The plight of the nyc Rubber Room teacher

Yeah, it’s mostly anger speaking. Anger as a parent of a young child who I really want to put in public school. But I would think childless people would be even angrier, as they’re being asked to pay for a program they don’t benefit directly from, only to see it sink beneath the mire of intransigence and bureaucracy.

In truth, the idea of paying competent or better teachers commensurate with what they would make in the private sector is gaining in popularity. Of course, you can guess who is opposed to it…

Y’know … There are just so many fucking things on a given day …

Also, as a childless person, I don’t see schooling as unbeneficial to me, any more than roads which I don’t happen to use.

same here, I do look forward to retire at 45 though…

That’s why I used the word “directly.”

Fair point, you did. Don’t see that as getting me any more riled up than corruption and waste in a program to which I do benefit. It’s waste just the same.

It’s like … There’s litter … Little bits of litter everywhere. I hate it. Some gets in my yard, I clean it up … I see a big pile dumped somewhere it shouldn’t be, I call the city … I think this is shitty and lame - but it’s also relatively low on my fuckitometer. It’s like a plink in the massive bucket o’ waste.

Suggesting they’re experiencing human rights violations probably annoys me more than the idea of the economic drain.

I don’t even know where to begin. I won’t bother addressing your 1st paragraph, which seems to be little more than a rant, nor the illegal suggestions at the bottom of the 2nd paragraph. However, if you think a union is more powerful than the government, you’re sadly mistaken. My wife has been a teacher for 17 years, so I know a bit about what she goes through on a daily basis.

So let’s ask the tough questions:

How do you grade “progress”? How do you measure it? Grades? Standardized tests like the ones mandates in “No Child Left Behind” that actually hinder teaching in schools? Some subjective method open to interpretation?

Are all kids created equal? All classes? Do you give a teacher some leeway for having to teach 3 or 4 troubled/disruptive kids while the classroom next to her has none?

How do you determine a “bad” teacher? How do you respond to parents and kids that know how to work the system to get what they want, even at the expense of a teacher’s reputation?

Start answering those and we’ll start talking about reforming the union contract. While I don’t support the results of this contract, there’s little wonder why the union is hell-bent on protecting their members…'cause it’s sure as shit that no one else (administration, kids, parents) will.

That’s okay, we can take it slowly.

Fair enough, I admitted as much.

Since you’ve introduced the idea of answering suggestions with questions, let me pose one to you (we’ll get pretty far with this, I can tell already!): What do her students go through on a daily basis? Or, more importantly, a yearly basis?

Okay, as long as you intend to answer them as well! Oops, I can see you don’t. Where have we heard this before? Oh, that’s right - the teachers’ unions…

Standardized tests, followed by graduation rates with true accountability for who is being graduated. What do you suggest? No measurement at all? Let’s just keep on keepin’ on?

I’m not going to get into nature vs nurture, so let’s let your “created equal” question lie. If three or four disruptive students manage to drag down the test scores of an entire class, there’s a bigger problem there. Teacher’s should be able to ask for help from school administrators in these situations. Making the school responsible for overall student scores will make this easier, as they’ll have a vested interested in giving assistance to those who could potentially drag scores down.

Already answered, above. I’m not talking about teachers accused of some sort of crime. I’m talking about test scores.

Okay, I’ve answered them. Now tell me how teachers want to improve the state of education in America (if they do). Does your wife know any teachers she thinks should be fired for incompetence? Would she stand up and say so? Would she stand up at a union meeting and say so? What does she expect the reaction to be?

While I’m sympathetic to your union busting suggestions (while also knowing that they are practically impossible to implement), I disagree with your (implied) suggestion in this paragraph (although I may be misreading you). I think many, probably most, teachers know who is and is not incompetent, as least of the teachers they work relatively closely with (i.e. those that send them kids). And I think they would be happy to suggest they get fired if that would ever come to fruition in a million years. But it won’t, and that’s the fault of the unions as a system - the overall union bureaucracy, rather than the unions reps at the school level (who from what I’ve heard are often quite good people). Of course, the incompetent teachers oppose this sort of thing, but they are a relatively small percentage. The problem is that bad teachers cause proportionally more damage than good teachers do good. In my opinion, if we got rid of tenure and put hiring and firing into the hands of teachers at the school site level, we’d have a much better (although still imperfect) system.

