There is an old saying about teachers that goes: Those who can do; those who can’t teach. It is pure unadulterated b——t; hateful, hurtful and untrue. There are more than a quarter million teachers in California educating more than six million students. Most of them are honest, hardworking, competent people dedicated to their profession and students. Many of them are truly outstanding.
Earlier this week Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu, in Vergara v. California, threw out California’s teacher tenure process and seniority rules. What he and others fail to understand is that this will not help our educational system. Tenure is not the problem. The problems are inherent in our socio-economic-political system.
That Judge Treu does not understand this can be seen with his comment about a bad teacher making twenty-eight children suffer. Twenty-eight students in a class? Where has Judge Treu been? How many classes in California public schools are limited to just twenty-eight students? Ask a California public school teacher how many students are in his or her classroom. In most cases you will get numbers from thirty to forty or more students. In middle school, junior high and high school most teachers will simply stare at you in disbelief when you suggest that they have classrooms of twenty-eight students. Twenty-eight is a scheduling accident quickly “corrected” by the administration.
Go on a visit to your nearest public middle or high school. Walk into each of the classrooms. Twenty-eight desks with twenty-eight students? In your dreams. For elementary school walk by the classrooms and count the backpacks outside each room.
In grades 7 through 12 most teachers teach one or two subjects and teach five or six classes per day. Now, do the math.
5 classes/day times 28 students/class = 140 student contacts/day
6 classes/day times 28 students/class = 168 student contacts/day
More realistic numbers would be:
5 classes/day times 36 students/class = 180 student contacts/day
6 classes/day times 36 students/class = 216 student contacts/day
Of course there are classes of forty or more students; think of the poor math teacher in an Orange USD middle school teaching six classes of forty students/day – that’s 240 student contacts/day. (I still shudder at the thought of music and PE classes of fifty and more students in each class.) Now think of lesson plans, grading student work and disciplining groups of teenagers this size.
Judge Treu needs to go look at the real world.
Teachers in California have college degrees and teaching credentials – this equates to four years of traditional college and an added year for the credential, which includes student teaching – yes, actual classroom teaching before you get a credential. Many, if not most, California teachers go on to get advanced degrees and take classes to improve their teaching. School districts provide additional professional development opportunities, some of which might actually be useful, for teachers.
If these programs do their jobs properly only competent and qualified people become teachers. If there are unqualified people teaching in California public schools we need to look at the system that produces and hires them.
A teacher needs a college degree in the subject he or she teaches. If a teacher does not have subject matter knowledge sufficient to teach that subject where should we look to correct the problem – how about the college that granted that degree?
A teacher needs a credential certifying that he or she is competent to teach. If a teacher is not competent to teach where should we look to correct the problem – how about the college that ran the credentialing program?
A teacher needs to be hired by a school district in order to teach. If a teacher is not competent to teach where should we look to correct the problem – how about the personnel director, principal or other designated administrator who hired that teacher?
Maybe there are some teachers who go through the above educational and hiring process and we only find out later that they are not suited to the job – what then? Well, most of them drop out of teaching within the first five years. The actual on-going process of teaching weeds them out. What about other “incompetent” teachers? What is the actual problem and what is its solution?
How about the “too powerful” teachers’ unions? Teachers’ unions do not want to incompetent teachers to be in our classrooms teaching. Teachers’ unions want all teachers to have due process. What does this mean? It means that in order to fire an “incompetent” teacher the school district must prove that the teacher is indeed incompetent.
Teachers do not want the incompetent in their profession. They want the best for their students and their profession. Just ask a teacher how much he or she likes teaching next to the classroom of someone who can’t keep order or who shows movies a bit too often. Just ask a teacher about getting students from someone who has not adequately prepared those student for next class. (For example, an Algebra 2 teacher whose new students only got through half the Algebra 1 curriculum.)
How does one determine that a teacher is incompetent? Evaluate the teacher. How? What constitutes and evaluation?
How about a survey of parents? Johnny got an “A” from Mr. B – he’s a great teacher. Johnny got an “F” from Mr. C – he should be fired.
How about a survey of students? Ms. H gave homework every night – she should be fired. Ms. Q showed videos twice a week and let us use our phones in class – I learned a lot; she was great.
Do you really think you won’t see any of those two examples above? What a nightmare!
How about we have other teachers evaluate the teachers? You want an incompetent teacher to evaluate another teacher? Oh, wait, only competent teachers get to evaluate other teachers. Huh?
Assuming the above is not a problem, where does a teacher find the time to evaluate another teacher? You teach a full day and you still have lessons to plan and work to grade, oh, and you’d like to spend some time with your family. Wait, the district will give you release days to do the evaluations. Huh? I still have to do lesson plans and grade student work, contact parents and “maybe” re-teach some stuff because the substitute wasn’t a math (or science or French, etc.) teacher.
Evaluation is the job of the administration. Administrators have been, or should be, trained in evaluating teachers. They should be able to discern whether or not a teacher is doing a good job. But administrators must actually do the job. An administrator must actually observe the teacher teaching and not just once or twice a year for half an hour. An administrator should be in teacher classrooms everyday. Every. Single. Day. The administrator must see how the teacher performs day in and day out under all kinds of conditions.
The administration needs to know how a teacher performs under both good and bad conditions. How does the teacher present new material; how does the teacher guide student work; how does the teacher review with the students; how does the teacher evaluate (grade) a student; how does a teacher handle discipline, contact parents and relate to colleagues? Done properly, this requires a great deal of time. Think of evaluating teachers on a middle school campus of sixteen hundred students, eighty teachers, a principal, and two assistant principals. How many hours of administration time would be devoted to adequately evaluate each and every teacher?
And, how much money would this time equate to? A great deal more than is spent now. But, if you weed out the problems early, or later on as they develop, you would actually save money, time and aggravation.
Tenure was not put in place to keep incompetent teachers from being fired. It was put in place to give teachers the protection of due process. If school administrators adequately evaluated teachers you would not get to the point of, as the Orange County Register put it, “it can cost $450,000 or more in legal costs and take as long as 10 years to dismiss a bad teacher.”
Have you ever been fired, demoted or transferred because you didn’t get along with your boss or a new boss? Of course not, we all realize that does not happen in the private sector. Could it happen in our public schools? Of course not, the administration always has the best interests of their teachers and students foremost in their minds.
Just ask the young teacher hired on temporary contract and let go after a year so he cannot build up seniority.
Just ask the teacher who has fifteen years of good evaluations but got a bad one this year about her relationship with the new principal.
Just ask the teacher who got moved from teaching algebra to low level math after telling the principal he wouldn’t volunteer for unpaid lunch duty next year.
Uh huh. Yeah, it happens. Teachers and administrators are both human with a human’s virtues and faults.
That’s why we have tenure.
Add to all of the above, inadequate funding, non-uniform funding, barrios, ghettos, aging school facilities, immigration, language, etc.
Judge Treu just does not get it. Of course, neither do the administrators, politicians and ivory tower types who’ve never taught in the K-12 trenches; and, all the other adults who’ve never seen a working classroom from any perspective other than as a student – who didn’t want to be their either.
Summer 2014 is almost here. In my old district – Orange Unified – today is the last student day. My wife’s district finishes the academic year next week. Have a great summer folks, and for those of you retiring, a great retirement. Those of you who will return to the classroom next year have all of my admiration and sympathy. My admiration for the job you do and the dedication you bring to it; my sympathy for the conditions under which you work.
Those who can – do.
Those who can’t – criticize.
Those who understand – teach.
Those who become enlightened – retire.