BAD Teachers

Education has been an issue for decades now.  You’d think if it were going to be reformed, it would have happened by now.  Instead, it appears that change is done in fits and starts, done and undone by whatever was popular at the time and replaced by the next popular silver bullet.  Allegedly nothing has changed, but since education lacks any really good, solid, honest data collection and aggregation system, it’s going to be impossible, really, to know what does or does not impact a child’s ability to take in new information and move forward.

When I first decided to become a teacher, it was because I was not happy with the jobs I was finding as merely a college graduate with an English degree.  For some reason that will NEVER make sense to me, a fellow Jazzerciser looked at me and said, “You’d make a good teacher.”  That, and the fact that a couple good friends were entering public education at the time, helped drive my course.

Now I was aware, based on my interactions with many people in the public and private sector, that many are not what we would call smart.  I assumed it was the education system, and in California, I still do to some extent.  Quitting my job, I became a substitute teacher.  However, rather than traveling from school to school and position to position, I spent 99% of my time at one school — probably the lowest school in the district and the county.  Once they found someone who could work and would stay, they clung on for dear life.  That’s how hard it was for them to find people to take positions.

I was offered a job almost immediately.  I turned it down because I just kept hearing a good friend’s voice say, “Don’t take a job and then quit.  It’s the worst thing you can do to kids.”  She, of course, was talking about the importance of community and stability for the students.  It’s like being a mom, at some point it’s no longer about you.  I turned down positions for 6 months before I took one — alternative.

I was replacing a teacher that was considered bad.  Now, here’s the thing, to be bad at a school that was clinging to dear life anyone who would commit was mind boggling.  How could that be?  However, when I entered the class it was clear.  These students, low but smart, wounded beyond all belief, shoved into the corner of the school based on their bad behaviors, had done next to nothing since school started.

I’m serious.  They had nap and snack time.  Sixth, seventh, and eighth graders?  NO!  Yes.

The room was a mess.  There was no teaching map.  There were no books or supplies.  She took them on walking field trips to the ice cream store because it made them happy.  Or they went on hikes because they needed nature.  I’m not sure what her philosophy was, but it wasn’t “Let’s rebuild these kids, get them emotionally and academically on par, and return them to their herd.”  It was likes she was the zookeeper for exotics.  I finished my term and said no to a second.  There was nothing joyful about the position, the students, and the assumption that I alone could do this without help.

So, the bad teacher was replaced.  By someone who was CLUELESS.  I don’t know which is better.  However, that’s not really the point of this long-winded blog.

I was offered a 6th grade CORE position the next year, which I would teach as I took my credential classes. I had an amazing year with my students, learned a lot, and got great help and advice from my administration and colleagues.  I didn’t know a thing, but that was OK because I had people to help me learn and practice what I didn’t know. I was hooked and ready for me.  I was fortunate because across campus was a younger version of me hating every second of her first year as a teacher.

Her team was apathetic.  They, in fact, didn’t collaborate.  There was a different teaching and life philosophy from each one.  They would have team meetings because it was expected; nothing came to fruition.  We attended staff meetings. She, like me, coming from private sector held up the school’s expectations because THAT’S YOUR JOB.  My 6th grade CORE colleagues that I worked with (because not all of them did) also held up the expectations.  Then again, we’d all gone from private sector to public education.  We’d had what I would refer to as REAL jobs.  We had different attitudes.

Her team held the idea that you say yes in the meeting, make no waves to be noticed, and then return to your classroom, shut the door, and do whatever you like.

She left teaching for good based on this type of “cover your ass” and “protect yourself” attitude that she thought was endemic of teachers as a whole.  I’ve stayed with teaching because I always find those people who believe as I do.

Thing is, no one on her team was considered BAD.  They weren’t getting attention one way or the other.  They were, in fact, mostly invisible.  No one could accurately describe how or what they taught.  The prevailing thought was that they came in, did their jobs, and the kids learned.  Maybe… Maybe not.

I think we should stop worrying about BAD teachers because those teachers really will reveal themselves over time.  No one wants someone who is bad for students in a classroom.  However, for all the “THE UNION PROTECTS BAD TEACHERS” rhetoric going out there, it’s forgotten that the people who have to address this was the ADMINISTRATORS.  You know, the ones who should have noticed in the first place, but didn’t or didn’t care.  So now they HAVE to pay attention and put in the due diligence to remove these teachers.  THAT is a HUGE task — no joke.

In the meantime, however, the middlin’ teachers are just plugging away like coming to work is the same as showing up at a car wash.  They do what’s expected, no more, and often don’t follow anything innovative — be it academic, community, or behavior plans — because it requires MORE of them.  They aren’t there to make change.  They are there to teach only.  And by teach, they mean deliver the content as scripted.  No more, no less, unless money is attached.

Because these teachers don’t want to be SEEN, they blend in.  They make no waves.  They come with no big ideas, goals, or different ways of doing things.  They are the same day one year one as they are day one year ten.  They aren’t about to draw attention to themselves because then they MIGHT have to put in some work.

Teaching is hard work.  It’s more than content. And we’re barking up the wrong teacher when we concentrate on “bad”.  We should be concentrating on fair, average, middlin’ and not making waves.  Because I guarantee you, when you bring in the reform, these are the ones undermining it and NOT delivering the content.  Even your bad teachers will try unless they are burned out or have given up.  No, it’s your “get along with everyone” and “make friends with the principal” ones that are your problem.

You’re just to blind to see.


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