They are infamous. Countless newspaper stories have been written about them. DC school leaders and politicians include classroom horror stories about them in their speeches. Parents lament about them. They are assailed in e-mail posts and comment sections of articles and blog postings. They’ve even gotten attention nationwide with the recent spotlight on DCPS’ chancellor in the national media.
Lazy, incompetent, irresponsible and selfish are some words used to describe them. They are touted right now as being the primary obstacle to DCPS reform efforts. Who are they? The “bad” DCPS teachers, of course.
Anyone who has worked in DCPS or has had their children enrolled in the public schools has encountered teachers who should be removed from the classroom ASAP.
But how many “bad” teachers are there? The hype created by our school leaders, politicians and reporters would lead one to believe that most DCPS teachers are abject failures while only a small minority are really good. The few great teachers are described as mostly young and are talked about in saint-like terms. Anecdotal stories are told about how these extraordinary teachers struggle with the burdens of working in schools with a bunch of professional rejects.
However, the reality is quite different. While bad DCPS teachers exist, they are not the majority. Teachers have become an easy scapegoat for a reform effort that doesn’t understand the complexities of the problems facing DCPS. If we look closer, we see a failed system that has left the majority of teachers overwhelmed without the proper supports or the necessary training to overcome the tremendous obstacles that the children present.
Complicating matters, the Washington Teachers Union appears to rigidly defend all teachers, including the “bad” ones. This feeds into the stereotype that the Union doesn’t care about children, but is only concerned with protecting jobs. Our school leaders take advantage of this, framing the reform debate in these terms: eroding or even eliminating tenure is the only way to rid the system of the incompetents. Can’t we get rid of bad teachers without depriving all teachers of their due process rights?
Along with this massive firing campaign, huge salary increases are being proposed as the primary way to improve academic instruction. If you oppose this you are labeled an obstructionist who is interested in only preserving the status quo.
It is not that simple. Almost doubling teachers’ salaries will not magically make them better able to teach students who are disruptive nor will it make it easier to teach students who are several grade levels behind. These are the tougher issues that need to be addressed before any reform can be successful.