I recently found a strongly worded article that I wrote in my second year of teaching. I’m now starting my eighth year, and though I am for once not in a public school, I still get fired up thinking about those who make claims like, “We should just fire all of the bad teachers” or “Teachers’ pay or position should depend upon their students’ test scores.” Want to know why I get so fired up? Feel free to read. I stand by those words as much today as I did then.
To Evan Thomas and Pat Wingert in response to their recent Newsweek article about firing bad teachers,
As a second year teacher, I have no argument with the premise that bad teachers should be let go. Of course, teachers who have made mistakes as grievous as the ones mentioned at the end of your article should not still be teaching. However, I do have a serious problem with proposing that we treat school as a business (implied through many of the arguments and quotes of this article). School is not a business. It is not something you opt into. It is a requirement for every child in the United States, and unlike businesses, public schools do not hire and fire kids for uncompleted work or for failing to perform up to their potential.
I teach with a veteran teacher who is close to retirement. Yesterday, we sat talking about this Newsweek article at lunch, and she rightly chose to give a rebuttal to the comment that, “Once upon a time, American students tested better than any other students in the world. […] the achievement gap between white students and poor and minority students stubbornly persists—and as the population of disadvantaged students grows, overall scores continue to sag.” She pointed out that when she began her teaching career, her only real options were to become a teacher or a nurse. Also, when she began her teaching career, many students who struggled academically or posed behavior issues dropped out at an early age to get a job. The truth is, that “once upon a time” was a time when struggling students were not as well served by our public education system, and the seeming lack of struggling students then probably added to the fact that students tested well. It may be that the teaching skill has not lowered, but instead we better include struggling students in our schools, and their scores now play a role in our “reputation” as an education system.
In this article, it was quoted that “Measuring teacher performance based in part on the test scores of their pupils would be a no brainer.” I STRONGLY disagree. There is much a teacher has control over – how effectively they teach, how much they continue to learn about the craft of teaching, the rules in his or her classroom, etc. We do not, however, have control over a students’ motivation to learn or a students’ steady increase in grades or test scores. There is much we can do to try to motivate and embolden our students, to help them take risks with their learning and TRY to succeed. However, there is no guarantee. These kids are PEOPLE. Granted, they are not grown and fully developed, but they are PEOPLE and people cannot be controlled fully. They are not wholly predictable, and to compound that, each child is different. If you have taught even a year, or if you have several children, you know that every child responds in different ways, and the “teaching” you do whether in your classroom or in your home with your kids must vary in order to be effective. Bottom line: If scores were used to measure teacher performance, I believe we would lose a lot of good teachers in addition to the bad ones. There are far too many factors playing into a student’s success – their home life, their access to resources, their personality, their learned behaviors, their state of mind, etcetera, to base a teacher’s skill set on his or her students’ test performance, even in part.
Daniel Weisberg, general counsel of The New Teacher Project, was quoted in this article saying that, “the Marine Corps never has any problem meeting its enlistment goals […].” That is fine and good for the Marine Corps, but Marines are in charge of themselves – themselves and possibly a unit of soldiers who are motivated to belong. If a soldier gets out of line and doesn’t perform, they have no responsibility to keep him or her in the program. As a teacher, you are in charge of yourself AND (in my case) 80 students. I can work and work and love them and love them and pray and pray that those students will work hard, and many of them will, but what happens when one doesn’t? Do we kick her out? Do we turn our back? No. Our public education system requires that we persist, and unless she becomes a danger to herself or others, she continues to stay in our school, and there is no guarantee that she will come around. Public education is not a business, and it is not the Marine Corps. It is public education – a whole different organization of a different kind.
I do not claim to have all of the answers, but what I do know is that the public education system does need some reformation and “measuring teacher performance based in part on the test scores of their pupils” is not the solution we need. What I truly believe is that it’s about time that policymakers started asking teachers (those good ones you mentioned, because there are many of us) what we propose, and see how that pans out. I have a feeling the public will be impressed with the solutions we come up with if we are given the time and respect to troubleshoot about our own very noble and very challenging profession.
Sincerely troubled by your article,