In the field of public education, “Bad Teacher” is one of the worst things you can say about a colleague. It is a mean, finger-pointing, name-calling, all-encompassing indictment. For me, it’s a taboo phrase, and it shocks me to hear teachers use it to label others. (I also wonder how, exactly, one can know that. Aren’t you spending the day teaching your own students; do you have opportunities to properly evaluate performance?) Assuredly we have room for improvement, and undoubtedly there are teachers who shouldn’t be teaching. However, I’m unsettled by just how rampant the vilification of our profession has become, and by teachers’ apparent complicity in this process. As teachers, we should be willing to address the genuine flaws in our system, but I fear many teachers are buying into the quick-fix notion of turning a spotlight onto the shortcomings of their brethren. (History buffs, do you note divide and conquer strategies at work?)
The movement toward reform (ironic quotes omitted) has included a disproportionate amount of conversation about what teachers are or aren’t doing and whether they are or aren’t effective. However, the focus on teacher effectiveness is used as a punitive, rather than instructive tool and has fostered increased criticisms of tenure and discussions about whether we should even have unions to protect us. Colorado’s SB 191, championed by supporters as a means to get rid of bad teachers, is a by-product of this rhetoric. State Senator Evie Hudak has identified her reasons for voting against this bill. I have included an excerpt of the misgivings she details on her website:
[W]hat the bill is really about is not helping teachers become effective. Because if it were, it would be about providing the things we know help teachers be more effective: good induction programs, mentoring and coaching, and collaborative planning time. Research shows that if we invest in those things, we will make our educators more effective and ensure quality instruction. . . . I can only assume that the reason is what I heard from several of the witnesses who testified in favor of the bill, who said we need to eliminate tenure to improve education in our struggling schools. But I say that the problem with education in those schools is not that there are too many ineffective teachers. I say the problem is that we have growing numbers of students who lacked a quality early childhood and thus will always be behind, students who need more intensive services, students who need more individualized instruction – while, at the same time, we have dwindling resources to meet the needs of these students. . . .
The State Council on Educator Effectiveness was in the early stages of its 18-month project of properly defining, uh, educator effectiveness, when SB 191 was aggressively pushed into law. We’ve got some burros in our legislature putting their short-sighted cart in front of all of us. I don’t like to whine, but I’d kind of like to know what the measures are before I’m subject to them. Let’s have some level of consensus in identifying an effective educator before we start stripping people of Colorado’s already-anemic version of tenure. Let’s also broaden our perspectives and stop insisting that “effective” and “raises-standardized-test scores” are automatically synonymous terms. I, for one, can’t demonstrate my effectiveness in that manner because my students don’t take the CSAP (at least not yet). May we please somehow include in that definition a teacher who is knowledgeable, caring, able to inspire; even though we can’t display it on a nice graph?
Oh, and, teachers, please consider reserving the “Bad Teacher” label for the truly egregious individuals.