Monday, May 16, 2011

Where Bad Teachers Come From

[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.



Anonymous said...

Very well stated, except I think the concept of peer review needs to be flushed out more and weeded out.

Peer review is something that needs to be thought of more carefully because it can become tricky in those schools that are 'poorly run' with spies everywhere.

I think teachers just evaluating anyone is too broad and it needs to be more specific, for example, let mentors have more control over the new teachers. Second, UFT mentors can also have more say over the teachers as well.

After all, NO ONE would want to to work for a principal who treats employees like this:

Conflicted Teacher said...

Can I get some clarification? You describe 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".

Here's my objection to your characterization of the ass-kissers. My principal and AP basically live in our school as it is. Sometimes there are things that need doing that I care about, that I think are important to our students, and that no one else has time to do or do thoroughly (through no fault at all of the admins.) I try to step up when I can; partly because I care about the kids, and yes, partly because in school and at every job I've ever had, I've wanted to do my best and impress my supervisors. I don't think that's such a reprehensible thing, and I think it's worth noting that I've never felt pressured by my principal to do any of the extras. But last year, we had a union meeting that turned into a discussion of the younger, un-tenured teachers "doing too much and making the others look bad." It was a little intimidating and frustrating--because really, I don't think that should be the concern. I am grateful that my union ensures that I don't have to take on these additional jobs, but I feel that they make my school a better place to work and frequently make my relationship with my students better. (FWIW, although I am one of the young, un-tenured, potentially laid-off teachers, I also support the union and keeping LIFO at least until there is a real, fair way to evaluate teachers--which, in all probability, will be when pigs fly.)

So, the clarification I seek: Is the "asskisser" anyone who does this extra stuff? Or just the one who does the backstabbing? I think it's an important distinction, especially as people try to undermine unions by talking about work rules that prevent teachers from lifting a finger after 2:30.

Mr. Talk said...

Perhaps I should have been clearer. I did say that I was referring to teachers who would rather do "virtually anything but be in a classroom." In other words, those teachers who volunteer for thing that get them out of the classroom.

I do think that we have to be really careful about volunteerism these days, however. Nowadays, principals can deny tenure to new teachers who they feel haven't done enough "extra" work for the school and community. It makes no sense to me that good teachers can be denied tenure if they don't give up all their free time, but it seems that's where we've gotten to.

Moriah Untamed said...

As a former science teacher--one of those teachers, who according to you, get hired because they show up with a much-needed credential, and then hold their job whether they can teach or not--I would say, leave the teacher-bashing and scapegoating to the Asshats and the Bloomburgers. We need your cutting wit and sharp-shooter intelligence directed at the real bad guys--Multibillionaires who are trying to privatize our public school system.

Mr. Talk said...

Moriah, I thought I was clearly referring to those teachers who were brought in from other countries to fill in those positions, and not teachers who were qualified in the usual way. Even among those teachers, I said that many of them went on to become fine educators. I'm not sure where you got the idea that I was saying that all science teachers were bad, but if that's the impression you got, I apologize.