Category Archives: Human Resources (Personnel)

The 30-Year Teacher is Gone and She’s Not Coming Back

If colleges of teacher education and school districts are waiting for the flood of young people who intend to spend the next thirty years of their lives as classroom teachers, they will be sorely disappointed. The reality, whether you want to face it or not, is the vast majority aspiring young professionals, even those potentially interested in pursuing careers in education, are not interested in starting a job at 22 that they will do for the rest of their working lives. That proposition just isn’t appealing to the current 18-22 year old. And to be honest, it never particularly appealed to this 35-year old. Most college-age young people are looking for their first job, their start at a career; not knowing what they might be doing in the next 5 years, much less 25 years.

So what does all this mean? Well, contrary to what some believe, it’s not the end of the world or the end of the teaching profession. It just means the field has to adapt to this era and be more flexible with how we ensure that children are receiving high quality instruction; even if new models of teaching look significantly different than current ones. And rather than trying to force young people who might be excellent teachers (even if only for the first part of their career) into the mold of the 30-year teacher, colleges of teacher education and school districts should practice embracing the diversity, energy, fresh ideas, and diverse perspectives young professionals can bring to teaching and to the children they will serve. There shouldn’t be the expectation that young people can only go into education if it’s what they intend to do forever. And to be completely honest with you, I don’t want a teaching profession where no one has any interest  in ever doing anything else, or where there are no teachers who have ever done anything other than teach. That time-warped conceptualization of the profession in part contributes to the current instructional and leadership stagnation common to some schools and school districts. Personally, I think it would fantastic to have a talented young woman begin her career as a high school English teacher then make her way into a communications position somewhere; or an energetic and ambitious young man begin his career as a middle school teacher and move into a training and development position with a Fortune 500 company. I am a big proponent of rethinking the profession in ways that make it a more appealing place for teachers to stay, but everyone doesn’t have to stay, nor should they.

With that said, schools must have veteran educators who commit to careers in teaching long-term. In fact, I argue that such veterans are critically essential elements for the success of any school or school district. Schools and charter management organization’s (CMO) would be extremely shortsighted to dismiss the critical importance of master teachers whose expertise comes only with experience. Any organizations thinking in that way would be wise to reconsider their staffing models and teacher career ladders.

But master teachers are not the norm. Even with the current school staffing model where the majority of school staff are long-term veteran educators, only a quarter to a third of teachers at most could be legitimately characterized as master teachers. Very few teachers are exceptional. Most teachers are average. Some teachers are below average. That’s no slight to teachers, it’s just the truth. But average is okay. If most of my daughter’s teachers end up being average with the occasional exceptional teacher sprinkled into her academic career I’ll be a happy camper. In fact, whether it’s instruction for my child or service at Starbucks, I should expect average; expecting the exceptional is unreasonable. Exceptional service/instruction/expertise is just a treat, not something you get all the time. We ought to think of exceptional teaching or service like we think of a truly exquisite glass of wine or a very rare Bourbon (for you Kentuckians). Most of us just don’t have that stuff every night with dinner.

Most teachers, just like most doctors, lawyers, professors, baristas, musicians, and engineers, are average. Most of us, regardless of what we do, are not exceptional. If we were all exceptional, exceptional wouldn’t be exceptional, it would be average. So the rhetoric that everyone coming into the teaching profession ought to be on a track to become a master teacher doesn’t hold water. The reality has never truly matched that rhetoric, but the rhetoric, and in some cases restrictive policies and practices which institutionalize the rhetoric, have kept some very talented young (and older) people from considering teaching. We’ve often scared away or locked out people who could make noteworthy instructional contributions for 3, 4, or 5 years.

I am incredibly grateful for the career teachers that have served children so well for so long. I have been taught by and mentored by more than a few phenomenal career educators. I owe much of the success I’ve enjoyed in my career to them. But the world is changing and the teaching profession has to change with it, whether you like it or not. I’ll talk more about those changes in my next post; but my advice to educators, educational leaders, and colleges of teacher education is to get in front of this change and help to shape where the teaching profession goes rather than allow change to drag you along kicking an screaming.

 

 

Does Every Teacher Deserve to Keep Her Job?

