Thursday, October 16, 2008

Good Teacher, Bad Teacher: How Do We Decide?

I’ve taught in six DC public schools under the supervision of six different principals who had six different ideas of what constitutes 'quality' or 'effective' teaching. My experience makes me very concerned about what I hear is the enhanced principal authority to get rid of teachers they don't like in the proposed contract. Current administrators may or may not be the best judges of quality teaching, rarely having been trained to recognize it.

In 2007, I was given the MetLife Foundation Ambassadors in Education Award for "Supporting School - Community Partnerships" for a research project my students did on the role our school played in the Brown v. Board school integration decision. My students presented their case to the DC Board of Education, City Council, Congressional Black Caucus and the US Senate on the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board. A description of their project was published in Writing for a Change and the Teaching for Change publication Putting the Movement Back Into Civil Rights Teaching. The students, their parents and the community were proud, but my principal was evidently not. I was transferred to another school. At Garnet-Patterson MS, where I went next, the principal informed me that she was aware of my reputation as an excellent teacher, but didn’t "want a teacher who is too political or one that taught students to question the status quo.”

After two months, I was transferred to Hart MS. This is my second year at Hart MS. Although the school didn’t make AYP, the teachers work hard to boost academic achievement with the limited support and resources provided by the school system. Although Hart has been restructured, we continue to suffer with teacher shortages.

For as long as I can remember, involuntary transfers of good teachers have been initiated by principals to silence teachers who have ideas that might be different than that of the principal or who teach to promote critical thinking in their schools. Rather than freeing the hand of principals, we need to be holding teachers and principals accountable to a clear definition of what good teaching is, making the process less arbitrary. We need a less autocratic and more collegial culture in schools. I think of excellent teachers like Emily Washington, Jeanette Feely and Art Siebens, just to name a few, who fell victim to arbitrary principal authority. Creative, critical thinking teachers who teach students how to become creative, critical thinkers are rapidly becoming a rare commodity. If we allow this trend to continue, our students will be the losers.


mommilan&jr said...

Hello Mrs. Davis,
My name is Zakia Alexander Haight and I am the daughter of Pam Alexander. She gave me your number a few months ago to talk to you about the proposal made by Chancellor Rhee. I too have been at 6 schools, and in all very challenging settings, but I always kept good repetior with my parents, somewhat with my principals, and as an Eary Childhood teacher I move my non-teted students in ways no one thought was important... socially and emotionally and in literay, reading ,science, and social studies...

I also have 3 DCPS students as my blood children...

I am not fearful of opportunity!

So in saying this, I didn't return your call when I read on Ms. Peterson's blog that you all were opposing the proposal... so...

I respect your opinion, but I want to at least be able to discuss it more and get a better understanding of things from both sides (Rhee and Parker) and vote on it and hope with others that we can come to some compromise and satisfy at least most! Please check out my blogs as a mom and a teacher


Anonymous said...

I really do not like how the discussion around the WTU proposed contract is being framed:

Either you are for better quality teaching and therefore agree that teachers should lose seniority and be fired 'at will' OR you think that teachers should keep seniority and due process but want the status quo and therefore think we should keep bad teachers.

I think what needs to happen is more dialogue and understanding of what teachers, who are opposed to the two tier system, want to see in a new contract and why.

This rigid view of you are either for the two tier system or your for the status quo is dead wrong, unproductive and divides us all.

mommilan&jr said...

letsbereal2... we are on the same side I believe... I am the 1st in your either or statement below...and I am eager to hear reasons why as well! Thanks for your support. Please go to here and sign a petition to vote if you care to bring this proposal to vote... thanks!

Anonymous said...

Several teachers have said, "We don't need to give up tenure in order for Rhee to fire bad teachers. We already have a process for getting rid of bad teachers - it's called the 90-day plan." Now that Rhee is using the plan, teachers are upset.

Well, why are we looking for a new way to evaluate teachers? We already have a system for evaluating teachers it's called PPEP - why aren't teachers supporting administrators' use of that process for evaluating teachers? Why do we need the AFT to step in now?

The AFT has been around for years. Why are teachers just now asking for their help in improving the teacher evaluation process? The answer is: because we now have a chancellor who is serious about teacher quality and has got everyone talking about it.

If Rhee doesn't do anything else positive for the district, this one thing here has been worth all of her efforts - getting this most important discussion started.

Anonymous said...

I have not heard that teachers are upset that Rhee wants to use the 90 day plan. At the July meeting that George Parker and Rhee held, I heard one teacher ask Rhee why she needed to make teachers ‘at will’ when there is already a process in place to get rid of bad teachers (the 90 day plan). I think Rhee’s response was that the 90 day plan did not work.

