There’s a new movie coming out this summer called BAD TEACHER. It’s a comedy. I haven’t seen it of course. Of course it also made me sad. Who hired that monstrosity I saw in the trailer last week? And why is she allowed to live? A commenter on another post, THOSE WHO CAN, TEACH, wrote about working as a legal assistant. She wasn’t treated respectfully, she said, but on the weekend, her time was her own.
This reminded me of when I was in college and the mother of a friend of mine became incensed at the income of a teacher in the Seattle Public Schools. “That’s almost as much as I make!” She was the head secretary at a law firm. She had a high school degree and 30 years experience, which was also the experience of the teacher's salary reported in the newspaper. I’m sure Bertha was very good at her job. I served on committees with her and she was marvelously capable and organized. She did not have the famed “three months off” in the summer, but she did have evenings and weekends free. She did not pay for five or more years of college to qualify to begin her job and she got a Christmas bonus, comp time, and overtime. She had five lawyers she answered to, not hundreds of students, their parents, and administrators. She had a hard job, but so does every teacher in America.
I have not yet seen WAITING FOR SUPERMAN either. It is anti-union, as I understand it. It blames the “crisis” in education on unions protecting bad teachers. Yet, even in the old days when we did have tenure, teachers were driven out of the profession. It was really not all that hard to do. If there are bad teachers, it’s up to administration to either support them in doing a better job, or to document the problem and force them out. I’ve seen both happen. Setting aside for the moment that I didn’t feel the action was justified in every case, it was clearly not difficult to get rid of a “bad teacher”once administrators had the will. My union could do nothing to stop this process. They could only witness to ensure the process was “fair.” If there are bad teachers, someone hired them and was also in a position to let them go. Maybe a union somewhere protects bad teachers, but I’d like to know where that place is. In my experience “bad” is a relative term and no district sets out to hire bad people in the first place and no union wants to protect them in the last.
That said, I would argue that “bad teachers” are rare. They don’t last. They move on. They get shoved out. They give up. Or they are tolerated, like a crabby household pet, because no one cares to mess with them. In my own experience as a student, I had an elementary teacher who didn’t like me because I was “too smart,” but I also had six other elementary teachers who took very good care of me for the same reason. I had reading and geometry teachers later on in school whom I didn't like, but my opinion was unique to me—others loved them. I had several college professors that I adored, though they weren’t popular with other students. Not every teacher works well with every kid, and this isn't the teacher’s fault.
If we truly want the best of the best in every single classroom, we need to stop blaming teachers and their unions. Schools generally hire the best they can afford. Instead of blaming teachers, we will have to change everything about the way we treat teachers. There are still marvelously overqualified teachers who enter the profession despite relatively low pay, long hours, and growing general distrust and disrespect toward teachers. But you can’t fill a school with them.
There aren’t enough “great” teachers out there.
And the reason there aren’t is the same reason the best private companies do have the best people working for them. They headhunt new talent, which schools can’t afford to do. And the “best and brightest” potential teachers often choose a different profession with better pay and weekends off for good behavior.
My district is hiring right now to replace retiring teachers. The first requirement, the first cut, was not for the most education or highest grades in college, or richest life of working experience, or documented creativity or hard work or other best qualifications. The first cut was made to any applicant with more than a few years’ experience. We can do this right now and still find great candidates because teachers from as far away as Wisconsin and Florida are looking for work. In this time of “crisis in public education,” schools are cutting staff, and that means my district can choose from a great pool of applicants. We won't, however, be interviewing the teacher born in east Europe who speaks four languages and with a history writing curricula or the one who developed a program to address the needs of students in poverty because those applicants have too many years of experience. They sound like great teachers, but the district can save money by hiring a newer teacher who will be paid less.
They need to save money to avoid other cuts.
If an organization wants the best and brightest, they need to be able to headhunt—to announce, for example: Our math department chair is retiring. We need a fabulous replacement. There’s this guy over at X High School with exactly the qualities we need. Let’s see what it will take to get him to come to our school. We never do this. American public schools cannot afford to do it. We never offer a monetary or other incentive to get the person we really need.
No, wait, I’m wrong. We did it once to get a coach.