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Calling All Educational Researchers: How Do We Deal With Bad Teachers?

Getting Rid of Bad Teachers
Photo by robinpiero
This post would touch some sensibilities and we would ask you to re-read it, if you are not so sure about what we meant by this or that. TonNet is a teacher as disclosure and some would consider him a good one and of course some other would say he's not. Problem is, not everyone uses the same criteria for what constitutes bad.

Teachers either swing or they don't. And bad teachers don't swing. An objective observer, can watch a teacher for a couple of seconds (well, a minute or two) and figure that out. A teacher who doesn't swing, who leads one to bang their head instead of tapping their intellectual toes, is a painful thing to watch.

But what worsen things as Scot Key of Burque Babble puts it is that, "If there aren't employee protections or a union in place, it is possible for a teacher who 'swings' to be fired by an administrator who 'doesn't swing'." We've fallen down into a tautology!

Regular people -person who are not associated in any way to the school administration, will be quick to think that we could have many more effective teachers if only the administration could get rid of the bad ones, plain simple. But this conjecture by itself proves that there is not research, because that's precisely what everyone already knows with the usual we can fix it message if only we do this.

Corey Bunje Bower is a PhD candidate and works on education policy, he has more questions than answers to bring in on, for example, trying to scope the problem he asks himself, "How many bad teachers are there? What qualifies a teacher as 'bad?' Are there more bad teachers than there are bad lawyers or accountants? Are teachers bad because they have no talent, put forth no effort, or because they attempt to harm students?...Would 'bad' teachers be more effective in a different environment? When should 'bad' teachers be filtered out?" I/we don't either have the answers but may be that some of you have a card under your sleeve.

However, we cannot blame teacher unions in its entirety, they are not the powerful protectors of tenure countrywide in the United States (Texas is one case). If anybody has paid any attention to education news they would hear about 'problem' teachers who are not 'fired' but whose contracts were not renewed. No review by a union representative or the like. All teachers sign a contract when they are hired that is basically set up to get rid of them at will. Is it that way any regular business works? If you don't perform, HR will probably transfer the employee, if not, you will be terminated.

It's likely that the solution is no simpler than the problem. Teachers all know who the bad teachers are. So do students. So do administrators. So do parents. So do union officials. Challenge is how do we get rid of bad teachers, in a organized and timely manner.

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  1. A few years ago, Bard College did a study to celebrate the 25th or 30th anniversary or 40th anniversary of coeducational teaching.

    They asked their alumni to name their favorite teachers, and the ones who made the greatest difference in their lives. The administrators who thought this up imagined that they could give out awards for Bard's greatest teachers over the previous generation — educators who'd made a difference.

    The results, though, were totally counter-intuitive. The alumni responded massively, and declared their support for... every teacher.

    Turns out, every single teacher who had been at Bard College over that period of time had made a life-altering difference to between five and ten students. Not one teacher stood out from the herd; not one was left behind. None of them had had a stellar year where they'd affected all of their students, and then had decades of nothing; the affected students were evenly distributed over the teacher's careers. Each teacher had said or done something that the students, now alumni, had considered vitally important for years, or even decades.

    I hear my students complain from time to time about how awful Mrs. So-n-so is, or how bad an instructor Mr. Whatsisname is. I try not to listen. Because I try to remember the Bard College study — everyone is making a difference to someone.

    I think we have to be really cautious about labeling someone as a 'bad teacher' or a 'great teacher'. The truth is probably that all of us make a difference at one level or another, and what all of us do — matters. A lot.