Mayo’s column on April 10th in the Sun Sentinel, about the importance of teaching to something other than “THE TEST”, made everyone who read it think back to his/her school days.
I grew up in a Leave it to Beaver small town. In elementary school the teachers were strict, yes, but I had fun also, except for one year. Unlike Mike’s, my third grade teacher was a horror, she had her favorites and I was not among them. I could do no right, and Cynthia, teacher’s pet, could do no wrong, Cynthia (“Don’t call me Cindy”) got all the perks, she delivered notices, ran errands etc.
Miss P. was “encouraged” to retire the next year and she “decided” it was a good idea; too late for me and my class, but good news for the 2nd graders. The administration did its job when it was discovered that poor Miss P. had lost it. That is the way it should work.
I had some great teachers, and some, as above, not so great. I still remember the few teachers in junior high who went out of their way to look after me when my world fell apart while my mother was dying of cancer. I don’t know what I would have done if not for their kindness.
Florida is making a big mistake with its new teacher merit pay and elimination of tenure. Tenure protects teachers from arbitrary and capricious actions on the part of administrators and school boards and provides due process. It ensures that if a teacher has a different personal belief from the administration or parents they are protected; tenure insures that a principal who takes a dislike to a teacher or an influential parent, whose child is having a hard time and who blames the teacher, can’t get that teacher fired out of spite. Tenure also protects higher salaried teachers from being fired in budget crunches and being replaced by cheaper, usually less competent, ones.
Teacher evaluations, even those that encompass student achievement, are always subjective, it is impossible to get away from that. Most teachers are doing a good job with the tools and students they are given. If you took the entire faculty out of an “A” rated school and swapped it with the faculty of an “F” school, I would bet the farm that the test results would be the same.
If a teacher is not living up to the clearly defined standards of their job it is up to the teacher’s supervisor to either correct the problems or start dismissal proceedings. If the school culture does not foster excellence, that is the problem of the administration. Schools are in trouble when that is not what happens. It is not the fault of tenure, or the salary guide, or extra pay for advanced degrees (OMG I can’t believe they are doing away with that provision).
When we read about a failing school that has been turned around, the amazing results do not come from punishing the teachers with threats. A charismatic leader, usually the principal, can inspire the faculty, the students and the parents and get amazing results, even in the most underprivileged neighborhoods. All too often when that principal leaves, the school lapses back into mediocrity. The changes were not internalized and could not withstand the loss of the “cheerleader”; that clearly shows the importance of a culture of excellence and an inspirational administration.
A number of years ago, a newly elected governor in New Jersey wanted to know how to get all children to perform at grade level and commissioned a study. When the results came in the study said that in the inner cities, to achieve the desired results, that among other programs there should be implemented interventions such as a strong sex education program to prevent teen pregnancy, early and effective drug prevention programs, education programs and mentoring for parents of babies which teach the importance of reading to children and good nutrition etc, enriched day care and preschool centers, longer school days, very small class sizes for preschool through 3rd grade, and one-on-one remedial help for as long as a student is below grade level.
When the governor saw the price tag of all this, the study was buried and never heard of again.
It does not take more than a serious and unemotional look at the different experiential backgrounds students bring to school to see that there are giant differences in the readiness levels of students. The state prefers to blame the teachers all the while knowing that it is the environment and the system that is the failure.
You can train a pigeon to peck a bell to get bird seed, you can train a dog to fetch, and you can train a human child to pass a standardized test, but will that same child receive an education?
Not if this misbegotten merit pay plan goes through. It is so much easier to blame the classroom teacher than do what is really needed.
What do you think this horror of a bill will do to the moral of teachers? How will the new teachers, who can be booted at any time, feel about their protected coworkers? Why would a senior in high school even consider becoming a teacher?
What can we do? Write to the Governor and your legislators, now, before our schools become teach-to-the-test-mills even more than they already are.