Although I had intended to make my next post about public employee unions, Ron Bancroft’s Opinion at the Portland Press Herald this morning has created another diversion. Here’s what I wrote there in response:
It is simply bad policy to determine whether a teacher is good or not based on your own remembrances of what one looked, behaved and sounded like. Not every teacher will be good for every student and vice versa. It’s a long road out there and kids need to learn how to cope with someone of whom they are not fond.
I had my own Mrs. Sherman and I learned a lot from her. Did everyone in my class think she was great? Of course not. My daughter had a teacher who demanded so much from her Honors class that they asked for her the next year! My son’s class “hated” (as teenagers are wont to do) her. Different year; different kids; maybe even a different teacher since it was several years later.
Also, it appears from your column that you are unaware of Maine law on so-called tenure. Please take a look at 20-A MRSA 13201 and you’ll discover that the only protection teachers here have is “just cause” for dismissal and non-renewal of contract IF it has been bargained into the local collective bargaining agreement.
Furthermore, under the provisions of 20-A MRSA 13202, a teacher does not get to keep her/his job if s/he can be shown to be “unfit to teach or unprofitable to the school”.
Administrators have the responsibility (sooner or later in the process) to prove to an arbitrator that the teacher is unfit/unprofitable or that they had other just cause to dismiss/non-renew. There’s a lot of case law about what this all means, but the upshot is: administrators are in charge. If they fail to do evaluations, or do poor ones, or can be shown to have targeted a teacher, they can lose the case. The law allows firing a teacher, but it has to be done correctly.
Although I understand his point that firing bad teachers would help improve education in a very general sense, his solution – getting rid of so-called “tenure” – is excessive. The harm to individuals would far outweigh whatever minimal good might come from eliminating the handful of “bad” teachers that exists in Maine’s schools.
Compare his Opinion to another article in the same paper, Parent complaint preceded criminal probe of teacher in Jackman. The teacher there won the prestigious Milken Award only a few years ago, exactly the sort of honor Mr. Bancroft would look for in a “good” teacher. He was well-liked and well-evaluated. Does any of that count if he is indeed guilty of creating and possessing child pornography? Of course not.
So the reverse is also true: a teacher who is not a student favorite, or who has not won awards, or does not receive the best evaluations is not necessarily a bad teacher. Individuals deserve to be treated as such, not spurned as a group by denying legal and contractual protections by eliminating so-called tenure.