Ahn Dao Pham started teaching in the Minneapolis Public Schools in 1997, seven years after arriving in Minnesota from Vietnam. In 2008 the district tried to fire Pham, saying that her English skills were inadequate for her job teaching early childhood programs.
"The District's only concern ... was her level of English proficiency and its impact in the classroom," the district wrote after an arbitration hearing. The district said it "probably overlooked some of Ms. Pham's shortcomings when it approved her tenure status. More likely than not, the decision was borne, at least in part, out of a desire to increase the pool of people of color and bilingual teachers."
Pham fought the dismissal, pointing to testimony from parents and co-teachers that "she is a nurturing, kind, determined, organized, prepared and conscientious teacher," the arbitrator wrote. Other teachers pointed out that her students made great gains on test scores.
The arbitrator ruled in Pham's favor. "It was obvious to this arbitrator that her English language skills are good," wrote arbitrator Joseph Daly. "She is more than able to clearly communicate, answer questions and express her thoughts and emotions."
Pham declined to comment.
Darlene Hintz was a math teacher at Braham High School when the school board voted to fire her in 2006. Students couldn't learn from her, the district said, and she refused to get better.
The district said Hintz didn't know how to manage her classroom. Students were allowed to use CD players and cell phones in class, and many were able to roam the halls during class time. The district said she blamed her problems on "incorrigible" students.
Hintz feels that she was unfairly targeted. She said the district assigned "low-ability" upperclassmen to her ninth-grade general math class. "And they were all screw-ups," she said. The district's improvement plan for her was unreasonable, she said, and another teacher would not have been able to meet the expectations laid out for her.
The district succeeded in firing her after an arbitrator ruled that she couldn't or wouldn't improve.
"I've considered writing a book about it," she told the Star Tribune, "because I was royally screwed."
She felt the process was unfair to her, too. "If they want to get rid of you, they find a way to do it, and they don't have to have any justification for it," she said.
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