Cleveland Schools’ Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Eric Gordon announced earlier this month that more than 50 Cleveland public school teachers may be terminated based on their performance and/or conduct. According to Gordon, in 41 schools, principals gave notices to 68 teachers that their one-year contracts would not be renewed. Those 68 notices were far more than the number of notices that are typically distributed at the end of the school year in Cleveland, and as you might imagine, the leadership of the Cleveland Teachers Union was not happy. The increased ability of principals in Cleveland to remove ineffective teachers is a direct result of the Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools, signed into law in 2012 by Ohio Governor John Kasich. As part of the bipartisan sponsored plan which applies only to Cleveland as Ohio’s sole school district under mayoral control, Cleveland schools are now implementing a new teacher development and evaluation system based on professional standards.

Hearing about public school teachers being fired causes most of us to sit up straight and listen for the rest of the story. That is because public school teachers, especially in high-needs school districts, are typically only terminated when a teacher has been found guilty of something particularly egregious, like stealing money or having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student. Even in the current era of reform, you don’t hear very often of significant numbers of teachers in traditional public school districts losing their jobs based on their performance. And why is that the case?

First, most big city teachers unions (the Cleveland Teachers Union included) fight with every ounce of strength they have to prevent teachers from being terminated; even teachers whose performance has been abysmal, and in some limited cases, even when a teacher’s conduct has been so inappropriate that she cannot return to the classroom. Second, Americans have largely accepted the reasoning that teachers (and leaders, and schools) should not be held accountable for the academic performance of their students, particularly if those teachers serve children of color or economically disadvantaged students. Fortunately for children, both of those circumstances are changing. First, parents, community members, the business community, and school districts are demanding changes in teachers unions collective bargaining agreements, particularly around provisions that restrict school leaders’ ability to supervise, evaluate, and if need be, remove ineffective teachers. Second, parents, community members, and the business community are demanding that teachers, even teachers who serve children of color and economically disadvantaged students, be held accountable for the learning of their students.

Cleveland Schools CEO Eric Gordon has assured that the teachers in danger of losing their jobs will receive due process. Those teachers will have the opportunity to respond to the charges of their principals. I fully support teachers’ right to due process. It may turn out that some of the teachers in question are able to present evidence of their instructional effectiveness and keep their jobs. But teachers who are unable to provide evidence of their students’ learning should be fired. My stance on this issue is firm: Teachers that cannot provide evidence of adequate learning in their classrooms should be removed from those classrooms.

It is true that some teachers whose performance is not optimal can and should be developed. Early career teachers in particular need mentoring and development and they deserve the opportunity to grow. Pre-service teacher training should be regarded only as preparation for entering the profession, so new teachers should never be seen as finished products. But even with the understanding that early career teachers and even some struggling later career teachers can be developed, I will not back down from the argument that every student deserves the opportunity to learn in her classroom, regardless of how inexperienced or well-meaning her teacher is. A sixth grader gets one shot at sixth grade, and educational leaders and policy makers owe it to every sixth grader to ensure that she has an adequate teacher.

I have no problem with teachers unions fighting for job security for teachers, but only for effective teachers. Contrary to popular belief, all teachers are not effective. Some ineffective teachers can be mentored and developed to become effective teachers, but others should be removed from the classroom quickly before they do irreparable damage to children. Consideration of job security for teachers should always be secondary to ensuring that every child has an effective teacher in her classroom.

Involuntary Teacher Transfers Challenged in Court (Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, North Carolina)

A pretty interesting personnel battle is brewing between a superintendent and two teachers in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in North Carolina. Superintendent Thomas Forcella has attempted to transfer two teachers from Chapel Hill High School to two other high schools in the district. The teachers, however, have taken their cases to court, challenging their transfers on the grounds that the superintendent has no cause to move them. Chaper Hill High School is getting a new principal this year, and the superintendent alleges that the transfers were ordered to try to head off dissention/insubordination by those teachers. The teachers argue that nothing of the sort is found in their personnel files, and that the superintendent’s attempt to transfer them is baseless.

Superior Court Judge Elaine Bushfan said last week that she would make a decision relatively quickly on whether she would grant the teachers a stay until their appeals are heard in a few months. This case has pretty significant implications for school board policy and administrative procedures regarding the involuntary transfer of staff. Superintendents and school board members in North Carolina and across the country should follow this one pretty closely as it unfolds.