Sometimes when I am giving a workshop, I’ll ask teachers to close their eyes and think of the worst teacher in their school. No one has ever had difficulty coming up with the worst --or even the second-worst. We don’t name names, of course. Instead, we make a list of characteristics of these folks. Wherever I go, the lists are always similar: poor attendance, negative attitude, ineffectual discipline. Doesn’t care about kids. Doesn’t care about teaching. Just waiting for it to be over.
Teachers never cite poor test scores as evidence of poor teaching. Instead, their definition of bad teaching is sort of like the definition of pornography: You know it when you see it.
Then I ask teachers to think of the best teacher in their building. Again, nobody has any problem naming one or even several. They talk about these teachers’ energy, their commitment, their enthusiasm. They talk about professionalism. They talk about how kids love them. They never mention how many years the person has taught
The Washington, D.C. school district, laying off hundreds of teachers, has decided to try an innovative approach. Teachers will be laid off according to effectiveness rather than seniority. Effectiveness will be judged by observation and by test scores.
The National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER), a federally funded agency, recently released a report that reveals that students taught by strong teachers get nearly triple the results on tests as their peers taught by weak teachers. Experience doesn’t seem to influence results. “So which teachers stay and which teachers leave matters,“ says CALDER director Jane Hannaway.
Cleveland students won’t be so lucky. Ohio is one of 15 states where the idea of layoffs by seniority is written into law. Two years ago the city recruited teachers new to the district to staff the MC2 STEM High School located on the lakeshore at the Great Lakes Science Center. The new school focuses on science, and teachers recruited to the school averaged over 400 hours of professional development. Now most of them will lose their jobs. “When you recruit someone and [then] pink-slip them, it’s just not right,” says teacher Christa Krohn.
Teachers know who among their peers is good and who isn’t, even if it’s hard for them to admit it publicly. This week the House voted more federal monies to save teachers' jobs, so it turns out that in many schools, both the good and the bad may get to stay.