05 February 2008

Sucks to Be You

"One of the perks of being a teacher," he said, "is that you get to hand pick your own kids' teachers. You know which ones to avoid."

"And in doing so, you relegate the kids who need the best teachers to the not-so-best teachers' classes," answered The Science Goddess.

"Yeah, but if a kid's parents don't want to advocate for him, then too bad."

She sighed. "It's not really that simple. Just because a parent is disconnected from the school for one reason or another doesn't mean that she doesn't love her child and want the best for him. If you didn't speak English, would you go to school and ask for a certain teacher? If your only means of transportation is the city bus to and from your two minimum wage jobs, is it likely you going to be able to get to the school to be the same advocate as someone with a car? Or would you just have to trust that the school would act responsibly toward your child's needs?"

"Oh, well." He laughed off the idea.

All that was missing from this conversation was the Must suck to be you. tagline. As I think about things, I'm not sure what the "right" answer is. Should a kid from a privileged background be subjected to poor instruction simply because his parents can make up for any missing pieces at home? No more than a kid from an underprivileged background should have a bad teacher because his parents can't advocate for better. There is no win for that particular dilemma. The only way around it is to improve the classroom skills of so-so teachers and outright fire the bad ones. I'm not sure that such a system will happen in the near future, but in the meantime, is it so much to ask that we act with compassion?


Tom Brandt said...

When was the last time a teacher lost his/her job for being a lousy teacher? I have never heard of any incident. That doesn't mean it has not occurred.

How does a parent find out who are the best teachers?

You are right, of course. We need to improve the skills of the so-so teachers.


The Science Goddess said...

It takes a lot of paperwork to get rid of a not-so-great teacher. It is simpler just to tell them that they will be put "on a plan of improvement." This is usually enough to get a resignation. Once you have been put on such a plan, you have to disclose this on future job applications. Instead, most teachers just move on to another school.

Parents find out the "best" teachers simply by swapping stories with other parents or by spending a lot of time volunteering at the school. It definitely requires a social network.