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Readers: ‘Bad’ teachers aren’t the problem


On Dec. 15, we published a story about the results of an Associated Press-Stanford University poll that revealed 78 percent of respondents think it should be easier for school administrators to fire poorly performing teachers. Yet overall, the public wants to reward teachers, the poll suggested: 57 percent of respondents said teachers are paid too little, with just 7 percent believing they are overpaid and most of the rest saying they’re paid about right.

This polarizing story led many readers to weigh in with their own opinions. Some readers took issue with the public perception that it’s hard to fire bad teachers, while others argued that “bad” teaching is really a symptom of larger problems beyond a teacher’s control.

Here’s a sampling of what eSchool News readers had to say:

I feel the need to comment on the subject of how difficult it is to fire bad teachers, because I don’t understand where this assumption comes from. As a teacher in the state of Texas, we can be fired at any time for any reason. I have been teaching for 20 years and I don’t remember any school district ever offering tenure to anyone. I don’t think it exists in this state. We have to constantly prove our worth as teachers each day. Contracts are only 1 year at a time and even with a contract we don’t have much protection against job loss. I never see this information in articles that I have read about firing teachers.

I belong to a teachers union, but that has limited powers in this state. I am lucky because I work for a good school district that values its teachers, but not all school districts are that way. I hope that I can see future articles that have a more informed and balanced information about the situation in different states.

—Anonymous reader

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Anyone who purports to be involved in education should know that nearly half of new teachers quit within 5 years of beginning their career. With half of new hires abandoning the profession, the problem is not getting rid of the bad teachers. The problem is convincing the good ones that there is any reason to stay in a profession where they can count on being treated like garbage by politicians, parents, administrators, and the press, and paid at a level only marginally higher than that enjoyed by a fry cook.

I have watched a number of very skilled and promising young teachers leave the profession in the ten years since I became a teacher. Many of them are doing quite well in other career fields, and I myself regularly receive offers of higher pay and better working conditions outside of the classroom. Although politicians and the press appear to be obsessed with blaming teachers and schools for all of the problems facing the U.S. economy and civil society, the simple fact is that teachers are expected to choose a life of poverty when they choose to become teachers.

Many of us do the job anyway, out of a strong moral conviction that educating children is the single most important calling a person can answer. However, for a society to expect that one of its most important functions will be adequately met by its most poorly paid members is more than misguided, it is insane.

—Christopher Dahle, 6th grade math and science teacher, Ortega Middle School, Alamosa, Colo.

I agree terminating poor performing teachers is nearly impossible. I am witness to this in the past. With that said, however, I don’t believe we can terminate a teacher based on the poor test results due to some standardized test conceived by a group of professors, attorneys, or business people who have never been in the classroom with students whose parents are not involved in their child’s education.

As I see it, we are leaving many children behind because teachers, through no fault of their own, are required to maintain a pacing schedule set up by sources outside the classroom. Poor performing students are left behind because teachers cannot stop to see that students are really understanding the lesson being taught. These students then feel inadequate and lose interest in education. You have to ask yourself how would you feel if you did not experience any success but watched the rest of your peers continue to succeed and leave you behind. Stress is not just an adult symptom—it affects just as many, if not more, adolescents. We need to allow local control over our educational systems.  Education needs to respond to business needs and the needs of the demographics it serves.

—Doyle J. Potter, faculty/advisor, Master of Arts in Educational Technology and Learning

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As a teacher, it never occurred to me that I may do my job better with more pay. I know this argument rages too often, but I can’t stress enough just how much pay does not factor into my happiness and willingness to do more. Only an idiot would go into education for the pay. Patronizing us about our “low” pay will not keep the good ones teaching; listening to my concerns about student learning, getting me great [professional development], and helping me with classroom discipline will keep me. I don’t need another dime.

—Jessica Reeves

Read more from Jessica on her blog.

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I have to agree that there must be a way to rid [schools] of poor performing teachers. I also have to add that it is possible to consider that some of the poor performing teachers wouldn’t be so terrible if the parental support and student cooperation was improved.

We must start to hold parents responsible for their actions and their children’s actions within the education environment. Students have been given a pass to behave however they want, with little to no repercussions. Instead, student behavior or non-performance is said be a result of their culture, socioeconomic circumstance, and even race. On top of that, teachers are inundated with conferences, paperwork, discipline, lesson planning, testing, and trying to meet the needs of individual students to an extent that they can not possibly focus on teaching.

The pay scales simply do not match what is being expected of the hard-working, dedicated teachers that continuously strive to do the best they can. Additionally, it is my opinion that many teachers [who] are considered poor performing might not be if they were not so disenfranchised by the end of their first year in the classroom. On the other hand, teachers [who] would be dynamite in the classroom, but exited the profession because of the lack of respect and authority for the job they have to do, might stick around if the field of education were not so chaotic and stressful.

What many do not realize is that teachers spend tens of thousands of dollars on their education to become educators, to help our youth cope with this ever-changing world, to become community leaders even after they are in the classroom—and what they receive in return is the brunt of society’s anger and frustration. Teachers get blamed for everything from a student who is not reading, [to] a lack of services, little or no time for physical activities, failing grades, and even social issues in and out of the classroom.

It is time that legislators, school administrators, courts, and government take a hard look at how we can bring parents into the process of educating their children. Free public education is guaranteed by the Constitution—though disruptive behavior, laziness, and abuse (both verbal and physical) towards educators is not part of that guarantee.

—mears619

Having taught for 30 years in both rural and urban schools, and having gone through a period of being a “bad” teacher, I must say that there is plenty of blame to go around. Lack of support from parents, administrators, and apathy of students go a long way toward creating “bad” teachers. Granted, teachers can and must do whatever they can to create interest and provide sound education in their classrooms, but everyone is an educator. Learning does not stop when you leave the school door, or even when you graduate. Instilling this lifetime learning attitude in our children is the responsibility of every person, not just the teachers. Otherwise, we will always have “bad” teachers, because we will always have “bad” learners. In my experience, the difference in the success and failure of students lies with the parents. If the parent values education, the student does well; if the parent is apathetic, so is the child.

—charles_wolf

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