Dance of the Lemons
It’s that time of year. School is over or almost over, and school administration is about to embark on the dance of the lemons, which involves moving ineffective teachers or other administrators to new positions in the fall where they can either have a fresh start or do less damage. Happily I’ve never been invited to the dance but I’ve seen it up close.
I first became aware of the dance as a relatively rookie. I was teaching middle school and a very veteran teacher took me under her wing. I was grateful at first until some of my other colleagues began to warn me about her. Mostly they said that I probably didn’t want to be seen as closely aligned with such a poor teacher – disorganized, disinterested, and generally unpleasant to kids. I was naïve and consequently skeptical of all the criticism at first until she and I were sent to the state reading conference a couple hundred miles away.
It was my first conference, and I was excited about all the keynote speakers and breakout sessions. On the drive down I asked her what sessions she was going to. “Ha!” she said. “I’m not going to anything. I’m going to get my nails done at the spa, maybe get a massage, and spend a couple of days lying in a lounge chair at the pool.”
“You’re not going to anything?” I was incredulous. (I said I was a rookie).
“I’ve been teaching for a long time,” she said. “They owe me a vacation.”
In the fall she was transferred to another school, her fourth in five years. That’s how they handled the problem years ago.
And guess what? That’s how they handle the problem today in lots of schools. As an administrator, I watched the superintendent shuffle an assistant high school principal to the elementary school. An elementary principal became sports director. The sports guy became chair of special education. Getting to stay where you were that year was the superintendent’s vote of confidence.
Lemons sometimes end up in newly created positions when the dance has stopped and all the chairs are already filled. Director of community outreach. On special assignment to write the history of the district (really). Liaison with the military community. Parent organizer.
Why the dance of the lemons? Why doesn’t school leadership face the problem directly and remove ineffective people? Because it’s too late. Once the individual has been granted tenure, it’s less costly to do the dance than it is to try to remove him or her.
Another reason to mentor, supervise, and carefully evaluate the beginners.