Well, I’m not sure hiring and firing should be put into the hands of the teachers! That doesn’t make any sense to me. Clearly, when 98% of all teachers in the country are rated as “satisfactory,” there’s a bit of myopia that’s become institutionalized.

Like healthcare, I think this is a problem too big for anyone to handle except the government. And the government in this case needs to seriously curtail the unions’ bargaining power and loosen the reins on local school boards and administrators to clean house. I appreciate that some people in here are teachers or were teachers or know teachers. I’ve dated a few myself. We would all swear up and down that our friends and/or ourselves are great at our jobs because we’re passionate about it. But something’s gone horribly wrong when “I love my students!” is the big defense against any sort of job performance measurement. If we don’t get past that, the move to school vouchers and private school will take care of the problem for us.

I agree with NWJ basically, but there are a couple of possible pro union points you could make.

  1. Not all outcome is teacher derived. Having unions protects teachers from being fired from school districts where chronic underperformance is out of their hands. And i’m very sure, from speaking with those that have taught, there are school districts that they really can’t improve without a dramatic restructuring of how the students are taught (like incarcerate them into dorms, or remove them from their parents, or weed and kick out violent troublemakers, corporal punishment, ect, all things far, far outside the scope or ability of individual teachers.) Some schools are full of “bad” students, and that 4th period, 11th grade English teacher is very unlikely to have any significant difference in his student’s scholastic outcomes by then.

  2. Tenure helps teachers stay put and develop relationships with their community.

  3. There just aren’t enough good teachers to go around. It might be an unspoken assumption, but there probably aren’t enough teachers we would consider “good” to actually fill all the slots needed.

The biggest knock against tenure (esp. tenure given out so early) and unions are that they dissuade self criticism and improvement. Once a teacher has mastered her subject(s) to be taught, all there is basically after that is method and interpersonal relationships.

There is so much emphasis on mandatory testing today that teachers are driven by local school boards and their often flippant textbook choices and their states to perform to the state test. The scope for individual creativity and success in teaching is probably smaller than you might think under the constrained circumstances in which most teachers teach. A 98% approval rating is probably not accurate per se, but probably better reflects that 98% of teachers have taught what their administrations have mandated.

I’ve consistently maintained that the Teacher’s Federation (that’s what it is called down here) should be setting its own standards for membership and getting rid of the duds from the union, hence making the Department’s job easier to remove them. It’ll never happen for a variety of reasons.
The prime reason is that noone else looks out for teachers. Everyone gives lip service about how important teaching is etc but noone wants to improve teacher’s conditions or salaries when the money can be spent on the kids. All societal ills are expected to be saved in the classroom. Any expectation of due process is removed as soon as an incident with a student occurs.
You wonder why the union deals with any innovation as a threat to their member’s conditions? It’s because it always is. When did teachers become saints? Why should they be consistently expected to embrace reforms that will increase their workload and stress levels without commensurate compensation? Hell, I’d be happy being paid baby-sitter’s wages per child for each hour- and I’ll do more than just keep an ear out for any crying. I’ll even do it half price- $5 an hour. For an average class of 25, I’d be happy to take in $125 an hour.
Everyone has been through school, and armed with their teenage memories presume that they are experts on what needs to be fixed. I don’t think that staking someone’s career on test results is going to get anything else but schools teaching toward tests and gaming the results. Coming up with a good and fair test is the hard part.

edit- this probably came out as a rant more than I intended.
Speaking personally, most teachers know who is under-performing and would be happy to axe the worst. The problem comes when dealing with shades of grey, and also most teachers fear the thin end of the wedge. Noone is perfect when teaching- I have worked with truly great classroom practitioners who would be in trouble for their administrative inabilities and likewise found people with unimpeachable programs/registrations/reports etc who don’t achieve much with the students. Someone who excels in all fields is a rarity.

Gah, I could probably talk much more about incompetent teachers and testing if I wasn’t using my real name. I’m shutting up now.

Shit like this is a sign of an extremely dysfunctional employer/employee relationship on both sides.

