Mom’s views on teachers valid [UPDATED]Published 10:15am Monday, March 12, 2012 Updated 12:15pm Monday, March 12, 2012
The recent issue over what to do about teachers – whether seniority should be the sole basis of budgetary layoffs, whether the current system is allowing bad teachers to continue to work while good young teachers can’t get jobs – made me think to call my mother.
While I certainly felt some need to call her based solely on guilt – after all, everyone should call their mother – in this case, I felt her opinion to be valuable.
My mother was a teacher for about 40 years in public and Catholic schools until her retirement a couple of years ago. For years, we as a family endured evenings while she corrected papers and had lab rats in our house from her science classes. As someone who has observed a whole lot of other teachers and administrators, she couldn’t help but flow over with passion about the subject.
Here are a few of her opinions.
The idea of taking seniority out of budgetary layoffs will almost inevitably lead to salary-based layoffs. She was at a private school that faced layoffs, and it was almost automatic that the teachers who were paid more were the first to be laid off, no matter what the quality level. Bad younger teachers outnumber bad older teachers. Contrary to popular belief, experience counts for something. My mom saw many young teachers who couldn’t teach their way out of a paper bag. Many eventually ended up quitting or getting laid off, and probably deservedly so. Some people aren’t cut out to be teachers. They apparently had to teach for a while to figure that out.
Even good young teachers aren’t always good for the long term. My mom, and sister, who has now been teaching for about 15 years, saw many young teachers come in with the idea of saving the world. After a couple years, they determined that they could not save the world, or even the kids they taught, and that it was indeed a job. So they quit. So my mom asks, how does employing a young teacher who is going to leave after three years good for the long-term health of a school? On the other hand, a teacher who may not be the most “dynamic” who shows up on time, does the work, and cares for and is committed to students certainly has value to a school long term.
Older bad teachers need to be fired. When it came to older teachers who were “mailing it in,” my mother saw a practice that was the equivalent of the Russian Army sending soldiers to Siberia. Rather than getting fired, a teacher would receive an unappealing assignment – a class with a bunch of particularly bad kids, for example. Administrators also would assign tenured teachers to a non-classroom job – an unnecessary one at that. In one case, the students were essentially wasting a year. In another, the district was wasting valuable financial resources it could have used on a real teacher.
We need more administrators, not fewer. The only way a teacher can be fairly evaluated, my mother contends, is for the school principal to consistently, frequently observe that teacher’s classroom. And there are only so many hours in a school day.
Other evalutation methods, such as having a more experienced teacher observe another’s classroom, inevitably create “tattletale” issues.
School administrators must have a passion for what they do. Administrators need to observe everything from teachers to janitors. They have to be objective in avoiding making evaluations based on whether they “like” a teacher or not. They have to have the courage to confront teachers whom they feel aren’t doing the job and tell them, in the words of one of my former bosses, “You’re not doing your job well enough to keep it.”
At the end of my conversation with my mom, it became clear to me that education is no different than any other profession. A business has to have good employees and good bosses, and the market you are in – in the case of education, the quality of the students attending the schools – plays a large role in its success.
I also determined that, if I were a school superintendent, my first principal hire would be my mother.
Joel Myhre is The Journal’s publisher. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org