, Newburyport, MA


October 9, 2012

How are teachers the problem?


Even after tenure, teachers may be terminated for incompetence, insubordination or morals infractions. It’s not always easy, nor should it be, just as in the American legal system. But tenure is not intended to harbor bad teachers. Why would teachers want bad colleagues in their midst? Every child deserves a good teacher.

Again, in my own career as a multi-term teachers association president, I monitored the termination of teachers. The process was carried out. Sometimes it is better to part ways.

Second, the rule of last in, first out: In times of cutbacks, new teachers, including some dynamic ones, are lost. But looking at it from the other perspective, wouldn’t a school financial officer be tempted to lay off an experienced, top-of-the-salary-scale teacher and hire two beginners at the same total cost? That would be economical, but experienced teachers are more often than not the more effective teachers.

Finally, accountability: Yes, teachers must be accountable. The Massachusetts Teachers Association has agreed that standardized testing of students can be a part of a teacher’s evaluation, but there’s more to teaching than that — the inspiration and nurturing of a child’s intellect and self-image. The state MCAS is given in parts from the third to 10th grades. How to evaluate teachers in the non-MCAS years? Or teachers in foreign language, history, physical education, art, music … for which there are no MCAS tests? Classroom observation of teachers by a team of the principal, the department head and a peer makes more sense, with the opportunity for constructive criticism and follow-up.

As for testing itself, as an example of a multi-faceted assessment, I like the model used by the National Ski Patrol: an observation of skiing ability, a test of toboggan handling through an obstacle course, a series of accident simulations and a paper-and-pencil test of First Aid knowledge. Each measures a crucial aspect of the job. All four together measure the job. The paper-and-pencil test is not a test comprehensive enough to declare mastery nor to predict success in patrolling, learning or teaching.

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