Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Make an Offer They Can’t Refuse

By on June 2, 2008

The Washington Post reported that the Washington Teachers’ Union is “proposing a three year contract…that would eliminate seniority.”  This would allow administrators to retain newer but more effective teachers while relocating more veteran teachers to positions seemingly more suitable for the needs of the district as a whole.               .  

Now, while I would be totally devastated if I had to uproot and move my middle school life into another school in the district, the fact is that the union needs to have some flexibility here in giving administrators a modicum of power over their staff positions, even those with tenure.

I understand that principals come and go and teachers’ positions should not be threatened by the whims of the newest flavor of the year, but the fact is that with some paper trails and evidence in place, a principal should be able to require a teacher to relocate within their own district.

Don’t grumble.  I can hear you from here.  Some of you may be arguing that passing an ineffective teacher onto another school is sort of like relocating the Rev. McCreepy to another parish.  But I don’t think it’s as simple as that.  

Some teachers are great teachers for certain grade levels.  I, for one, would not be a great 2nd grade teacher.  I am in awe of primary teachers and the skills necessary to reach out with rigor and creativity to a 7 year-old.  Some teachers are meant for high school and putting them in a middle school setting might be like bringing in a cannon to nail in a tack.  

Also, firing a teacher who has committed no indiscretion other than unchecked mediocrity is a punishment that doesn’t fit the crime.   Transferring that teacher to give them another opportunity is, however, defendable.   

But principals are, at times, tied by teacher contracts in making these important requests.  

Earlier in my career, I recall that a teacher at my school was evaluated.  She was a veteran but, frankly, one of the negative influences on our staff.  She sat in the faculty room and produced gossip and anger like the smokestack of a Dickensian factory.  She was in the department influencing an element of our PI standard and, according to test scores, had not produced the improvement of her colleagues.  Our principal sensed these contributions to our staff’s misery, checked out the teacher’s test scores, and posed a solution: move to an opening currently available at a lower level.  Perhaps her content knowledge would be best served at a simpler level.  Perhaps a little rolling of her dice might awaken her enthusiasm again.

But the teacher said, “No” and remained in her position as an ineffective teacher and smog-producing lecturer.

So my question to you is: with proper evidence in place, should not a principal be allowed to relocate teachers who are not functioning?  Is this not a compromise to a possible lay-off?  Should the union really be protecting these teachers when other teachers are affected by the inadequacies of certain colleagues?

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  1. Scott Walker
    June 4, 2008

    If principals were hihgly qualified moral individuals that wanted to take responsibility, empowering them with this option would be splendid. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case most of the time. More often than not, the teacher will know whether to stay or go or transfer without anyone telling them to. The principal can suggest and facilitate a transfer (for a disgruntled teacher that simply wants to stay for her retirement instead of putting an end to her misery) but he shouldn’t be able to force it. Think how easily that could become a threat.

  2. tweenteacher
    June 5, 2008

    Thanks for your comment. I understand the potential abuse and I think that there needs to be some reform on both sides. Admittedly, I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I do think that there needs to be a loosening up from both sides of the fence, teachers and administrators, re: their rights. Many of my opinions are based on my own experiences (clearly) and I have encountered far more weak and spineless administrators that won’t take on an ineffective teacher more than I have found abusive ones (but I know they are out there.) I have also been shocked at the number of teachers who are still in the classroom whose intentions do not match those of what people imagine teachers to have. I think those within our profession need to take care of itself and insist on a certain standard from those within it. There are many components that are busted here and we have to chip away at them one at a time. Giving a just principal some more options should be allowed. Tackle the abusive ones is another way. I am, of course, not for making it easy for an administrator to transfer a teacher, but I think it should be possible. If due process is followed, it should be an option for the administrator with spine. Take care, and thanks again for your comment.

  3. Mike Albert
    June 5, 2008

    The only thing that these work rules require is due process. Due process can be difficult, and it can be slow, but at some point, the teachers that we are complaining about impressed someone enough to get and keep their jobs. Or are we witnessing another example of incompetent administrators, this time in the hiring and evaluation process.

    I should also mention that these due process requirements, which were almost nonexistent 30 years ago (I am told!) are the result of management abuses. They were not created from whole clothe.

    Finally, I have two veteran teachers in our building who not only don’t teach, but make life miserable for the teachers in rooms adjacent to them. Everyone knows, but I suspect more administrators are more likely to be sighted on Mars by the NASA spacecraft then seen entering or leaving those classrooms.

  4. tweenteacher
    June 5, 2008

    Thank you, once again, for your comments. Look, the two teachers who work in your building are in every school, and while they do not represent the majority of teachers, they are the ones giving the profession a weaker name. It is the job of the administrators to do something about them, despite the difficulty of due process. As it is, however, the union is also a tough card to battle and I think that, while I am glad there is a unconditional supporter of teachers out there, it can be at odds with supporting the success of the school at large. I think, obviously, that there are many problems out there that tweaking and flexibility in the system can help. This might be one element that needs re-tooling. Incompetent administrators who never show their faces in the rooms of these weaker teachers is another element and for another post. Thanks again. It’s always good to hear from you.

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