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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

When a Teacher Should Stop Teaching

Being a teacher in a public school is an incredibly difficult job. Seattle Public Schools is blessed with many gifted, devoted teachers. But, like any school district, Seattle also has some teachers who should stop teaching.

I know the teachers' union contract provides strong employment protection, but I don't think it's right to have students in classrooms with teachers who are 1) mean or disrespectful or 2) not contributing to students' learning.

What can/should parents do when faced with this kind of situation? What can/should other teachers at the school do? What is the role of the principal or the district administration? And how can/should the union contract change to reward good teachers while enabling bad teachers to be moved out of teaching positions.

To be clear, I'm not talking about teachers who are just perceived as average or below-average. I'm talking about teachers whose presence is detrimental to children. Below are comments from a couple of blog threads that indicate the kind of situation I mean.

[curious parent] Can anyone speak to the issue at West Woodland? My understanding is that several families have pulled their children from a second-grade class after complaints about the teacher were ignored.

[anonymous] Regarding West Woodland. It is a second grade teacher at West Woodland. A little boy got a concussion from "falling out of his chair and hitting his desk." The teacher didn't take him to the nurse or clean up the blood but said, something like show your mommy what happens when you don't know how to sit in your chair. She is the worst--throw her out!!! They also have a K teacher who shames all the kids. Beware touring parents. How come we can't get rid of these inept teachers???


[anonymous]...But for example-my child had a 5th grade teacher who anounced at the beginning of the year she didn't spend much time on math- this was at the beginning of the year classroom meeting. This teacher was also out of the classroom more than she was in it- but as she wouldn't go on leave a permanent sub could not be hired.This was 6 years ago-this pattern has continued since then and she is still teaching. One of the reasons why she is still teaching is because principals at the school (plural because they have averaged only a year or two before they move on) have other things on their plate besides encouraging burnt out teachers to retire.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Beth,
Could you post the links to the places where you read those threads? I'm trying to find more good conversations about seattle schools and your blog is one of my faves...Could you share the link love?

Are there any other blogs you recommend?
THanks.

Anonymous said...

I hope it is not something about West Woodland. This was 10 years ago- when my daughter who was in 1st grade in private school, needed support services for her learning disabilities.

Although her private school was on Queen Anne, the district said services would be received at West Woodland our neighborhood school.

When I visited with the sped teacher at the end of the school day, I observed that she used shaming as a controlling technique & later after the children had left, she repeatedly commented about the difficulty of "boys" and their behavior.

I think particulary with special needs children, care needs to be given regarding hiring and retention of teachers. They are likely to already feel marginalized and inadequate & a teacher who reinforces that belief does not bode well for their learning.

Teachers don't need to be outwardly abusive to be harmful.

My greatest concern- and hope for change is in hiring practices.
I have been on several principal hiring committees as well as teacher hiring committees.

It is sad, but I have seen some strong candidates with excellent resumes, turned away, because of perceived threat to the status quo.
Just as in any field, some people are burnt out, and are hanging on till retirement/vacation.

It might affect productivity if they are in industry, but when they are in the classroom, it has lifelong repercussions for our children.
Karin Youngberg

Beth Bakeman said...

In response to the first Anonymous comment, the West Woodland quote came from the Leadership in Seattle Public Schools thread back in December.

The other quote, which is about Summit K-12, was from the A District Without Spectrum? thread earlier this month.

And with a full-time job, three kids, and this blog, I'm too busy to read other blogs. :-) Sorry! I'd love to hear from other blog readers if they have favorite education blogs they read.

Anonymous said...

"On an earlier comment, I said I was tired of the "Melissa bashing." What I didn't say was, I appreciate you and others who oppose Melissa's viewpoint by presenting your reasoning, data, and thoughts. And I appreciate those who support Melissa's viewpoint in the same way.

What I can't stomach is people who feel compelled to stoop to personal attacks over a difference of opinions. I recruited the contributors I did for this blog because I want different opinions aired here."

Beth,

How do you reconcile what is happening here and on other posts that have personally attacked teachers and/or schools based upon a difference of opinions, with what you write above?

I'm not saying that the thoughts have no merit, just questioning whether a blog is a constructive place for people to air their opinions about specific individuals. Your thoughts?

Beth Bakeman said...

Good question, anonymous.

I see several important differences:

1) The focus of this post is not on what a specific teacher is or isn't doing, but rather on system-wide issues --- i.e. what to do when a bad teacher remains in a school despite parent complaints to the principal. In fact, names are not even being named.

2) If a teacher or parents from a school being mentioned in this thread or other threads posted a different version of the story from their perspective, that would be great and it has, in fact happened on previous threads. I encourage different perspectives. What I was complaining about with the Melissa-bashing was that she is being personally attacked for holding and sharing an unpopular viewpoint.

Neither the commenters or I on this thread were criticizing teachers personally for what they believe.

On previous threads when posters have shared negative opinions about schools, I wouldn't say they have "personally attacked teachers and/or schools based upon a difference of opinions." Instead, most comments I can remember share an opinon of a school, which whether positive or negative seems like valid and potentially helpful information to share.

3) I believe that sharing information and opinions about teachers and schools, even when those opinions are negative, can contribute to improving school quality overall because it takes the ugly issues out of the closet and exposes them to the light of day.

