Using the Wrong Camera Creates a Bad Picture

04/14/2010
Timken Roller Bearing Co., calendar, September...
Image by George Eastman House via Flickr

It’s not like teaching doesn’t have enough frustrations.

After all, teachers go to work every day ready to inspire, challenge, guide and enjoy the children for whom we have been given responsibility.

We take this responsibility seriously.

We learn as much as we can about whatever it is we are assigned to teach.

We come in early or leave late. Some hardy souls do both.

We take work home most nights and we bring the work back in the morning.

We take work home most weekends.

We bring the work back on Monday.

We teach our curriculum, but we do more.

We model behavior.

We resolve disputes.

kleenex anti-viral commuter freebie
Image by fsse8info via Flickr

We listen.

We provide shoulders to cry on and tissues to dry the tears with.

We buy the supplies that the taxpayers don’t provide but that our students need.

We buy snacks and lunches for the kids.

We feed mouths as well as minds.

We feed spirits as well as bodies.

We help build our nation.

We help build all our tomorrows.

Okay, so maybe not all of us.

I know there are teachers who have given up but still show up and collect a paycheck.

I know there are some teachers who should not be in a classroom.

There are even some who should not be allowed near kids.

How many? I don’t know. No one knows.

That’s not really true. Other teachers know.

We know because we are in the building with them.

We know because we see them teach, or not teach.

We know because we know what a good teacher looks like, how a good teacher works, the things a good teacher does.

I don’t want to work with bad teachers, with teachers who have given up, or with teachers who never should have been given the job.

No good teacher wants to work with those people. They just make our job harder.

We’re the ones who have to clean up their messes, help their students succeed in spite of the teaching they got last year.

Should incompetent teachers be fired? ABSOLUTELY!!

I’m a strong union supporter, a proud (at least most of the time) member of the United Federation of Teachers, but I still say bad teachers need to be fired.

I also know that almost no one not in a school on a day-to-day basis can spot a bad teacher if one should fall from the sky and hit them on the head.

You see, there is no real external measure of good or bad teaching.

Some of my students made great progress last year. That doesn’t make me a great teacher and more than that some of the students in the same classes didn’t make any progress makes me a bad teacher.

Things just happen that way sometimes.

I’ve seen teachers seem to work wonders one year and not be able to motivate any students the following one.

The only things that changed were the students. One year you get a self-directed driven group and the next you get a class that makes slackers look hyper-motivated.

You take a snapshot of the first class via a one-shot standardized test and that teacher looks great. Take the same shot the next year and that same teacher seems incompetent.

The problem isn’t the teacher. The problem isn’t even the students.

The problem is the camera.

Old Camera...yuk
Image by MaestroBen via Flickr

Teaching isn’t the kind of thing you can capture in a snapshot.

That applies to bad teaching as much if not more than it applies to good teaching.

Judging the quality of teaching from a one-shot snapshot standardized test is like reviewing a movie director’s career based on one frame from one movie.

Yes, there are bad teachers, but there are many more good ones.

The problem is that most people aren’t using the right lens, the right camera to get the contrast right.

What’s worse is that most people are happy to use that standardized test still camera.

Making a movie is just too hard, too much work, I guess.

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When Bad Things Happen to a Good Teacher

10/02/2009
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This is a story about the rubber room.

A teacher in my school got arrested today.

He got arrested after a student slapped him around and then, when he finally raised his hand to defend himself, she bit it and broke the skin.

All the students who witnessed the incident say the girl started it and that my colleague never struck her, pushed her or contacted her at all other than when she bit him.

Not one of his colleagues believes this man is capable of attacking a student. He is thoroughly easy going, relaxed, and non-confrontational.

This is a teacher who has dealt with most of the more violent, combustible, disturbed and/or psychotic students who have passed through the school in the four years he’s been there. He never even yelled at any of them.

While he was in the nurse’s office having his hand treated, the girl was telling the assistant principal that she had been attacked. The AP did what the law says he had to do; take the girl seriously and call the police, even though he was positive the girl was making the story up.

Instead of having a nice weekend my colleague will be waiting to appear before a judge for arraignment.

He will be released on bail, but he won’t be allowed to come back to work on Monday, not even to pick up his things.

Instead of going to work he will be told to report to one of the City’s Temporary Reassignment Centers, usually hot room with low ceilings and few windows. These are the rubber rooms.

On any given day there are about 700 New York City Department of Education employees assigned to rubber rooms. Some are principals, assistant principals or other administrators, but most are teachers.

Each person in a rubber room gets paid his or her full salary. They get their full benefits. They even get the pay increases they’d otherwise get for longevity or advanced degrees. This costs the city about $65 million per year.

People assigned to rubber rooms report there every day and stay there during school hours. That’s their job; they are specifically prohibited from having any duties. Then they go home.

Like all the others, my colleague will stay in the rubber room until the charges against him are resolved. Some people stay in the rubber rooms for more than three years. One has been in a rubber room for more than five years – the charges against him have never been proven or dismissed and he refuses to resign.

Rubber rooms exist because the teacher’s union, the United Federation of Teachers, insists that teachers not be fired without due process or based on unproved allegations.

Sometimes the accused person is guilty and deserves to be punished.

My colleague is innocent and his students are being punished. They are being denied this dedicated teacher.

A lot of people say teachers in the rubber room for more than a year or two should be fired. After all, they wouldn’t be there if they were innocent.

My colleague is innocent and will be there anyway.

Let’s hope it is for a very, very short time.

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