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Volunteer Tutor Story

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Midway through the fall semester (2021), I observed students in my son’s friend groups at school growing concerned about difficulty in their math classes, especially as grade check times for upcoming events drew nearer.

Since I have taught all levels of high school math for over 20 years, I asked a teacher coaching morning practices at the high school for permission to tutor there during his practices, since I was there anyway, dropping off my son for his practices before going to work to teach my own classes. The teacher advised me to contact a building-level administrator for permission, which I promptly did. This administrator (who knew me as a popular math teacher from her own time in high school and college) readily agreed with the plan, remarking that it would likely be very helpful to students, but told me she needed to first check with the District office for clearance. Within a few days, I received a report that both building-level and district approval had been granted for me to offer free math tutoring before and after school to my son’s friends and fellow JROTC cadets, a mutually beneficial practice I enjoyed off and on for the next 5 months. (Sometimes parents contacted me specifically to arrange times to meet their students; other times students would simply take advantage of my presence to request help for a few minutes on a few problems.)

That same administrator commented in passing to me a few months after it began that one of the math teachers had reported that they appreciated the way I explained Trigonometry to their students, saying that I "taught Trig the same way" they did. I was especially pleased to hear how some of the Junior High students were improving in their comprehension and their grades in their classes.

"I was especially pleased to hear how some of the Junior High students were improving in their comprehension and their grades in their classes."

Six weeks into providing the occasional tutoring, I began serving as the spokesman for a group of concerned parents questioning the administration’s dishonest and illegal attempts to force out an innocent instructor. We worked our way up the designated chain of authority, with no responses at all, then finally decided to present testimony on behalf of the instructor to the school board. My previous work as a teacher and interest in researching and following the board policies positioned me as the group’s spokesperson at this school board meeting. My attempts to discover, question, and present information to the board provided a surprise occasion for the superintendent to showcase his inherent bullying tendency during the publicly broadcast meeting whose control he regularly usurped. The whole incident brought his displeasure toward me because of the perceived challenge to the total control he seeks to maintain. The community recoiled as they viewed and heard his demeanor at the meeting, contacting local officials who in turn contacted me the following week to find out details of what had happened.

"The whole incident brought his displeasure toward me because of the perceived challenge to the total control he seeks to maintain."

[The board subsequently contacted some of the parents who had sought to speak publicly at the board meeting and invited us to individually share information at a private unofficial meeting with a few board members and the Superintendent on the following Monday.  I was one of those, and, while there, I directly called out an explicitly legally prohibited action in which the superintendent was currently engaging, abuse of authority, along with other policy and state statute violations.  The superintendent merely responded with a condescending offer to meet with me to explain how to more correctly read board policy.  One family requested to bring their student with them to their meeting time, a senior who had captained the team which the targeted instructor coached. (That student’s invitation seemed especially promising, as the board assured him that they would do all they could to remedy the situation.) Nothing at all came of any of these private meetings with the board members.  No progress was made.  No subsequent response or update was provided.  Unbeknownst to us at the time, the instructor had been served his final notice that very morning.  The board surely knew this and was simply attempting to placate concerned students, parents, and community members without actually considering our concerns.]

Less than two weeks later, during his regular morning rounds before school at the high school with the Executive Director of Secondary Learning, the superintendent interrupted my tutoring session with a student to angrily demand that I leave the building. He approached us while we sat at a table in the commons area (a large, wide-open entryway to the rest of the various wings of the school just outside the all-glass walls of the front office in full view of literally dozens of athletes, custodians, teachers, staff, and other students) and summoned me a few steps away from the student, then proceeded to question what I was doing. He questioned me hotly, demanding that I stop. When I responded that I had not only building-level but also District permission to be there tutoring, he wasted a lot of time trying to get ahold of the administrator who’d approved it, saying he disbelieved my statement that I truly had approval. (“We’ll just see about that.”) Finally able to reach someone, he apparently was unable to disprove my justification for being at the school working with a student on a math review, so he tried several new approaches. He rifled through various excuses to defend his incredulous directive that I shouldn’t be there at the school helping a student prepare for a math test later that day. (“Dr. Bauman,” I asked, thinking it might help bring clarity to the situation to actually name what was happening. “You’re really preventing me from helping a student learn math?” “I’m not keeping you from helping them learn math,” he answered illogically. “You just can’t do it here.”) Finally, he landed upon a tried-and-true, if overused, all-encompassing rationalization: “It’s a safety issue.” At this I couldn’t help laughing. “A safety issue? Please, Dr. Bauman, now you’re really reaching.” My challenge pushed him further beyond the limits of reason. “Whatever authority you think you had to be here in this building tutoring these students before school, you may not continue to do this! Do you understand?”

"When I responded that I had not only building-level but also District permission to be there tutoring, he wasted a lot of time trying to get ahold of the administrator who’d approved it, saying he disbelieved my statement that I truly had approval."

He then proceeded to forbid me to organize and accompany students for marathon training. The targeted instructor had previously been training cadets for an upcoming marathon, hosting training runs before and after school that launched from campus but were conducted almost exclusively off campus. I had used this opportunity to begin training for a marathon myself. When the targeted instructor’s suspension threatened to derail this initiative, the JROTC Booster Club leadership invited me to host the marathon training runs for those interested in continuing. The superintendent’s heinous ambition to control every single situation he encounters has apparently led to total lunacy about what he supposes is his limitless reach of power. He was now telling me I could not associate with district students outside of district time and off district property. I was dumbfounded at this last restriction and said so. “Dr. Bauman, come now. You do not have the authority to tell me that I cannot run through the streets of this city with these kids outside of school hours at their parents’ request. You do not own this town.” Undeterred, he merely repeated, more emphatically, “You may not continue to do that.”

His intensity and agitation, I later learned, caused one student bystander to text to friends, “The superintendent is yelling at Mrs. Tonsing!” Other parents were appalled to learn of the behavior modeled by the top executive of the school district to on-looking students: if you aren’t getting your way, raise your voice, try to intimidate with a temper tantrum, and grasp wildly at any straw within reach to attempt to manipulate the situation into one that fits your liking better. If all else fails, kick out the person with whom you disagree so that you don’t have to be called into account for your actions.

"If all else fails, kick out the person with whom you disagree so that you don’t have to be called into account for your actions."

For the record, I did not tutor students at the high school any more, as use of the school buildings does lie within the purview of the superintendent. I did, however, continue marathon training with students (off campus and outside of school hours), as that does not.

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