Dedication in Room 105B

Despite his dismissal last month, a teacher at Govans Elementary has kept showing up for the kids.

December 22, 2003|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,SUN STAFF

Several weeks into the new school year, the Baltimore City School system informed Jeffrey Hogan that his services as a Govans Elementary schoolteacher were no longer required.

Hogan disagreed.

Despite his dismissal during a certification sweep, the following Monday found Hogan back at his familiar spot at the chalkboard in Room 105B, cheerily leading his wriggling class of first graders through another day's adventure in reading and arithmetic.

It is here, at Govans, where Hogan has worked magic for going on five years. It's where his peers once voted him Teacher of the Year. And it's where his arrival in 1999 sparked a steady rise in the school's first-grade test scores. It is also where he remained until the middle of last week, though he had not received a dime in compensation since Nov. 7, because he was no longer an employee of the Baltimore City Schools.

Not that his pupils understood the distinction between volunteer and employee. As far as they were concerned, he was where he was supposed to be, leading them through the daily calendar, lifting their pegs up (and sometimes down) rungs of the behavior chart and squeezing encouragement and praise through every crevice of opportunity.

Nor could Mr. Hogan's students be expected to comprehend the combination of sad circumstances (financial catastrophe, bureaucratic myopia, apparent inattentiveness on Hogan's own part) that has now deprived them of their Mr. Hogan once and for all. No matter his dedication to them, he has to eat. Tuesday was his last day. He said he now has to begin looking for a paying job in earnest, much as he regrets leaving behind Sky, Maurice, Lazoria and all the others.

"I wish these children all the best in getting where I know they will go, but obviously I won't be there to celebrate with them when they do."

And to think, all of it could have been avoided but for a signature on a piece of paper.

If the kids don't understand, their angry and bereft parents aren't claiming much more enlightenment. Neither are Hogan's admiring colleagues and supervisors. None of them can quite fathom how it has come to this: that a system ailing in almost every respect has lost one example of something that was going so right.

Because, in voices clear and loud enough to be heard even on North Avenue, they say that Mr. Hogan is definitely something that has gone right.

Listen:

Sheryl Lindsay, mother of Marcellus: "My son loves Mr. Hogan because he doesn't discourage him. I am hurt in my heart that he won't be here."

Wesley Aydlett, grandfather of Jasmine: "You got a teacher who can inspire students to learn and not make it seem like a task, that's a quality you want to hold onto."

Monique Smith, mother of Greg: "It's wrong. He's one of the best teachers up here at Govans. It's unfortunate that just because of some paperwork, some mistake, that we're losing him."

Dave McFadden, school psychologist: "Jeff understands kids, who they are, what they are, what they can do. They adore him, they love him to death. This is a travesty."

Edith Jones, principal of Govans Elementary: "He is a treasure."

To focus on what happened to Hogan is like zeroing in on a single victim in a large-scale war. Hogan is a casualty, but only one of hundreds upon hundreds who are losing their jobs in the unfolding budget crisis in the Baltimore schools. In a system that is $52 million in debt and facing the possibility of bankruptcy, Mr. Hogan and his modest $38,000 annual salary seem to hardly warrant notice. Except, of course, to those who saw him in a classroom and who understand that the most critical dynamic in education is the relationship between a child and a teacher.

The simple explanation for Hogan's dismissal is that he was not certified as a teacher by the state of Maryland. That deficiency made him vulnerable when, in October, Baltimore school officials decided to cut spending by eliminating 83 teachers whose certification wasn't current. (The cut also had the additional benefit that it addressed the schools' overhiring of new teachers for this school year.)

Hogan did not have his Maryland credentials, though for a long time he believed he was in compliance. So, it could be argued, he deserved to go. But it could also be argued that the monsoon of a budget disaster is indiscriminate in its destructiveness.

Hogan's situation can only be understood by untangling a mass of red tape here and in New York. Hogan, 30, comes from a family of teachers, including his father and four of his five siblings. He grew up in Binghamton, N.Y., and graduated with a degree in elementary education from the State University of New York in 1997. As a result of his course work and passing New York's two required teacher tests, he was awarded his "Certificate of Qualification," or CQ, on Sept. 1, 1998.

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