Responses to Attacks on Teachers

An interesting debate has popped up on a Seattle Times article, but most of the debate centers on the same old, rehashed, and repeated talking points which are decidedly anti-public education. Here are my quick responses to a couple topics.

Responding to someone who advocates performance over seniority during times of layoffs:

Everyone is pretty much in agreement that the current evaluation system is not working. Thus, trying to use a system (that we all basically agree is broken) on which to base layoffs is a ludicrous notion. The new evaluation system (if the administrators do what they are supposed to do) will force teachers to improve and will more accurately assess teachers.

If you create a system that ranks teachers, collaboration is gone. No longer would a teacher have an incentive to help other teachers, especially those new to teaching. In fact, watching a teacher struggle next door would be a benefit to me. This cynical view would become reality, and ultimately the kids would become the victims. Why would I aid someone when I am in competition with him?

Plus, every ranking system used in education has numerous flaws as study after study reveals. This would create lawsuits and more. As one example, Houston’s teachers were ranked using one such system. When the state test, SAT, and ACT exams were used to rank the teachers, the results varied greatly from one test to the other yet all three are teaching goals. Teachers at the top of one list were on the bottom of another. This end result has been repeatedly shown in Florida, Tennessee, Texas, and in other areas.

People also have a mistaken notion that seniority is the only factor during layoffs. This is inaccurate. In fact, what a teacher instructs has a large impact on RIFs. Some areas/positions cannot be cut, and a highly qualified teacher must be in those positions.

“Based on performance over seniority” is a great soundbite, but it is really nothing more than a bumper sticker slogan and worth about as much.

Responding to teachers not putting in enough hours to warrant their pay checks:

I teach English and I’m required to teach a number of thesis papers each year. Now, if each of my 150 students composes a paper and I take 15 minutes per paper, that’s 37.5 hours for one paper. This does not include any other assignments, prep time for lessons, parent contacts, etc. This occurs on top of everything else, and it’s only one paper. One of my classes requires 4-5 papers per semester.

I don’t say this to elicit sympathy but to illustrate the number of unseen hours that some teachers endure during the school year, unpaid time that teachers essentially volunteer to their students because they care about those children. These are volunteer hours, and the teachers could simply work their hours and go home, but they do not.

There are disciplines without these extra hours requirements; this, I recognize. However, most teachers put in many hours well beyond the contract details.

Responding to the mistaken notion that teachers can’t be fired:

Incompetent administrators do struggle to terminate those who need to leave the profession.

Tenure in this state does not mean a job for life as many like to believe, but it does require due process. This really means that the administration has to show (with evidence) that the teacher should be let go.

However, a teacher can be fired for any reason in the first three years of employment. Let me repeat that: any reason. This gives the administration three full years with no real obstruction to determine a teacher’s fitness in the classroom.

Just as I must provide evidence to justify a grade for a student (and whether or not the student passes a course) and provide the means for improvement, an administrator must justify with evidence a termination.

Still, some offenses result in immediate termination. I can’t comment on the Auburn teacher since I was not involved with the case (were you?). I have been involved in a couple cases where teachers were terminated; it just didn’t make the papers.

Responding to the oft-repeated idea that unions are only out for themselves:

I’m not so sure why people think the unions are such negatives in education (though I would agree that not all unions are the same).

In my district the union does a great job enforcing due process and advocating for me, but it also helps with things no one else is pushing for: keeping class sizes manageable, helping ensure I get the professional development I need, protecting me from poor administrators, making sure the curriculum doesn’t become a scripted and brainless series of exercises, and more. These things benefit kids as much as (or more than) the teachers.

The state union has actually collaborated with the state for a new evaluation system intended to force professional growth and improve student learning. This is a definite positive for education.

Responding to a critic who does not understand how a masters helps a teacher become better:

Depends on the masters and how it is applied. I earned mine while teaching, so everything I learned I put into practice immediately. My masters forced me to analyze data in different ways, to use it in my classroom with more specificity, and to alter the way I structured lessons and activities. For me, the masters made a huge difference.

Plus, teaching is not a static profession. New approaches, studies, material, and so one are developed all the time. Continuing education is a major component of being a teacher.

That’s about it for now.

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