Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Quality vs. Seniority

Scott MCleod talks about Teacher layoffs: Should seniority rule? in his blog Dangerously Irrelevant. He states,

“As budget cuts loom again in many states, employee termination, seniority, and ‘bumping rights’ are in the news. The essential issue is whether organizational leaders should be able to retain the employees they think are the most highly-skilled or whether seniority (or some other factor) should be employed instead. ‘Highly skilled’ in this instance means ‘employee quality’ or ‘best fit for employer needs,’ both of which are typically defined by the organization, not the employee or union.”

I truly believe that in our efforts to protect teachers from illegal personnel practices, we have gone overboard. I think we have done this to the point where we are doing a disservice to our students. Good teachers should keep their job and if they have seniority and experience, it shouldn’t be hard to show they are good teachers. The problem is that there is no uniform measure on what makes a “good teacher.” What one principal may consider high quality teaching may not be the same for another principal. I still think that is okay because maybe that school was not the right fit for them to be on the same team.

I have worked at one school where my efforts to communicate with parents and develop a rapport with them in order to help my students be successful were applauded. My students were successful and discipline problems with my class were practically nonexistent. At another school, I was told that I was too close to the parents and the community. In fact, the principal felt that because I lived in the same community as my students, I should go outside the community to do my grocery shopping. He obviously did not feel I was a “good teacher” so it was time to move on to another school where the principal had the same values as me.

At another school, I worked with a teacher who had been teaching for about 17 years but she was terrible. She did not teach her self contained students effectively, showed lots of R rated videos, and basically did very little teaching and even though the parents complained, it took three years to go through the process of firing her. Three years is a lot of wasted time in a child’s school life. They have wasted ¼ of their education years and they don’t have that time to waste! The reason it took so many years to fire her was the fear of litigation, so the school had to document and offer time to improve, and then more documentation that improvement was not happening. I’m sure there were many highly skilled newer teachers out there that could have been more effective in this classroom but because she had seniority, she was given benefits that brand new teachers are not given.

Our state does not have unions and we are a right-to-work state but I think teachers are protected pretty well due to fear of lawsuits. Lawsuits will cost the school district lots of money at the expense of the taxpayer. We need to get out of this fear mentality and make sure we are having good effective teachers who are offering a high quality education to our students. If teachers are not doing so, they are making the rest of us who are trying to do this look bad.

I do not have an answer to how to evaluate teachers in order to find out how well they are teaching because I know that an administrator is already stretched too thin. There is also the problem of personality conflicts and the impossibility of uniform evaluating. I do think administrators need to be in the classroom observing more. My school had 2300 students and even though there were four assistant principals, it was impossible to deal with discipline problems, day to day operations, and get in all of the classrooms more than once a year if that much. I think observing in the classrooms is the only way administrators will know what is going on in the classroom.

Maybe they need to put cameras in the classroom. I think it has helped with making sure state troopers follow the rules as well as protecting their rights too. If there is any doubt about a teacher’s teaching practices, a video would show evidence. This would protect students and teachers from false accusations as well as evidence to prove otherwise. If the video shows the accusations are true, then the student or teacher should be dealt with immediately.

I do not believe that seniority should be more important than high quality teaching if we want our students to be successful in life. What do you think?

Original image: 'Teaching is not Rocket Science' by: Dean Shareski


luckeyfrog said...

I agree that the quest to protect teachers has gone too far. I think we've all known a teacher or two who are well-renowned in the school for being ineffective, and yet they remain year after year. It's frustrating for the rest of us- especially when we're young and might get RIF'ed when the school system runs out of space for us all.

Our state does have unions, though our state superintendent isn't happy about it. I'm glad there is some protection, but I think the unions need to have more discretion about who they protect. They need to be sure they are only backing up the teachers who really are being treated unfairly and they need to have high standards for their members.

Cameras would be an interesting solution, but I would worry that they might be used improperly.

Fred Deutsch said...

What a refreshing, honest and common sence approach to a very challanging issue. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

Fred Deutsch
Watertown, SD