I'd like to hear more about why you don't think a blog is a productive place for sharing this type of information. Can you tell us more?

Anonymous said...

In public school we parents have so little power over a bad teacher or principal. It is amazing how blogging, I think, finally got rid of Greenwood's principal.

And we are already seeing positive changes at Whittier since the new principal arrived. I know two families that had issues that were afraid to speak out, but after reading that others shared their concerns it gave them the confidence to do a public disclosure on the Spectrum waitlist.

Also many who were turned off by some of the wrong information our principal gave are now confidently re-asking "What if...?" about some really great ideas they had to imporve our school and lower class sizes.

I am all for a free exchange of opinions.

D said...

The free exchange of ideas and information is one thing. Gossip is another. Should we start discussing the parenting styles of certain people?

I think not. A constructive approach would discuss the means for creating sustainable change, not pointing fingers at individuals.

Anonymous said...

"In public school we parents have so little power over a bad teacher or principal. It is amazing how blogging, I think, finally got rid of Greenwood's principal."

It is not like the adminstration doesn't know who the problems are, it is so hard to get rid of a bad principal or teacher under the union contracts and state laws. For example, did you know that the former Greenwood principal you are writting about is suing the district claiming that he was fired not because of poor performance, but because of his race and age?

Anonymous said...

I can't find any controversy about any Greenwood principal on blog archives out there. Nor can I find anything about any Greenwood principal being fired. I wish people would just either say whom they mean, or not bring up the subject.

Anonymous said...

The former principal is Dr. Radcliff. He is currently "assisting" at Lowell. I think people are trying to be kind and not name names.

Anonymous said...

"Assisting" is a kind way of saying that he is in a holding pattern while his lawsuit is ongoing.

Anonymous said...

John-

I’m not sure I understand your point. Are you saying people here are pointing fingers? That’s not how I’ve interpreted their comments. While some have gotten personal, most of the discussion has been pointing to specific situations and the problems with getting results to concerns or complaints.

Obviously, there is a huge difference between discussing someone’s parenting style and blogging about a teacher or principal. So much so, that I’m not even sure why you would make that analogy. I may not agree with everything my neighbor does with her kids, but as long as she isn’t hurting them, it doesn’t really impact me. When a teacher at a school, at the school where I send my child, acts negligently, doesn’t listen to what I say, or isn’t teaching according to district standards, I have a responsibility to tell the principal. If that doesn’t cause action, I think I should tell as many people as possible.

-Gabrielle

Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating subject for a number of reasons. At play are the powerful taboo in our culture against "telling on someone"; the power and authority that children accord adults (i.e., I would never have complained about a teacher to my parents, and I had some doozies); and the "island culture" we have in elementary school communities (there is no lobbing an anonymous complaint and running away - you risk retaliation from the teacher against your child, from the principal, from other teachers, and possibly even from the PTA/parent establishment - and those things often follow you for the duration of your child's stay there).

I really like and admire the teachers at my children's elementary school, but sometimes I hear things that take me back to my doozy-teacher years - e.g., last week I emailed my 2nd grader's teacher to ask for clarification on a homework assignment, and he broke down, saying how embarrassed he is when she talks in circle time about "all of the moms who email me about homework". And has mimicked/mocked students in class in front of other students.

To John's point - faced with the above (and the teacher's union which provides such powerful protections for teachers whether right or wrong), what are constructive ways to address concerns with teachers?

anonymous said...

How about when you have an issue with a schools (new) curriculum? What does one do after addressing the teacher, and the principal? We have a 6th grade son who attends Salmon Bay, and they have adopted a new "pilot" curriculum this year for Language Arts. My sons teacher has interpreted the curriculum to include a lot of creative writing, but not to address or work on grammar, conventions, spelling, sentence structure, basic rules of writing etc. My son is turning in sloppy work with gramatical errors and mis spelled words, and it is not being corrected or addressed. In fact when I let her know that my son recieved 100% on an essay that had 7 mis spelled words in it, the teacher said "I am just not going to go through 30 childrens papers and correct every mis-spelled word". This same teacher teaches my sons World Culture class, but has decided that she does not need to teach World Culture this semester, as she would rather work on more creative writing. Does a teacher really have the power to alter curriculum in this way? We have had to seek tutoring at a great expense to us ($540 per month), not to mention the frustration for my son. I have spoken with the teacher, the councelor, and the principal, but to no avail. We will be changing schools next year, hopefully to Eckstein, but if we don't get in, we will be one of those families that flees to private school. We just can't sacrifice a good education for our belief in public education. PS my son has not had homework since November????

Beth Bakeman said...

If you have already discussed the issue with the principal and don't feel your concern has been addressed, I think you should contact the Middle Schools education director, Ruth Medsker at 252-0398.

See the recent thread, Addressing Seattle Public Schools Concerns for more details about the complaint process.

Anonymous said...

Teaching is a difficult and often misunderstood job. While I understand the benefits of having a union for teachers, it should never be an impediment to firing abusive or incompetent teachers or administrators. What kind of a climate change would we see in Seattle schools if they switched to at-will contracts? Not just for teachers, but administrators as well.

I think the issue of deadbeat teachers and principals would suddenly become a non-issue. The counterbalance would be a higher salaries and benefits.