The Freedom To Fire

In a stack of papers called Reform.

  • Jan
  • 27
  • 2006

Principals at public schools should have the freedom to hire and fire as they see fit, based on some objective criteria to avoid any power plays. Currently, they do not. Some folk will say this is a good idea and propose that, if principals could hire and fire, teachers would have to suck up to the principal and not challenge decisions made by administration for fear of losing their job.

I think we can avoid that concern by setting up the system the right way, which would imply a complete dismantling of the current system. I’d love to see that day.

My Point

There is a teacher at my school who has 4 sections of English 3. Among those 4 sections, a total of 30 spaces stand empty, available to be filled by students who are otherwise overloading all the other English 3 sections. This teacher has 28, 25, 25, and 23 kids in those 4 sections of English 3. Meanwhile, both of my sections are 32 kids large and all other English 3 teachers have at least 31 students.

I received a student today who used to be in the other teacher’s class; she asked the counselor for a schedule switch. The counselor obliged the request and I have yet another new student to introduce to the class (literally and metaphorically).

Lots of students request to transfer out of this teacher’s class and cite many different reasons why, all of them pointing to a big problem in that classroom, either on the part of students or the teacher. What needs to happen is for all parties to sit down and discuss what’s going on in that room. And I mean all parties, not just one student at a time. The students who feel victimized, teacher, parents, administrators, and counselors need to sit together and figure out what’s actually happening and how to change things.

That is not happening and I don’t even think that possibility is on the table for discussion.

The claim of the students is that the teacher is unfair, prejudiced, biased; the work is graded in such a fashion and public ridicule is a part of the daily routine. If this is all true, it’s no wonder kids want to leave. But we need to find out if this is true and, if it is, fire that teacher (or take whatever steps the union says we need to take to file disciplinary action and move to fire the teacher).

Meanwhile, I’m doing my job with some degree of success. No student has requested a transfer from my class for unfair treatment (at least, none that I am aware of) and, in fact, students are requesting to transfer into my class. I try to maintain a high level of expectation and also try to vary my approach to the literature and the class, all the while being realistic with the students about why I do what I do.

All of my classes are in the 30s, with one class even being one over the maximum allowed (a number that shouldn’t be called the maximum since the school is allowed to go two over that enrollment number without any consequences).

Yet this other teacher, who has aspersions cast about her year after year after year and about whom those aspersions are typically believed by other teachers and administration, has a total of 30 fewer students to deal with during her day, an entire class worth of fewer papers to grade, issues to deal with, assignments to collect, assessments to give.

I Should Be A Jerk

The message I’m getting from this is that if you are an effective teacher and try to work with all of the students in your class, expect to have an overloaded classroom. If you are less effective and students are requesting to leave your classroom because they don’t feel like you are giving them all a fair and equal chance, expect to have fewer students in your classroom. A good teacher will have more students than a bad teacher. Where’s the reward? Why shouldn’t I just start to treat my students like crap and yell at them all period long and make fun of them in front of the class? At least then I’d have less work to take home.

Looking at a fellow English teacher, a thought on the numbers in her classroom and a thought on the numbers in mine, I shake my head at the way the public school system rewards mediocrity and failure, wish I taught at a school where all my teaching idols worked together, and stare in disbelief at the stack of papers I have to correct (realizing that this other teacher has to correct 30 fewer). And it’s the system that rewards mediocrity and failure; the union makes it easier to do so, but the system is set up for that in the first place.

The road to firing a teacher is long and fraught with difficulty and many chances to screw things up, forcing a complete reset of the firing process. Principals do not have the ability to fire teachers who are not doing their job, nor do they have the authority to challenge a teacher on classroom ethics despite overwhelming evidence. This is just another example of how the system is broken.

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