After my last post about Francesco Portelos, I got a text from a friend who reminded me that Homer's Odyssey, a poem which I referenced, did not begin at the beginning and did not exactly end at the end. The poem actually begins a full ten years after the fall of Troy, well into Odysseys' captivity on the island of Ogygia. It ends with what would otherwise be many unanswered questions (Odysseys is delivered home and back in charge of his castle, but with an angry class of aristocrats and a dad who hasn't even been told he is still alive) had it not been for an intervention from the Greek Goddess of Wisdom. She fixes everything tells Odysseus to chill out (my friend's quote. Not mine).
Part of the beauty of the story, says my friend, is the chaotic manner in which it is presented to the reader. Skewing the timeline in such a way that much of the story winds up told as a flashback leaves the reader with a first-hand sense of the chaos that swept across post-Trojan War Greece (chaos which parallels the Greek Dark Ages).
So says my friend.
I mention it here because Portelos' story seems just as chaotic as Odysseus' and the parallels are too similar to easily ignore. Like the main character, Portelos is on a long, long, journey and is trying to head back to where he began (to his school in Staten Island). Like Odysseus, he was held in what could easily be described as captivity for a public school teacher. (The 'rubber room' may be described by some as a mere holding facility where a public employee awaits a hearing. Stipulating this, I've always found that the people who describe it this way never quite understand that teachers come to this professional based on a deep sense of purpose and calling. For many, to be teaching a lesson to a class of students is to be at the very epicenter of joy. To be placed in a rubber room is much akin to being ripped from that joy. And to do what you can to return to where you know you belong is more similar to an Odyssey than different.) Like Odysseus, Portelos' story is at once crazy, insane, confusing and unbelievable. Like the story of Odysseus, surmounting one hurdle doesn't lead to the resolution some had hoped. It only leads to another hurdle.
I thought the last hurdle for Portelos' was his termination hearing. The hearing officer decided that he should not be fired, but and urged the DOE to return him back to the classroom. At an Executive Board meeting last Monday, my union president told a long time activist that, under the new proposed contract, teachers who were sent to a hearing but were only issued a small fine would be sent back to their school, not the ATR. But hearing officers do not get to set policy for the Department of Education and the clause in the proposed contract defines 'minor' fine as "less than $2,000, so the DOE was perfectly free to do whatever they chose with Portelos. They chose to put him on rotation as an ATR. Odysseus will not yet be returning back to the classroom. (Brief note: It should be mentioned that it isn't often that a hearing officer specifically states that the teacher belongs in the classroom, not on rotation in the teacher reserve. Also, I suspect (but cannot assert) that the average fine for a teacher who goes through a hearing is a lot more than just $2,000).
The man wishes to be back in the school that is in his community -the school where his staff elected him union representative, while he was in the rubber room (something that has never been done so far as I can see) and where he wishes his own children to someday attend- as a STEM teacher. A fair understanding of the Portelos related events that, for several years now, have unfolded before all of our eyes can only lead to one simple conclusion: He'll keep fighting to get there.
He has many options at his disposal. He could convince the union to take up his cause and have them mediate a final resolution to this mess. Failing that, many teachers have turned to the courts to to sue. Some have won, some have lost (his case, if he chooses to file one, may be stronger than most).
What seems painfully clear to me is that this man will refuse to leave the public stage until he may -finally- return to his classroom. Being public is his first, best move and he has thus far brilliantly played out his hand. Also painfully obvious is that his employer, who I am admitadely very grateful to call mine, needs at the very least some cajoling that the students and community of his school are better off with him than without. At most, it needs outright convincing of this.
Perhaps it is time to begin appealing to the better angels of everyone's nature and consider how both sides can, as Athena urged at the end Homer's tale, 'Call a halt to the great leveler, War.' Certainly I grow weary of press releases and PR statements and I sure would like to stop thinking of new metaphors to describe the plight of a man who has been a friend to me and to many, many others across the city.
Yet at the same time, I understand that the Goddess of Wisdom will not descend and fix things. Both sides are well beyond that point. So I will watch, at times with horror, as this epic continues to unfold and wish the best for both my colleague and for my employer.
But it is my opinion, and the opinion of many others, that Francesco Portelos needs to be back in a NYC classroom. And we all need to be talking about other things.