Before You Fire That Teacher

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Why are teachers dismissed? Sometimes teachers are not a good fit at a particular school. Despite well-meaning efforts and good intentions, it just doesn’t work out. What is an administrator to do? 

Many times, in fact, the teacher is simply just dismissed. I think this is a poor strategy and reflective of mediocre management, especially if an administrator’s first reaction is to simply get rid of a teacher. Keep in mind we are not talking about an incompetent teacher. As an organization, we understand teacher quality matters. 

Often the problem is not about ability. Sometimes it is that a new teacher doesn’t fit in socially. And schools can be cliquish. It takes some time for a new teacher or a veteran teacher relocating to a school to make new friends or build a relationship with other faculty members. 

Think about it like this:  if a teacher does not get quickly embedded into a school culture, he or she jeopardizes his or her entire career over social factors. That doesn’t seem fair. 

There is little doubt that many teacher dismissals are arbitrary. Too much of public education is still subjective, rather than objective. Teacher assessment is a difficult task and generally is not done with exacting measures. That means we are letting good teachers walk out of our schools, never to return. This may be due to bad luck of an inappropriate school assignment, lack of support by other educators or unreasonable but influential parents/guardians. It could also be bad management by school administrators who fail to create a manner in which teacher improvement is attainable, or some other unknown factor. 

Another scenario that is beginning to escalate is the loss of veteran educators. Some districts may be targeting veteran educators for dismissal or simply encouraging them to retire or move on. This leaves a greater number of less-experienced teachers in some schools. This could prove to be harmful to students, particularly in socio-economically disadvantaged and urban schools. 

Of course, teacher burnout is often higher at socio-economically disadvantaged and urban schools/districts. And if we are truthful, we must acknowledge that problems that go along with poverty undeniably make some kids harder to educate and are not so easy to address---especially for beginning teachers. The problem is much greater than who the teachers in a school may be. 

Research points out that people who suffer job loss may go through some predictable emotional stages that may include lowered self-esteem, despair, shame, anger and feelings of rejection. Teachers are no different. We need to examine ways to intercede and work to give our educators the benefit of time to improve. Yet we must recognize that the most important task of a teacher is the education of the student. A school district must start with support before it moves to accountability. 

At Professional Educators of Tennessee, we regularly seek input of our members to design necessary professional learning opportunities to help the teacher in the classroom, as well as the administrator who wants to assist their staff. We have developed a collaborative relationship with many districts built on this premise and want to make sure all children have great teachers. 

Education is not as simple as manufacturing widgets. It cannot be measured by charts, graphs or standardized tests, despite the fact that many believe it can. So, before you fire a teacher or damage a career or a person, we hope that an administrator has exhausted every means at their disposal to invest in that educator and help them reach their full potential. In our opinion, an administrator’s number one objective outside the education of children is to provide support to our teachers. 

J.C. Bowman
Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee

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