22 July 2006

Whose Job Is It Anyway?

Can you think of a teacher who isn't very effective in the classroom? Maybe it's a colleague...or someone your child had...or one from your own experiences as a student. Ineffective teachers not only make a negative impact during the time students sit in their classrooms, but some research suggests that there is a residual impact in following years. What can we do to change this situation?

It seems easy to place the responsibility on the principal. She or he is, after all, the instructional leader and evaluator. If hiring staff falls onto the shoulders of the principal, shouldn't firing? Of course, you'd hope that some sort of "intervention" might happen first, but my guess is that most teachers avoid this if it is suggested. Once you have been on an improvement plan, it becomes part of every job application you fill out in following years. This allows a lot of bad teachers to simply resign and get a job elsewhere---but doesn't really address the problem. Meanwhile, many principals are unwilling to take on The Union, even though there are provisions in the contract for removing ineffectual teachers from the classroom.

Perhaps it is the role of teacher leaders in the building to work with others to improve what happens in the classroom. As much as I like this idea (I am working toward a degree in Teacher Leadership, after all), this also poses some awkward issues. If teachers are working as peer coaches, this format could probably work. My experience, however, is that ineffective teachers are also those who are least likely to open their classrooms to others or seek out professional support. Is it possible that a principal could set an expectation that everyone participate in professional learning communities that include peer observation? Sure. Buy-in to such a program would be an issue, but perhaps it would remove the burden from teachers. Maybe some staff discussion about evaluation vs. observation would be useful.

What about the teacher who's not performing well? Shouldn't s/he recognize that the work being done in the classroom is not providing kids with the education they need? I have known a few teachers who do, but stay in the classroom because they are concerned about losing their retirement or because they only have a few more years until they retire. In the first case, they have felt trapped. They know they should leave, but the financial risk is too great. A valid concern---is there a way around that? The other general teacher type I run across is one who firmly believes that what happens in the classroom is about whatever the teacher wants, and not what kids need. This can be a fairly entrenched personal philosophy---it may even be what drew someone to the profession. Is it possible for them to shift their thinking and reframe their talents and abilities?

Parents and kids know very well which teachers are "good" at a certain school. They do get a voice in terms of classroom assignments, but other than that, they have no input into preventing other students from having a year of poor instruction. Should they be given a voice in the process? Could it be framed in such a way that keeps it from being personal...when we're talking about the needs of kids?

At a time when finding highly-qualified teachers is already difficult, the prospect of exiting teachers from the profession isn't necessarily welcome. Whose job is it to first point out that someone needs to make more of an effort in the classroom? Who provides the support to make the changes? And who monitors things and/or provides a graceful exit from teaching, if needed? How do we as an educational community give kids the best experience possible?


"Ms. Cornelius" said...

Say a teacher DID ask for intervention about a totally ineffective colleague. Say, completely hypothetically, mind you, that this was NOT news to the principal,who had tried and failed before to take action regarding this problem, nor was this a mystery to the Asst Supe of Personnel, who had decided that it was FAR less work just to let this ineffective teacher stay where s/he was rather than to actually gather the documentation it would take to relieve this teacher of his/her duties. Say, even, that there was a non-teaching assignment this completely clueless person could do but it was given to someone else.

What would you do then? You'd worry about your own classroom and move on.

Just hypothetically, of course....

Stephen said...

The worst problems i encountered in my education were not generally the teacher, but the policy. When i was in 1st grade, policy dictated that all the students advance at the same rate. While that probably meant that the slower students were helped more, it certainly meant that advanced students were stopped cold in their tracks. Pretty silly, and destructive for at least a decade. Given a poor policy, then very good, dedicated, and energetic teachers can cause all sorts of heinous damage.

My son enjoys a school where the norm is two teachers in the classroom at a time. The policies are good. There's much more than twice the amount of time available for individual instruction - since one teacher can teach the class at large while the other provides individual instruction. Further, there's a better chance that one of them knows how to handle a given situation better.

I write software for a living. There are team coding techniques (two at a time). The evidence suggests that it can produce higher quality code much faster than working independently. Industry, which has gotten good at ignoring performance, has largely failed to pick up on it.

Anonymous said...

Liz here from I Speak of Dreams. You might enjoy reading Erin O'Connor's take on trying to reshape school culture. Post one Post two

And yes, Western Washington or the San Francisco Bay area--triple digits?! Wha???

The Science Goddess said...

Hypothetically, Ms. C., that just makes me sad. Seems like kids should be worth the "work" of gathering documentation.

Stephen---I think you're right. Sometimes what is originally intended well does not turn out that way for everyone.

Liz---thanks for the ideas!

Anonymous said...

My father used to be an administrator in a school district. He had a wood shop teacheer who was just plain dangerous. The guy didn't enforce safety rules and was lackadaisical in his classroom/shop. More than once he was caught allowing the kids to operate the equipment in unsafe ways.

Short of a felony conviction, one would think that this would be just about the worst thing you could do and would get you fired toot-sweet. One would be wrong, however. The union faught for the guy for years and years until he finally retired.

I think it should work the same as in any other industry. The principal should do the hiring, within guidelines set out by the district. The principal should then monitor their teachers, set their goals and track their progress, just like any manager in any job situation. Miss too many goals or do your job poorly and you're out (after appropriate warnings and paperwork). As a manager, the principal is responsible for the school meeting its own goals and stands to become unemployed if the school does poorly as a whole.

If one principal has too many direct reports (ie, too many teachers working under them to keep track of), then another layer of management (eg, assitants or department heads) is inserted (one person can't directly manage more than a dozen or so others). An small elementary school with twenty or so teachers, for example, should be able to get by with a principal and asstant principal.

This works in zillions of diffferent job situations all over the planet, whether it's factory workers or software developers or construction crews. Good middle managers are vital to any regular organization.

Mr. McNamar said...

What bothers me about many of the ineffective teachers I know is that they are already well advanced on the salary schedule. Meanwhile, younger teachers who are far more competent put forth far more effort for far less money. It creates tension on both sides. The younger teachers resent the tenured teacher because he makes more money. The tenured teachers resent the the younger teachers because they become the focus of administrators and students.