I have been giving this Tenure – Due Process issue a lot of thought lately. Like anything else worth doing, it is worth doing well. How we supervise and develop better teachers and even how we get rid of bad ones has to be done the right way for the right reasons.
We all have to be ok with the fact that due process can, and maybe should more often, find someone duly criminal or that he or she needs to be removed from their job because of incompetence or just plain laziness. What if due process means assuring that?
Are we ok with that? I am, as long as every person and every case is judged individually and fairly. There are lots of teachers I know who, like me, who wish their supervisors were more qualified and had the “cojones” to do due process on those who make our profession look bad.
The pride we have in our schools means we all work hard to get better at what we do. Those who can’t or won’t (and we know there are too many of those) put in the time and effort become a huge problem for everyone, especially our students.
I had my share of colleagues, teachers and supervisors both, who ranged from absolutely incredible at their jobs to absolutely awful. I had principals and assistant principals / department chairs who knew great teaching from lousy and worked with people to improve their skills. However, if those teachers didn’t knew enough to understand that they brought our department, school, and staff down several notches, they had to be brought to justice.
Principals must be principled. The following story is from my book, Doing The Right Thing: A Teacher Speaks:
“Adlai Stevenson’s first principal Leonard Littwin scared people, but Lenny knew teaching. He was blunt and direct. He sat in the back of classrooms, watching and taking notes. He was a master social studies teacher before he became an administrator. His goal, which he filtered down to his department chairs, was to develop as many talented teachers as possible. Mostly, he succeeded. Many succeeded to pass on what they learned, including me. What he told me, he must have shared with hundreds of teachers over the years. He asked three essential questions:
• What do you want your students to know, understand, do, and communicate by the end of your class?
• How are you going to assess those?
• What do you want them buzzing about as they leave, so that they want more tomorrow?
With those questions as our focus, we discussed how projected outcomes, goals, and objectives are to be achieved and measured using authentic assessments (essay writing, projects of all sorts, and even multiple-choice and short-answer questions).”
But for those who couldn’t pass muster, life was different. Lenny played no favorites or harbored no grudges. He had one goal and one goal only, and that was to make you a better teacher. Tenured or not, he would come to classes with that goal in mind. We all have to get better.
If you couldn’t, didn’t, or worse yet, didn’t try… other “opportunities” would be offered. Perhaps a transfer to another school? No? Ok, then you choose more observations and conferences? These weren’t to harass but to encourage growth. But I guess that depends on one’s perspective. Most of these “lesser qualified” teachers left on their own accord, to other schools they found more comfortable, but many of us felt bad for the students in those schools.
A few bucked back and either “endured” more supervision or in some cases were “2030A’d”, the NY legal term for the due process route for dismissal. The one I witnessed actually became a famous case and the person got exactly what he deserved. He should not have been teaching and it was a good thing that our principal had the principle to use the system to get rid of him, as difficult as it was.
But I warn people not to take this the wrong way or to take my words lightly. I am in favor of due process. I am in favor of helping both old and new teachers improve. However, I am also in favor of helping those who should leave the profession, shall we say, make a timely exit.
If we don’t do both our profession will continue to suffer the consequences of poor prestige, constant attacks, and a dearth of qualified people going into the profession.