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Do We Want Quality Teachers?

November 14, 2010

While reading Sabrina’s recent post about an incident in one of Denver’s schools, I decided to take a look at her link to the May 20, 2010 DPS Board of Education meeting in which she and a number of other teachers spoke.  It pained me to watch the presentations made by the teachers and their supporters, protesting non-renewal of their probationary contracts.  The speakers were eloquent and intelligent and presented evidence suggesting the teachers’ effectiveness in the classroom.  To me, there was an apparent pattern of ineffective, hostile and retaliatory leadership that traversed the district, of principals discarding teachers for personal, rather than professional reasons. It pains me all the more knowing that the Board of Education did not consider this apparent pattern reason enough to thoroughly investigate the contested non-renewals and that all were allowed to stand.  Teachers spoke of reluctantly taking their considerable skills to the suburbs in the event their petitions be ignored.  People spoke about the critical importance of developing and maintaining relationships with children and families. They also questioned the conflict between the district’s stated desire to retain quality teachers and its lack of attention to ensuring strong leadership.

I felt an eerie sensation of déjà vu, because I know that I have said many of the same things, some of them here.  I’ve heard and read other teachers expressing similar opinions.  Yet, there still seems to be an overall public tendency to view teacher opinion with a jaundiced eye, even in the face of evidence that leadership is flawed. From a purely economical perspective, it seems that leadership should receive more, rather than less scrutiny, given the notably higher level of pay and control over dispersal of funds held by principals. So, with a heavy heart, I have to ask this question. Does it really matter if DPS (and urban districts in general) attract and retain quality teachers?  Does it matter that children have schools with effective management, with productive school culture? Does it matter to DPS Administration, to the Denver Board of Education?  Does it matter to the parents and citizens of Denver?  If so, please demonstrate your commitment through your deeds as well as your words.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 14, 2010 12:20 pm

    Probationary and especially temporary teachers really get the shaft in economically tough times. They seldom get any sympathy from their districts and often little support from their unions. San Francisco Unified used to have a policy of hiring everyone on a temporary status, which meant they weren’t tenure track and might never be tenure track, allowing admin. to fire them at will, which they often did vindictively. The UESF fought hard and eventually had some success in reducing this practice.

    As a union rep, I have sat in on several termination meetings between admin and temporary and probationary colleagues. Some of these teachers had quit tenured jobs in other districts, and in some cases other cities, to work for our district.

    Teachers unions generally support these teachers by counseling and advising them during termination hearings, but seldom flex their muscles to really defend them, as it is the “district’s right to fire temps and probes without cause.” Teachers unions suffer from being overly burdened, understaffed, and limited in resources. Worst of all, they tend to be heavily bought into the system: “The contract is the law. Obey the law.” Teachers could walk out in solidarity with fired temps and probes, but union bureaucrats probably won’t support them as they aren’t protected by the contract.

  2. November 15, 2010 5:51 pm

    Do we (society at large) want quality teachers?

    Yes.

    Do we know what quality teachers are?

    Nope.

    Do we understand the politics of teaching, education and accountability?

    Not a shot in hell.

    Will we create and retain quality teachers?

    It’s almost as if the system was created to do the exact opposite.

  3. Frederika permalink
    November 15, 2010 7:31 pm

    I disagree a bit with Reflective Educator on the last point. I think that the “system”, such as it is, already creates a number of quality teachers–almost in spite of itself. [Like the staff that functions well and successfully in spite of the lousy principal.] We have plenty of smart, dedictaed, highly-ertrained, motivated, successful teachers. We retain a large number of them. But:
    > we lose a bunch every year for ridiculous and unconscionable reasons
    > we miss out on a number of talented individiuals who are never asked to consider studying teaching in colege
    > we scare away too many with the over-blown tales of bedlam and chaos, while leaving too many of our schools with marginal students founding in bedlam and chaos
    > THEY cannot seem to understand that TEACHERS like all other workeras value WORKING CONDITIONS above many other employment factors
    > THEY under-value the profession–almost all educators are under-paid, both annually and more importantly, across the lifetime of their careers; teaching has sunk beneath used carmen and dogcatcher as undesirable jobs; THEY cannot really see what they’ve got; they cast blame on those easiest and closest to the problem, whether it is true or not.
    > THE BIG LIE–tell if over and over and pretty soon, everyone believes it.

  4. November 15, 2010 8:33 pm

    Frederika – it sounds like you completely agree with me….?

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