Monday, May 16, 2011
[STANDARD TEACHER CAVEAT UPCOMING] There are some bad teachers out there.
I don't know why teachers always have to issue that caveat, as if other professions don't have bad apples. Still, it's tradition, and far be it from me to break with tradition.
Today, I'd rather not look at the whether; I'd like to look at the why, and what we can do about it.
We tend to shy away from the question of where bad teachers come from like we shy away from telling children where babies come from. For the record, bad teachers are not dropped on schools by the stork. There are two main reasons why we have bad teachers in the system, and they are 1) demand has long outstripped supply, and 2) a lot of administrators aren't doing their jobs.
Before we examine those reasons, let's dispel the most common myth. Most teachers are highly competent. Teachers aren't fished out of the shallow end of the gene pool; most of us are quite well schooled in our subject areas and we know how to run a classroom. This is evident from the incredibly high number of teachers who have masters degrees, and the fact that about half of all teachers leave or are fired before they reach 5 years. Those who remain are highly educated and have managed to successfully navigate through five years of the DOE.
So where do the bad apples come from? Let's examine reason #1: demand has long outstripped supply. Many E4E people were learning to use crayons back when there was a severe teacher shortage in NYC. They used to advertise for teachers not only on buses and subways, but in foreign countries. Many teachers were brought in because they could be licensed to teach in shortage areas, despite the fact that they often spoke little English. (Disclaimer--many, but not all, of these folks went on to become fine educators) Other teachers who should have never been kept on were given tenure simply because they taught in a shortage area and could not be replaced because the city did not want to pay teachers enough to create a sizable pool of candidates. Long Island schools typically paid 40% more, so good, qualified teachers left the city in droves for much greener pastures (and 40% more is a lot of green). Today, supply outstrips demand, but that will change once the economy improves and teacher protections are savaged by Bloomberg and Cuomo. We will once again be recruiting teachers from Peru.
Reason #2 is that a lot of administrators simply don't do their jobs. Remember, principals have FOUR YEARS to decide whether someone is qualified to receive tenure; if they can't figure out who can do the job after four years, they are incompetent boobs. Furthermore, every school I have ever been to or heard talked about has a set of teachers who don't do the job because they are actually protected by the principal or an AP. I've written about some of these teachers before. First we have the divas, who don't teach much but they make the principal look good because they spend all their time on creating fancy bulletin boards rather than teaching. Then we have the ass-kissers, who are willing to play piano at concerts, organize testing for admins, cause dissension among the staff, and rat out fellow teachers--virtually anything but be in a classroom.
E4E would like to solve the problem of "bad" teachers by allowing administrators to choose whom they fire. To see how ridiculous this is, let's look at main groups of bad teachers again. Teachers in hard to staff license areas will get a pass no matter how bad they are because there simply aren't enough qualified candidates to take their place. The do-nothing divas and ass kissers won't get the boot either, because principals love them.
No, the only people who will be fired if E4E's plans come to fruition are the highest paid, hardest working teachers in easier-to-staff subject areas. English and SS studies teachers will be hard hit, no matter how good they are, because principals view us as expendable and replaceable.
All the E4E folks will lose their jobs in a few years as well, as soon as they start making a few bucks or they get a poor TDR score.
So, what's the solution? As I've always stated, teachers should be given major control over personnel decisions. No teacher wants to teach next to a lousy teacher, and no teacher would keep the non-teaching suck-ups on for very long. If teachers evaluated each other, everyone who did their job would stay, and those who gold bricked would go. The stork would be out of business.