Everywhere I look recently I see an article or hear a news story about a bad teacher. The media is digging out bad teacher stories like squirrels looking for a nut. Don't get me wrong--most of the bad teacher stories I read are appalling. But it made me wonder why bad teachers are getting so much attention. Why not bad doctors? Or bad waitresses? Or bad mail carriers?
All of this public attention to bad teachers seems to have created the perception that bad teachers are everywhere. I have to disagree with that. I would say that 95 percent of the teachers I have worked with are good teachers. I have taught in 2 different states and 5 different schools for a total of 21 years. The good teachers I know far outweigh the bad teachers. So why aren't the good teachers getting attention? I'll tell you why--because good teachers do what they do day in and day out without flashiness. Their students come to school, work hard, and learn what they are supposed to learn. Good teachers do their job. There is nothing dramatic about it, so the news doesn't want to report on it. Have you noticed how the news is all doom and gloom? Everything is overly dramatized. Which headline would you read: "Teacher refuses to let student eat lunch" or "5 students finally learn their multiplication facts"?
Don't get me wrong--bad teachers do not belong in the classroom. But here is the problem with the media pointing them out like they are as common as leaves on a tree--good teachers have to deal with the consequences and with a negative public perception.
Take what is happening right now in my state (North Carolina). After several years of successful teaching, teachers are awarded something called "career status." This is NOT tenure. We do not have tenure. All career status means is that you are an established teacher and you have formal observations between 1 - 3 times a year. You can still be fired, or you can be encouraged to resign, or you can be treated so terribly by your administrator that you quit voluntarily. Career status is not a sure thing. Well, a certain politician in our state (his name might be Phil Berger but I'm not really sure about that--wink wink) has decided that TENURE for public education employees must end. Again, I must repeat that WE DO NOT HAVE TENURE, so you know this clueless dude has not even done his homework. He has decided that bad teachers are so prevalent and cannot be easily gotten rid of so all teachers must go on a year to year contract. In theory, that sounds okay. But think about it . . . in this bill it states that teachers may not have their contract renewed for any reason, and this reason does not even need to be revealed to the teacher. Think about these scenarios:
Scenario A--Your principal decides she doesn't like you for some reason. It has nothing to do with your teaching ability. She just doesn't like your personality. Maybe you don't kiss ass enough. Maybe you don't joke around with her enough. Maybe you forget to give her a gift for Bosses Day. End of the year rolls around--guess what? No contract for you!
Scenario B--Your principal asks you to do something that is unethical or illegal. You know it is wrong. If you do what he asks, your conscience suffers because you know it is wrong. If you don't do what he asks, guess what? No contract for you!
Scenario C--You have a class that is loaded with behavior problems, non-English speaking students, special education kids, and children living in poverty. That particular year your test scores aren't as good as normal. The principal decides you have lost your touch. No contract for you!
I think you get my point. Teaching is part art and part science. It is part instinct and part knowledge. It changes from year to year. Teachers do not produce a product. We enable children to gain knowledge. Children are complex. They might not want to learn. They might not be able to learn. They might have more pressing issues in their lives than learning how to divide. A child's medical, social, emotional, and socio-economic background all play a part in how a child learns. Teachers are only one part of the puzzle that determines how much a child learns.
So what is the solution then? We cannot have bad teachers in the classroom, that much I agree with. Here is what needs to happen: Administrators need to step up to the plate. They need to do classroom walk-throughs (unannounced) on a regular basis. They need to see what the climate of the classroom is at various times. Administrators can't be afraid to have a conversation with someone that sounds something like "I think teaching might not be your calling." Also, the media needs to stop presenting stories about bad teachers like they are a dime a dozen. Finally, politicians need to stay out of it. Let the system work. Don't punish good teachers by a knee-jerk reaction to bad teacher stories.
If Phil Berger gets his way, it will be a scary time to be a teacher in North Carolina. I think many good teachers will decide to leave the profession. I think many good teachers will be forced to leave the profession. I think that college students will decide not to go into the field of education. And guess who will suffer? The children.