Wednesday, June 17, 2009

When Good Teachers Go Bad


I talk a lot about good teachers and bad admins on this blog, but I do recognize that there are many fine admins and some not so hot teachers. So while I have met many more incompetent admins than incompetent teachers, I think it's time we explored that issue, especially as I brought the topic up myself by complaining about my child's Diva teacher.

Obviously, the current system for evaluating teachers stinks on ice. Tyrannical administrators, of which there are far too many in New York, can manipulate the system to harass and rid themselves of senior teachers who make too much money for their budgets, or to quash union activities. Also, far more scrutiny is placed on English and math teachers because their students are tested.

Now, I don't want incompetent teachers working with my child, and I don't want them working in my school (or even in my city). I honestly believe that most teachers feel the same way, but the current system places a target on the back of every teacher. So what to do?

KitchenSink (who got me started thinking about this) posted in the comments section that "School leaders should have real data at their fingertips (I'm talking qualitative observations and feedback and rubrics about performance here, not test scores), and should have the freedom to remove the chaff for the benefit of kids." That sounds like a lot of administrative double talk to me. Who decides what quality means? Who creates the rubric? What stops a vindictive principal from using these tools to drive out teachers he or she doesn't like?

I have a couple of ideas:

1. Reinforce the idea of tenure. Principals have three years in which to decide whether a teacher is acceptable. I could tell you in three days who belongs. If principals change their minds after three years, they better be damn well able to prove a teacher incompetent.

2. Create a meaningful curriculum with the input of teachers (this is done at my school, and you'd be amazed how much teachers want to do justice to the curriculum when they have a hand in creating it). If any teachers fail or refuse to teach the minimum skills agreed upon by their respective departments, they should be put on the hot seat. Divas would be no more--they would have to teach certain units at certain times just like everyone else.

3. We all know that a principal can get his or her admin buddies from other schools to do so-called "impartial" observations, which is nothing more than a way to bolster a case at a 3020 hearing. How about we create "observation teams" of highly qualified teachers to observe teachers outside their own schools instead of admins? These teachers, who truly have no stake in the outcome other than justice and the education of children, would be a better barometer of the truth than the principal calling his friends in to give U ratings to people being targeted.

So, what are your ideas? How do we ensure the highest teacher quality while protecting the rights of teachers who are doing their jobs?

5 comments:

NYC Educator said...

When I was doing hall patrol, I got a good sense of at least one teacher on my beat who was way off. Honestly, if any administrator can't catch on to someone like that in three years, that person deserves tenure and the administrator should be fired.

Pissed Off said...

And, if you listen to what the kids say (not just one, all of them), you will also learn about what is going on. Not all kids are disgruntled just because they are failing.

Miss Eyre said...

I would be unafraid to be evaluated by my students. They have given me some real helpful and honest feedback, some of which I am actually implementing for next year.

I would also be unafraid to be evaluated by colleagues who don't know me or my class personally. Good teaching is good teaching. As Mr. Talk points out, they would have no agenda other than quality teaching for the benefit of the kids. To make it extra-secure and impartial, these teachers could be selected randomly (like a jury) from within the district or borough and sent to a school at a certain time. All tenured teachers into a pool. It would count as something like a PD day. I think it would be extremely helpful.

moriah said...

As a science teacher, I would like to be evaluated by other science teachers--not by math, social studies or ELA teachers, not by administrators who have taught science out-of-license for a couple of years, but by real, honest-to-gosh science teachers who know how to teach science concepts by using a variety of methods, including hands-on labs. These teachers should come from outside the school so that school politics would not be a factor.

This will never happen as long as Bloomberg is mayor.

Mr. Talk said...

Frankly, I would hate being evaluated by my students. I'm pretty popular among the kids who do work, but not quite as loved by those who don't. I'd hate to even think that I was making teaching decisions in order to have my students give me a positive evaluation.

Ms. Eyre, I absolutely love your idea! A jury of your peers--how great is that? It would also be a terrific tool for those teachers facing incompetence hearings.

Moriah, I agree that it will probably never happen. But we can dream.