In a recent post on Failing Schools, a powerful blog out of Denver, Colorado, Mariasallee asked this question. The answer is obvious–right? Of course, we all want quality teachers in our classrooms. This begs the question: How do we accomplish this? How do we get quality teachers?
Or the flip side of this question: What do we do about the less than desirable teachers we may have?
In the minds of many critics of public education, the answer is simple and equally obvious: Fire all of the “bad teachers.” Yes! This sounds expedient and decisive—now we’re getting somewhere. Next, the critic complains that in reality, this plan is not so easy, that it is actually quite difficult and time-consuming. Finally, they segue to the issue at the heart of their consternation: firing “bad teachers” could/should/would be an easy and effective method to bring about instant reform in each and every one of our public schools, EXCEPT for those damnable teacher unions that spoil everything by going out of their way to protect “bad teachers.”
[Yeah. Right. Note to self: Must protect incompetent teachers. Why, as a union leader, I try to begin each day with this goal in mind.]
Some teaching colleagues and I attended a Vision 2015-sponsored education summit in fall, 2009. We were shocked when the audience in the SRO auditorium broke out in loud cheers and applause when a presenter made this very same recommendation “Fire all the bad teachers.” Problem solved—education reform achieved. It was as if their team had hit a homerun. It cut me to the quick.
“Bad teachers.” I detest that phrase. Here’s why: I don’t think that it tells us very much about the real nature of the issue. I don’t know a single teacher–and I know hundreds of teachers–who wants to work with or clean up after a truly ineffective teacher. [See my earlier posts on teacher tenure for reasons why some less than satisfactory teachers may remain in teaching.]
Anyway,… if these people are not adequately described by the moniker “bad teachers”, then what are they? What should we call them instead?
It may be more accurate and more revealing to label some teaching employees with one of the following categories. Trust me; this is not simply an issue of political correctness or semantics. It is about creating a more nuanced and illuminating description of the problem. Then, one may be better able to figure out a practical remedy for said problem. The remedy for each of these situations cannot rationally be, “Fire them all!” [Rather like the Red Queen’s response in Alice in Wonderland: “Off with their head!” If you recall the story, no one lost his/her head at all. The offending party was merely whisked away out of sight of the Queen until she forgot all about the command. Sounds vaguely familiar. Doesn’t it?]
So, how about considering the following labels to identify struggling teachers? Wait, I’ve got it! How about creating a rubric that can be used to not only categorize the individual, but also rank the severity of the problem. (In school, as in medicine, we usually look at frequency/intensity/duration in order to qualify a judgment.)
- Inexperienced teacher: Teacher shows some promise, but appears to lack the skills and teaching strategies that would come from spending time in the classroom alongside a more veteran, experienced master teacher.
- Inadequate or ineffective teacher: Teacher appears to lack adequate and/or effective planning, preparation, or skill needed to deliver appropriate instruction. Needs additional carefully focused professional development or coursework.
- Marginally skilled teacher: Teacher has a basic repertoire of skills and teaching strategies; however, these may not be sufficient or properly suited to his/her current teaching assignment.
- Incompetent teacher: Teacher has not demonstrated basic competence in teaching. Teacher probably should not have been passed along in college preparation program. Teacher should be counseled, and accurate, thorough documentation should be gathered to clearly demonstrate that this person should be exited from the teaching profession.
Bad teacher: Equivalent to bad girl/bad boy, bad dog, bad breath, bad food, bad idea, bad weather, etc., etc., etc. This label fails to tell us anything about the teacher or the teaching.