior AP English classes. For the past 15 years, I’ve taught a mix of both junior and senior AP classes, and one grade level class.

At this point in my career, I know I don’t have it in me to teach three grade level classes. I used to do a lot of this work. When I was 25 years old, I helped start a school for students who had dropped out of places like Wilson. I know this work requires more patience and persistence, and a steady application of focus on fundamental skills of reading and writing, than I can muster these days. I’ve got lots of energy for working with texts and ideas with AP English students. I believe I’ve developed some expertise in this area over the years, as I’ve typically taught several sections of junior and senior AP classes. This year I taught four AP sections. My desire was to continue to have a similar schedule for next year.

Principal Cahall has told me that "Anyone can teach AP English." He added that he knows of many teachers he could get, that could teach AP English better than me. Most of the IMPACT evaluations I’ve received this year came from my grade level junior English classes. I am dismayed by how little regard there seems to be for skilled teaching of Advanced Placement students. It is as if this group at Wilson doesn’t matter.

I took one look at the IMPACT criterion presented to us this year, and found it to be both silly and absurd. It stressed rigid form over content, slogans and cliches over meaningful language about teaching and learning. Their criterion masked arbitrary views behind numeric values. Over my years at Wilson, there have been many such instruments of this sort used to evaluate teachers. I relied upon the judgment of the various administrators that in fact teaching was a far more complicated matter than any quick view or strict criterion might judge. I believe the only true evaluation came from students and their parents. I sensed I was on solid ground there.

None of the evaluators, Principal Cahall, Vice Principal Bargeman, and two Master Educators from DCPS, engaged me in a conversation about AP English. Their focus was completely on how I might motivate students in my grade level class. These are students who, while possessing various levels of skills and smarts, are quite challenged when it comes to motivation. I see my role is to expose them to as much reading, writing and thinking as I can. I try to make my classroom a welcoming place for these reluctant students. I don’t think anything is to be gained by greeting them at the door with lots of don’ts. I aim for a relaxed atmosphere, where young people might feel vulnerable to learning something.

People of good faith might disagree about educational philosophies. To reduce my contribution to Wilson to these IMPACT numbers distorts not only the actual teaching process, but ignores the benefits Wilson AP students derive from a teacher with many years of experience offering the challenging AP curriculum. It also disregards my work with Wilson Performing Arts, or the school newspaper.

My retirement is a protective strategy, rather than an effort to leave Wilson. Now that I’ve protected my health insurance and pension, I still desire to teach at Wilson, as a Brett Farve coming-out-of-retirement employee. If I can’t work full time, I am seeking to teach, as a wages-as-earned employee, three sections of AP English, two junior and one senior, and continue to work with the school newspaper and Wilson Performing Arts programs. This would be a considerable financial hit for me, but I’m not willing to leave these Wilson-projects, if this is at all possible.

Your efforts, both to assert in writing my value as a teacher, and to urge that I be allowed to continue at Wilson, would be most appreciated. I believe that this struggle is a political one. The politics of protest and agitation would then apply.

Joe Riener

July 8, 2010

We, the undersigned, call on Prinicipal Cahall to bring Joe Riener back to Wilson to teach English, advise young journalists, support aspiring thespians, and generally challenge and inspire another generation of students.

The Keep Joe Riener at Wilson petition to Principal Peter Cahall, Woodrow Wilson Senior High School was written by Tracy Loh and is in the category Education at GoPetition.