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One Reply to “Going Green!”
Whenever we have a highly visible labor negation in education the issue of teacher tenure is front and center. If we could only fire bad teachers, we think, everything would be just fine. But I’m not sure it’s quite that simple.
First of all, we can already fire bad teachers. It’s just that few principals and school districts have the guts to do it. True, it can take a while, and maybe cost a little money, but the best principals I know never even have to go that far. They get rid of bad teachers simply by talking with them. Nobody wants to be a bad teacher. And a bad teacher, once identified, rarely wants to stay in her current position. At one school where I worked last year, a principal succeeded in encouraging 17 sub-standard teachers to leave. And not one of them had to be fired.
Next is the issue of whether anyone will fire teachers even when it is easy to do so. Few principals I have worked have the guts or the grace to do it. And fewer still would carry it out in a way that was respectful and efficient. Truth is, bad principals are the failing fulcrum point in our system. And they can already be fired at a moment’s notice. (Why is so little attention focused on this all-important group, I often wonder?)
Which brings me to a third conclusion: we can already fire principals and other district administrators yet we do not. Why? Once again, it’s because those in supervision lack the courage and competency to do so. I suspect that even in those cases where school districts negotiate the right to fire teachers more easily, this same lack of will and skill will still exist.
Finally, how does firing bad teachers increase our nation’s capacity to teach? I suppose we could say that, by some miracle, new teachers will magically appear to take their places. But this is unlikely. And, in any case, even if we filled poor veteran teachers with gung ho newbies, we’d still face the enormous attrition statistics we see in today’s teaching profession. And don’t even get me started about TFA or alternative certification. TFA is a great organization that puts a very small number of teachers into very temporary service. And alternative certification folks have higher attrition rates than their traditional counterparts.
So, by all means, let’s negotiate easier firings of bad teachers. But let’s not expect the mere fact of these negotiations to change much of anything in our schools. Education is still dominated by a culture of fear and incompetence at all levels. It’s not just about getting rid of bad teachers; its’ about getting good ones in their place. And I see nothing in the current crop of labor negotiations that addresses this need.