Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Improving Teachers

This was an extremely interesting read from The Economist: Lessons learned, At last, America may change the way it trains, recruits and rewards teachers.

In the documentary, Waiting for Superman, we learn more about our dysfunctional system in America. Apparently, teachers have a 2-year period, after which they receive tenure. An excerpt from the Time Magazine explains this problem:

"Though tenure doesn't guarantee lifetime employment, it does make firing teachers a difficult and costly process, one that involves the union, the school board, the principal, the judicial system and thousands of dollars in legal fees. In most states, a tenured teacher can't be dismissed until charges are filed and months of evaluations, hearings and appeals have occurred. Meanwhile, school districts must shell out thousands of dollars for paid leave and substitute instructors. The system is deliberately slow and cumbersome, in order to dissuade school boards and parents from ousting a teacher for personal or political motives. 

But the system also makes it extremely difficult to flunk a bad teacher. Each state has its own stories: A Connecticut teacher received a mere 30-day suspension for helping students cheat on a standardized test; one California school board spent $8,000 to fire an instructor who preferred using R-rated movies instead of books; a Florida teacher remained in the classroom for a year despite incidents in which she threw books at her students and demanded they referred to her as "Ms. God...

New Jersey became the first state to pass tenure legislation when, in 1910, it granted fair-dismissal rights to college professors. During the suffrage movement of the 1920s — when female teachers could be fired for getting married or getting pregnant or (gasp) wearing pants — such rights were extended to elementary and high school teachers as well. But where the tenure track for college professors can require a record of published research and probationary periods of up to 10 years, K-12 teachers can win tenure after working as little as two years in some states. And thanks to the rigid testing requirements put in place by the No Child Left Behind Act, the academic freedom that tenure was meant to protect has been severely curtailed.

Some school districts have resorted to separation agreements, buyouts that effectively pay a teacher to leave his or her job. The practice has evolved as a way to avoid the extensive hearings and appeals required by union contracts and state-labor laws in firing a tenured teacher. (Costs can run as high as $100,000). Other districts simply transfer inadequate teachers to other schools in what Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called "the dance of the lemons." Former Mass. Gov. William Weld tried to pass legislation requiring teachers to take competency tests every five years, a move that triggered a number of complaints from local teachers' unions who called the bill adversarial and intrusive. Weld defended himself by explaining his stance as "anti-slob teacher," not "anti-teacher."

That, to me, is a huge problem. Sure, our system has other flaws but this is perhaps one of the larger issue we're dealing with currently. Not only are we wasting our money on ineffective teachers, we are spending more money trying to get rid of them. It also makes me wonder why the teacher-unions do not see this as a problem. I understand what unions need to be there for. The unions need to be there supporting the teacher, when he or she, is unjustifiably terminated. However, if a teacher is terminated because of her/his failure to teach, shouldn't the unions simply do a investigation to verify that cause, and if, the cause was the right one, not support the lousy teacher?  As I watch video clips of the teacher unions who fight for the teachers, I see many of their faces as moms themselves. It makes me wonder why these women do not care more about the type of teachers children are getting in the classrooms. While I believe that the teachers do need more training and curriculum support, I do believe that we need to re-evaluate the whole teaching system and perhaps put it through a refining process. Although many people may lose their jobs, many more, who are more deserving, will take those teaching spots. This, in turn, will help attract the best students in our colleges to consider the teaching profession. If we want our kids to have a better future, they need to be taught and nurtured by the best minds in our country. Having been teaching children myself, I find it hard to not give my best effort and ensure that the kids I'm teaching are getting the best instructions possible. It certainly boggles my mind to see teachers who don't give a hoot about helping the children realize their potentials.

What are your thoughts parents and teachers? 

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