Monday, February 26, 2007

Exit, Stage Left

It's cute on TV, I suppose, but real life can be more complicated than a taxi ride and a camera following you out of the Donald's office.

Joe Williams of The Chalkboard, in a fit of nostalgia, recalled a link to a post I did last year about bad teachers. It got picked up by Joanne Jacobs and a few other blogs, and it's been getting hundreds of hits over the last few days. As it happens, I wrote the very next day about good teachers, but that didn't generate half the buzz the first one did.

Lots of people read pieces about bad teachers and ask, "Why can't we fire them?"

It's a pretty good question. The answer, of course, is you can certainly fire them. That assumes, of course, that someone in the system wants them fired (I no longer labor under that particular assumption).

"Why is it so difficult?" they ask.

It should be difficult because you're proposing to deprive people of their livelihoods. Would excellent teachers get fired if those who directed schools could just do whatever the hell they liked? It certainly appears so.

This blog has an infrequent commenter who visits, asks the same questions on this topic, ignores the responses, and returns to ask them again. Last time I didn't bother responding, having done so just two weeks ago on Edwize.

He had written to protest Peter Goodman's defense of a teacher who was facing termination. An administrator had asked Mr. Goodman how he could represent that particular teacher. In fact, there was not one iota of evidence presented to suggest the teacher was guilty. However, the poster, ready to fire him regardless, suggested this:

Your anecdote with the “How can you represent this guy?” line is telling. How can teachers get the respect they deserve if people can ask this question and your only response is to blame others for a bad hiring decision?

It's certainly problematic for working people when people ready to condemn us with no factual basis whatsoever get their way. They ask, "What about the kids?" Well, I have a kid, and she's going to have to work one of these days. I'd like to know she'd get a vigorous defense if she were ever charged with a crime. I'd also like to know she wouldn't be fired based simply on the caprices of some troglodyte boss somewhere. I'd hate to think she'd end up bound by the ever-changing whims of a leader like Mr. Bloomberg.

My response is below:

I think it’s an important point that we don’t hire teachers, and it’s equally important to note that we have nothing to do with granting of tenure either. Pointing fingers at us is disingenuous.

It’s the union’s job to represent its members. It’s as simple as that. That’s what they’re there for. The notion that anyone facing removal from a job does not merit a vigorous defense is un-American.

Those who are so quick to condemn Mr. Goodman for doing his job ought to know that this city has had many, many opportunities to hire more selectively and has balked repeatedly, choosing to lower standards, establish 800 numbers, and conduct multiple intergalactic searches to fill those ancient wooden chairs.

I don’t believe in hiring bad teachers, or granting them tenure. But neither I nor the UFT has any say in those matters.

As for the comment being telling, I take strong exception to that, and those who’d stereotype teachers are bigots, plain and simple. There’s a school of thought that working conditions are bad in this country, and there’s a certain amount of truth to that.

To make the conclusion that we will somehow improve things by worsening conditions for teachers is nothing short of idiotic. All workers, not just teachers, deserve protection and due process.

We should be working to improve the lot of working Americans, not worsen that of teachers.

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