So You Wanna Fire Teachers?

Posted: 2011/03/01 in Classroom Teacher, Education

This blog posting ends with a question: If tomorrow you were able to fire 100,000 teachers in California, day after tomorrow who are you going to get to watch all those children in all those classrooms?

Are there incompetent teachers? Hey, I had some when I was a kid. Teaching is like other professions. There are lawyers, police officers and bank presidents who aren’t good at their jobs either. The next time legislation comes up to make it easier to fire a teacher, how about including those other professions?

Recent polls found that 57% of Americans think teachers are not paid enough. While 77% think it should be easier to fire teachers. But those two questions can’t be asked separately.

Teachers have never earned high salaries. Part of the social contract has been: You’re not gonna get rich, but you’ll have security. Some politicians and interest groups are pushing the idea that we can no longer afford either security or teacher benefits. More about benefits in a later post.

Maybe society feels bold now because budget cutbacks will mean teacher layoffs. But society’s smug attitude is leading to fewer people entering the profession. When I earned my credential in 2003 there were 90,000 people in teacher education programs in California. This year there are only 45,000.

Most new teachers quit in their first five years. They simply burn out and can’t handle it. Burn out is also at the root of most of those “bad teachers.” They didn’t enter the profession to play the system. They burned out and found themselves inside classrooms waiting for pensions to kick in.

I’m fortunate that I haven’t worked directly with burned out teachers. I have supportive colleagues. I always assume other teachers are willing to put in extra effort and spend more time to help a student in need (that also includes the needs of gifted students, not just the ones you were thinking of!).

My school has had about a 90% retention rate of teachers from one year to the next — and only in a rare emergency does anyone leave between September and June. But layoffs sour the environment. Larger class size leads to more burnout. Fewer resources mean greater stress.

Which brings us back to the question that opened this post: Let’s say that tomorrow you were able to fire 100,000 teachers in California. Day after tomorrow who are you going to get to watch all those children in all those classrooms?

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