From what I have experienced, there has been 3 problems with the implementation of the 90 day plan: 1) principals are overwhelmed with responsibilities so they don’t do the paperwork; 2) some principals just wait out the bad teachers and try to get them transferred instead of fired and 3) some principals find it acceptable to keep incompetent teachers indefinitely.

The problem that teachers had with Rhee’s announcement of her plan to aggressively use the 90 day plan was with the tone and negativity of her letter. Go ahead and fire the bad teachers but don’t harass and disrespect the rest of us. This was even harder to swallow when in the 2nd month of school, schools have vacant teaching positions, teachers don’t have books, copy paper, access to telephones, etc. Even more upsetting is that Rhee has asked all principals to give her at least 3 teachers that will be on the 90 day plan. Why is there a quota?

Anonymous said...

As a teacher who has been in DCPS for 9 years, I have seen teachers who were basically collecting a paycheck at the expense of their students' education. Whenever my students want a "free day", I point out to them that it is my job to teach them and I take that seriously. If my students have other teachers not teaching, I tell them that they should complain to the principal because they are being taken advantage of.

I recognize that there are bad teachers. However, they do not represent most of the teachers in the system as the Chancellor would have the entire nation believe. Most teachers struggle every day despite the extreme challenges and lack of supports to do their jobs effectively. In fact, there are many who have excelled in spite of the system.

To “usereason” I say to you that many veteran teachers have recognized the absurdity of the evaluation process in years past—as long as you had your standards up, a word wall, student work and were presenting a somewhat coherent lesson you were okay. Whose fault was that? I blame it on the principals for not documenting it and on DCPS for not giving principals the supports they need.

So now Michelle Rhee comes in and wants to take away due process rights because some bad teachers have been allowed to keep their jobs. Does this make sense?

Those of us who are not happy with Rhee’s firing campaign are not unhappy because we want to keep around bad teachers. We want them gone, but we want it done in a fair way. It’s kind of like the criminal justice system—no matter how obvious your guilt, you still get the right to a trial.

If you fire me, I want a reason and I would like a warning. I believe every person should have this basic right. Rhee’s efforts to turn everyone into an “at will” employee have led to an unhealthy work climate of fear and intimidation. It will only get worse under her proposed contract.

This is why so many are against the contract. Not because we are awful teachers. Not because we want the status quo. But because we believe that removing ineffective teachers can be done in a fair way and does not require eliminating basic due process rights.

Ame in DC said...

GO forrealchange!
This constant discussion about firing "the bad teachers" is crazy. Yes, you can fire teachers that have been evaluated fairly. But ask any teacher with sense and they'll tell you that the whole PPEP thing has always been bogus. Who had time to fight that fight when you can't get copies?! I'll say it again:
1) Give all teachers what they need, and what decent school systems have:
-a coherent curriculum, not a list of standards
-materials that support that curriculum
-support in the form of mentors/continuing education/training
-a decent working environment with well-kept copiers, computers, printers, furniture, air conditioners, heating

2)Evaluate us based on many criteria (test scores, DIBELS, portfolios, observations, peer /parent/child evaluations, etc.) and give us the same basic rights other employees have -- due process

Anonymous said...


Those teachers who are considering sacrificing their tenure and seniority rights in exchange for higher salaries and the protection of an appeals process should be aware that there is no such thing as an appeals process impervious to abuse. Adjudicative officers such as supervisors, hearing examiners, administrative judges, and even D. C. court judges are all highly skillful at ignoring or falsifying evidence, distorting testimony, bending or mis-stating the law, maligning complainants to the point of character assassination, and seizing upon trifling matters to justify their decisions against complainants no matter how meritorious their cases may be.

Many teachers who have gone through grievance procedures can attest to the fact that grievants cannot really expect fair treatment prior to arbitration, when the arbitrator is selected by mutual agreement of both parties. The trouble is that a union is not required to take every case to arbitration, and very often it does not.

Many experienced teachers know that oft times issues develop between a teacher and his or her supervisor that have little to do with the teacher’s ability to instruct the children. A teacher may be too outspoken or critical of a principal, for example. In such a situation a principal may disparage a teacher’s competencies and seek the teacher’s termination. Against such arbitrary and capricious treatment, tenure is the best option.

Of course, even tenure does not guarantee protection. For example, there is the procedure whereby a teacher with a poor rating may be given 90 days “to improve” or face dismissal. The school system can also declare a RIF; against which tenure offers no protection, especially if seniority rights have been forfeited. Still, tenure is the best protection against unfair treatment which is available, and teachers should think carefully before being tricked into giving it up.

Charles M. Bagenstose, Retired DCPS teacher

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