Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Bad Teachers are not Tenure’s Fault

By on March 23, 2008

OK, I know this flowchart is old, but it is always important to go back to effective reminders of the inadequacy of our broken system.  The only ammendment, or challenge, I’d make to this contortionist-like system of firing a tenured teacher is this: it’s still the administrator’s job to muck through the bog of steps, to brave the system in all its time-sucking irrationalities, and fire the damn teacher.  

Frankly, as convoluted as that flow-chart is, it’s nothing compared to the flowchart of How to Get a Child Classified as Special Ed.  It’s also a brief blink in time compared to How to Get a Dangerously Psycho Stalking-the-Pretty-Teacher Kid relocated to another teacher’s classroom.  

The bottom line is this, the system is long and drawn out, but when we’re dealing with someone’s job, it should be.  We shouldn’t make it easy to lose a long-standing teacher that the principal-of-the-month decides doesn’t jive with his or her philosophies.  So the process I happen to support.   

But it still can’t discourage an adminisrator from doing his or her job and firing a teacher whose stats don’t add up to student success.  I’ve seen it countless times, the paper trail is not begun and the pipes not laid, to justify helping a bad teacher to, shall we say, “move on.”  That is not tenure’s fault.  It is not even the teacher’s fault.  It is the administrator’s.

And as for protection as a teacher?  Consider two of my rules, #6 and #8 ,from my Top 10 List How to Get the Most Out of Teaching:

Rule #6 – Teach with your Door Open.  If you teach with transparency you, as a teacher, are far more trusted and, frankly, more relaxed in the classroom.  This translates to better classroom management, less stressful teaching, and a more honest relationship with your administrator.  

Rule #8 – Take a Class in Public Relations.  Learn how to pitch your programs.  Learn how to write a press release.  Administrators like good press for the school and the school programs.  If you are doing something great, get it out there.  It helps the school and your reputation within it, which should be more solid then tenure any day.   

I don’t know what it is about administrators.  The job seems to call to a similar, non-confrontational type the way teaching sometimes calls to people who don’t want bosses.  But the fact remains that an administrator needs to be brave to do his or her job right.  The principal can’t be afraid to make enemies in the staff – a weak teacher on staff is far more demoralizing to the greater good then an administrator on the hunt for cruddy teachers in their natural habitat, the closed-door classroom.  The principal can’t be scared to begin a long legal process.  It happens.  It’s not surprising that a teacher will fight to keep their job, but it is surprising when an administrator doesn’t fight to shake off a shabby teacher in their staff’s midst.     


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  1. Mike Albert
    May 6, 2008

    I agree — seeing bad, or indifferent, teaching going is not only demoralizing, it is embarrassing. And you’re right on “tenure” (which is really due process, at least in my district) — it is not the issue.

    Ultimately, it is easier for an administrator to just allow a sub-par teacher to continue than it is to document poor performance, much less provide effective support and in-service training. Especially in urban schools where there is often less parent involvement, what is there to push an administrator to confront poor classroom performance? Even the pressure of test scores is not really a factor, since one teacher really would not have that much personal impact on a school’s API, unless it was a very small school.

    Teachers, administrators, parents and students all need to be more accountable to each other, and to ourselves.

  2. tweenteacher
    May 7, 2008

    Once again, Mike, thanks for your comment. I think that there’s this public perception out there about tenure that its protecting bad teachers and, for that reason, the public gets enraged at the protection that it affords. If more people out there understood the flip side of the process, that of the administrators’ responsibility, they might understand more where to put blame. The frustrating thing as a teacher is the question of why: “Why NOT start the paperwork on a sub-par teacher?” “Why NOT put the mechanisms in place to encourage teachers who should not be with kids to leave?” “Why allow sub-par teachers to feel comfortable in one’s school?” You would think that administrators would want a staff that reflects the best quality and most trusted educators. Nevertheless, to eliminate tenure (due process, as you say) as a means to make an administrator’s job easier is not the answer.

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