Saturday, November 15, 2008

The "Bad" Teacher

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.


Anonymous said...

Great question--how many bad teachers are there?

Rhee's constant finger pointing to the bad DCPS teachers is like a broken record.

I guess she learned from George Bush. Just keep repeating it, no matter how untrue, and people will believe it.

How many American's still believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda after 9/11?

Unfortunately, it seems to be working.

Anonymous said...

Yes- How many? I have taught in DCPS for 15 years and have had three children go through the system. I have encountered some "bad" teachers, but I have met many more great ones. This is all part of the negative propaganda that is everywhere- today's Parade Magazine, The News Hour and just about every issue of the Washington post. The idea that getting rid of bad teachers will fix the system sounds good to some- it is a quick fix. Unfortunately, it is not the solution. Supporting teachers in becoming great teachers, and implementing a fair evaluation process is one part of what is necessary to improve education for the District's children.

Anonymous said...

The tactics that Rhee and company are using are called union busting 101. One of the main tactics used to break unions is the divide and conquer tactic. Typically employers who engage in these tactics pit a group of employees against one another such as old versus young, men vs. women, etc. They get a group of employees to turn against their own union in support of the organization they work for . They even use unethical and illegal methods such as paying union members to advocate their cause. Sound familiar? They use other psychological tactics like I am your friend, don't let your union get in the way of our great relationship as I really care about your welfare.

These tactics have nothing to do with student achievment or bad or good teachers. The goal is to outsource and privatize as many jobs as they can. Unions are an impediment to their ultimate goal of privatization. Ask the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) in New York about Joel Klein and company. It is all about capitalism. If they can privatize and get more contracts - union busters can make lots more money with plenty of million dollar contracts going to their already wealthy friends and associates.

Contrary to what many in this city think, teachers unions work for not only workers but they also support what is in the educational best interests of our students such as limits on class size ratios which Rhee has failed to adhere to with class sizes of 40 and up. They also support improved working conditions which helps facilitate student learning in the classroom. Unions also provide professional development and teacher centers which help to support teachers in the classroom. The reform model (peer assistance and review) on this blog which is implemented in counties such as P.G. and Mongomery has been spearheaded by teacher unions.

Please check out my blog on union busting 101 and other educational issues @

Unknown said...

Excellent points made. No matter how good or saint-like you are, the current status of our challenge chews up and spits out many quality individuals who cannot deal with the variety of obstacles we face. Bring in all the new folks you want. Unless we also focus on problems such as school discipline and rampant absenteeism (to name just a few), our district will continue to tread water.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love your post! You should share with the WashPo. I am in a school with a mix of veteran and (mostly)new teachers. We have exactly 2 "bad" teachers. Everyone knows it but only the administration (principal) can do anything about and he has chosen not to do ANYTHING! So whose fault is it that the "bad" teachers are still teaching our children... surely not the teachers (good or bad). Our principals have to do their jobs with a take no prisoners attitude because our children are at stake!

Ame in DC said...

We have one in my building -- out of about 30.

Anonymous said...

I think there are also reasons that schools keep under-performing teachers that are unfortunately necessary. Huge teacher shortages force principals to hire who they can find, not necessarily who they want, and the angry anti-teacher rhetoric of late has only mad this worse. Many schools are currently so desperate to fill vacancies they'll take what they can get.

Anonymous said...

I am concerned about the effect of the constant teacher bashing on the morale of teachers and the overall school climate. Add to this the constant drumbeat of directives from on high to teach to the test. And finally overstretched principals having to look over their shoulders for fear of a Friday afternoon meeting with the chancellor that could mean getting the boot.

Anonymous said...

At one school the PTA I was a board member of documented 14 teachers who we requested the principal fire.

I believe that about 60% of DCPS teachers are Bad teachers. Certainly the majority of DCPS teachers must be fired, that is inarguable, but I don't think it's more than 60%.

In some schools I know they fired almost all the teachers, and that's fine for Wards 7 and 8 where the teachers stopped caring, but over all, in the entire DCPS, I don't think more than 60% should lose their jobs.

Anonymous said...

Previous poster- you should not throw around statistics that are not evidence based. Where did you get 60% from?

There are incompetent teachers in DCPS for sure but no way near 60%. I think some people just repeat the same lines over and over again until people start believing and repeating.

Anonymous said...

If you're all such great teachers, then what are you afraid of? If the union were gone and you were allowed major pay raises for strong performance (not necessarily entirely through standardized testing, although other countries use it and it delivers results juuuust fine), wouldn't you want that? I know I would. That's why I quit being a teacher. No incentives. If you're dissing on Rhee, why don't you look at the turnaround she's brought about.

Here are some more stats for you:

"In 1989 U.S. dollars, only Switzerland, with $4,845 per pupil, spent more. Spain spent only $938 per student, compared to our $4,083. France spent $2,483. Japan and Germany--major economic competitors known for their excellent education--spent only $2,243 and $2,487 per pupil, respectively."

"In math, the only nation America outscored was Jordan, and in science only Jordan and Ireland. We were outscored by two countries full of poverty--including one with a large number of Palestinian refugees! In the math test, Americans averaged 55 percent correct, as opposed to 73 percent for Koreans and Taiwanese, 71 percent for Swiss and 70 percent for students of the former Soviet Union. Our scores were 2 points below Slovenia's and equal to Spain's."

Trends in Academic Progress: The Nation's Report Card
Digest of Education Statistics 1992.