That said, the thing I find amazing is how everyone focuses on “teachers have a large improvement on outcomes…therefore, we should focus all our energy on getting rid of bad teachers!” It’s a comical way to approach hiring a quality workforce. You prevent bad teachers by not hiring them in the first place and paying appropriately (which for the quality people say they want is probably significantly north of $100k in NYC), not firing them after the fact.

Additionally, it misses the forest for the trees. Bad teachers largely work in badly-run, mostly poor school districts; it’s not like the super-rich suburbs have the problem of lots of crap teachers, to my knowledge. They’re in bad school districts because those districts are both terribly run and unable to compete with the rich districts for good teachers. Right?

As a teacher you are stuck in a very uncomfortable place between parents, students, school administrators, media and policy makers. It is not without reason that teacher unions become reactionary and territorial. A whole slew of different parties are prone to blame teachers for various ills, and often you will recieve contradictory short sighted and poorly thought through dictates from various groups with interests in the school. I’m not trying to say that woe is all teachers, but teachers have good reasons to have a strong and protective union, there are too many ills for which a teacher is a convenient scapegoat for them not to.

Oh. I never thought of that - only hire good people. Maybe we should all buy lottery tickets as well, since we’re so good at picking winners.

There isn’t an industry in the world, from the most to the least profitable, that survives on “only hiring good people.” If you give up the flexibility to fire bad people, you’re sunk.

The whole point is improving the forest. Weeding out bad trees is part of the process. Making entire districts responsible for raising test scores puts the onus on administrators, not teachers. Make sure your teachers are prepared, you’ve created an environment conducive to safe and effective teaching, and make parent participation mandatory.

Obama’s already doing this. It’s time for the unions and state legislatures to get on board or get out of the way.

Ah, but thar be the rub, matey. In industry, you have the choice to hire or not. At the end of the day in a school district, X number of teachers have to be employed. You can’t just fire off half of them and spend the next few years with 75 students per classroom.

It’s impressive that you noticed my unstated desires to not fire bad people instead of what I actually wrote.

Weeding out bad trees is part of the process.

Which misses my point - planting diseased seedlings in a fire-prone ravine isn’t going to give you good results no matter how aggressive you are at managing the health of the forest.

Isn’t it pretty hard to fire people in the vast majority of government positions? I don’t know why we’d single out teachers about it.

Okay, then taking you at your (dubious) word, how do you propose we hire only good teachers? I suggest putting the following question on the application:

“In 10 years, will you be so burnt out from trying to teach a bunch of snotty ingrates who can’t be bothered looking up from their cell phones long enough to glance at a blackboard, and whose parents seem only passingly familiar with where the school itself is, much less who is teaching their children, that you will no longer even go through motions, instead choosing to simply pass the problem along to the next grade’s teachers? Follow-up: If you answered yes to the above, do you think the school district should have the right to fire you, or will you have earned ‘tenure’ by then and become as immobile as the gravy smeared over the mystery meat on Tuesday lunch?”

There is simply no way to tell what kind of teacher an applicant will turn out to be in two or three years, much less ten. That’s why we need more latitude to fire, fire fire!!!

If there are indeed thousands of teachers in New York City sitting in rubber rooms and thousands more on call as substitute teachers, I’d say there’s a lot of room for some good, old-fashioned firings! Line 'em up against the wall (matey)!

NWJ has a point here, which gets back to the reality that the system in place to protect teachers also protects bad teachers. Large school districts are going to have to hire a bunch of teachers every year that are straight out of college, and a fair number of those folks are going to turn out to be not very good at their chosen field. But the difference here is that while businesses that take a risk on a college grad can fire them after two or three or five years, the school districts can’t because of this tenure concept that only applies to the educational field. And a few years may not be long enough to really weed out the bad ones anyway given the possibility of burnout or teachers that stop caring. I mean you can’t seriously feel that the teacher in the article who wasn’t even bothering to come up with lesson plans needs to be paid for 2-5 years (not to mention the cost of the process itself) to be removed from the job!

The justification for unions came about because of the abuse of unskilled workers by employers who knew they were a dime a dozen and paid them nothing. That hardly applies to college educated teachers who are being paid (at least in NYC) way more then most college grads are likely to make a few years out of school. I’m not saying teachers shouldn’t have a union, but the idea that they need one so powerful that it takes years to remove a bad teacher from the system makes no sense.