Toward the end of the school year, I sent a letter of complaint to the principal of my daughter’s middle school regarding one of her teachers. My impression was that the teacher was ill-equipped pedagogically and had trouble with anger management, and as a result was ineffective at maintaining order in the classroom. Her primary means of discipline seemed to be shame and humiliation. She threw quizzes at the students when she returned them, and issued idle threats; once, she threatened to call every student’s parents because she didn’t like the way the class was behaving.
My daughter is a good student, and has never been a disciplinary problem. I also knew other families with children in the class were hearing similar stories from their kids, and that at least one other parent in the class had had already spoken to the principal about this teacher, and so I decided to contact him as well.
I did not do this without great deliberation on my part. I don’t believe it serves my children to shield them from bad teachers, because even if they don’t learn anything about the subject being taught, these situations present good opportunities to learn about conflict management, which will serve them throughout life. But nonetheless, I thought something was going on in this classroom that should be brought to the principal’s attention.
I received a prompt response from the principal, who promised to look into the matter. The next day I received a disappointing reply. He told me that the teacher denied all the allegations, and that he had spoke to “one very reliable student” in the class, who said she had not witnessed the teacher throwing anything in the classroom, and in short, he could do nothing about this.
And while the matter was handled professionally on both our parts, it was easy to read between the lines and see that the teacher were tenured, and the principal’s hands were tied. I have found bad teachers to be rare in the Montclair Public Schools, but once tenured, barring serious ethical violations, bad teachers are protected for the extent of their careers, and it is a shame that parents, and administrators, are powerless to do much about it.
From my perspective, this is exactly what is wrong with the tenure system for public school teachers. I am well aware of all the arguments for and against tenure. A growing body of research suggests that classroom performance can, and should, be quantified. Good teachers give much of themselves to their work, and the results are apparent; appreciative notes are meaningful, as are teacher toasts, but nothing rewards like getting paid in accordance with your worth.
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