Sunday, December 02, 2007

Don't Blame Tenure

by Schoolgal

Interesting how some teachers feel that merit pay and the end of tenure will solve problems.

We "older" teachers had similar experiences, but not on the same level you guys do. Since NCLB, the system and union has drastically changed. Yes we still had horrible administrators and lazy teachers, but we had each other. We also didn't have the mandates that make it impossible to teach and be creative.

Protections in this field are more important than ever. I made it my business to articulate to the administration how I felt about the PD and non-collaboration. Had it not been for tenure, I'd have been out the door.

The union gave away one of the better hiring practices we ever had, the SBO selection, and they took away the right to grieve letters. Instead of using our old extended 50-minute Mondays for pure collaboration, we were forced to listen to stupidity that was far removed from actual teaching. I was on a Professional Development Committee, but my principal would not attend the meetings or listen to our suggestions. The other members were afraid to grieve even though there was a directive from then Deputy Chancellor Farina to develop such a committee. So, the committee disbanded. Again, had our union been stronger, teachers would have supported our efforts. Yet our union is teaming with a charter school that allows for collaboration, input, discipline and real parent involvement. These issues should have been the focus of our contracts; not the givebacks.

I really believe when teachers are empowered, even the so-called lazy ones will once again be enticed to do a better job. No teacher or any employee wants a U rating. So don't blame tenure for the failure of our system. Many schools work because they have innovative and respectful leadership.

Merit pay would also be a disaster because it assumes all children have the same learning styles and progress rates. They don't. Even the new school report card system has given some of the most violent schools As while the best in the city got Bs and Cs. It seems that students who already achieve 4s cannot progress any higher, so the school grade suffers. My school not only got an A, but had the highest raw score. Believe me, it didn't deserve it. The teachers were so afraid that the principal would retaliate that they answered positively on all survey questions.

Yes, there are teachers who decide to stay with the job even though they hate it because of their love for the kids. But that makes it sound like anyone who wants to explore any new options are selfish. I left teaching for a few years because I felt confined. I tried the business world, but I missed teaching. And when I returned (back in the 80s) I was determined to do a great job. I was given a "bottom class". The first thing I did was put my students in groups rather than in rows. All the other teachers still had them in rows. I was the first to use the cooperative model and incorporate journal writing (This was before Lucy came to town). The principal let me do whatever I wanted because she knew I was good. Some teachers, and not all of them "older" did not appreciate my style. But the students and parents liked it. The kids were excited to learn.

Now, I find it hard to incorporate those styles because the ELA is around the corner and the pressure is incredible. The pressure was also there when I started teaching, but the tests were given in April and May. By that time, the students were ready and they improved.

I also know other great teachers who left teaching and are now happier. Personal happiness is very important. And those that make the move away from teaching are not abandoning their students. Others will take their place. One thing I learned from all my years teaching is that no matter how good you are, you are expendable. Look at how many of our best teachers are being driven out of the system because of their age or because they disagreed publicly with the system.

The idea of merit pay or loss of tenure improving this or any school system is, at best, simplistic. The changes must go to the heart of the failure, and to do that many highly-placed people would be out of a job,
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