Sunday, January 29, 2012

What Me Worry?

Let's get rid of the bad teachers.  It can't hurt can it?  Honestly, who can argue with a plan to recognize excellence and eliminate roadblocks for getting rid of incompetence.  After all, if you're a good teacher, you've got nothing to worry about.  Right?

Current legislation in the Virginia General Assembly (HB 576 and SB 438) seeks to enact such a law.  Here is a summary of what it will do:

1- any teacher during their probationary period may be dismissed without notice or reason; this includes any teacher, regardless of experience, in their first year in a new district.

How it's different from today- currently, probationary teachers have the right to "notice" and "hearing" if dismissed during the current school year.  It is already possible to "non-renew" a probationary teacher.

2- all teachers will work on an "annual contract" and "continuing contracts" will be eliminated.

How it's different from today- essentially, new teachers have "annual contracts."  This means that dismissal during the year requires documentation and good reason for dismissal.  "Continuing contract" teachers may be dismissed, but even a non-renewal requires "notice" and "hearing" and cannot occur without a justified reason.  On the annual contract, as long as a teacher is notified by June 15, they can be refused a contract for the following year.

3- evaluations must follow the Guidelines for Uniform Performance Standards and Evaluation. These standards are new as of 2011 and call for teacher evaluations to be tied to student growth.  Measurements for student growth are not clearly defined and differences in testing, or lack of testing in some areas make this provision very different from teacher to teacher.  All teachers must be evaluated yearly, new teachers twice a year.

How it is different from today- local school boards must create a system to address student academic progress and the instructional skills and knowledge of teachers.  Furthermore, local boards decide the frequency and type of evaluation for experienced teachers.

This is just a brief summary.  I encourage you to read the entire bill, or at least a better summary found here.

I consider myself a pretty good teacher.  Not the best, probably in the top half.  Should I worry?  I remember my first year.  An administrator (not my direct supervisor) had heard from students that students were out of control in my class.  The administrator couldn't offer any specifics, but required me to complete a discipline plan and come back for follow up in three weeks.  I never heard another thing about it, and the follow up didn't happen.  I wonder if that happened after this law passed whether this nebulous assumption that my classroom lacked discipline could have led to dismissal.

In my fourth year, a new chair was appointed to our department.  In our initial meeting, he said, "I'm sure that you're aware of the concern about your teaching, so we'll continue to work on that."  He was shocked that I was shocked at this statement.  I hadn't heard a thing.  Luckily, he was willing to observe my class and try to discover the problem.  A former department chair really had it in for me.  Apparently the administration was aware of these supposed problems, but rather than investigate, they assumed it was true.  I was able to request several evaluations to show that I was doing my job, but if that happened today, perhaps it would be easier to wait until June 15 to let me know I don't have a job in September.

Most of this proposed legislation simply ups the stakes of the system without providing the additional training or input to make it work appropriately.  To borrow from the gun lobby, we don't need new laws, we need better enforcement of the laws we have.  Bad teachers can be dismissed under current law.  It is just a matter of providing the support to schools and administrators to effectively use current systems of evaluation and applying them appropriately. 

This proposed legislation will not result in removing bad teachers and recognizing good ones.  Even if it did, will better teachers magically appear to replace them.  I spoke directly with my principal and the division assistant Superintendent about this proposal.  Both of them said that as administrators, they wouldn't likely use the law so much to get rid of teachers as much as they would use it to encourage existing teachers to step up their performance.

In the end, as a teacher, it is a demoralizing message.  It says I don't have the motivation to do my job well, so with a little incentive and threat of punishment maybe things will get better.  In reality, with proper training and oversight, the current system would function better-- without proper training and oversight, the proposed system will be worse.  It just isn't good policy.  If you agree, let someone know.

HB 576 will be heard in the House Education Subcommittee on Teachers and Administrative Action on February 2 at 5 p.m. The committee members are as follows (all phone numbers are in 804):

LeMunyon (Chair) 698-1067,
Cole 698-1088,
Robinson 698-1027,
Yost 698-1-12,
Yancey 698-1094,
McClellan 698-1171,
Morrissey 698-1074,
Keam 698-1035,

SB 438 will be heard by the Education Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Education and Health. The committee members are as follows:
Blevins (Chair) 698-7514,
Howell 698-7532,
Locke 698-7502,
Black 698-7513,
Carrico 698-7540, 

*this information was copied from the VEA Daily Reports 

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