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Last week, I had to reapply for my job as a classroom teacher (along with hundreds of other educators) despite me having stellar job reviews and even after recently being voted Teacher of the Year at my school. No, I did not get caught up in some school level scandal but instead, the district cited “budgetary & teacher effectiveness issues” as the reason for this tedious process. As I sat in that line with hundreds of educators who have sacrificed their time, money and LIFE for the sake of children, I could not help but be embarrassed, sad and angered by these events. Here I was a tenured teacher with ten years of experience in two of the most embattled urban school districts in the South, being made to feel I was just another “number” in the eyes of the school district. How could this process really increase teacher effectiveness I continued to ask myself?
As I went through the ten-minute interview process with principals, I began to think, “how can a school district expect excellence when they treat their teachers in this manner? Were kids really considered in this process? What type of culture does this type of blatant disrespect breed ?” When the fair was over, I felt dejected and just like someone who is fearful their job is on the line, I slowly walked back to my car and cried before going home to my family. Throughout the night I talked to my colleagues and we all had the same sentiment, “how could this process of making teachers continually reapply for their jobs really increase teacher effectiveness?”
Instead of feeling better in the morning, I began to get further angered as I continued to read in our local newspaper about new initiatives to get ineffective teachers out of the classroom and save money for this district. All I could think was, “what does a superintendent know about an effective teacher? Are they in a classroom 24/7 to understand that being an effective teacher is more than numbers at the end of a “high-stakes” test? Do they understand the stress many teachers have when working in an urban school district that at any time can void your contract due to “budgetary reasons?” Sadly many people in positions of change within districts have no clue and this is the problem with education in 2012.
In order to increase student achievement and teacher effectiveness, the cultures of school districts (across the country) have to change.
In the past decade, school districts have been “rocked” by reports of cheating, failing schools and shrinking budgets and the “knee jerk” reaction of most school board executives is to blame the teachers. Usually, the cycle is that a teacher is blamed, an administrator is blamed and just like that two professionals lose their “livelihoods” and are labeled as ineffective. However, in 2012 things must change if we are really discussing changing cultures to initiate change in school districts across the nation.
In order to make a significant change in schools, you have to start from the source of most discord with students and teachers, uninvolved parents. Contrary to popular belief, parents are the number one “change agent” with students. Parents are the ones who can ensure that what is taught at school is reinforced at home. There is a secret saying among teachers when discussing a struggling student, “if I could only take him/her home.” School districts have to use every resource to reach out to parents in meaningful ways to get them involved in their child’s education. At our school, we held a job fair for unemployed parents. Parents who never came up to the school before attended and not only interviewed for potential jobs but met their child’s teachers.
School districts have to put in place incentives (pay, benefits, perks, etc) for effective teachers to stay in the classroom. Many times the only gratitude that teachers receive is the students they teach and sometimes that is not enough to keep a teacher in the classroom. So in addition to increasing salaries, districts need to find a way to keep their teachers happy. If you look at successful companies such as Chick Fill A and Coca Cola, they offer benefits to their employees to make them happy. On site gyms, affordable day care centers, discounts are all things that help lessen the impact of dwindling pay that makes teachers leave their careers for more lucrative opportunities.
Last, So many times policies are decided by a school board or executive in the central office who have NO IDEA what is going on in a classroom. They haven’t a clue how to use a Promethean Board or how to operate modern technology. So how effective can they be in initiating change in classrooms today? As I sat in that line having to reapply for my job, I knew there were no teachers on the panel that decided that job fair was a good idea. In the midst of End-of-Course tests, educators from across the district are made to not only reapply for their jobs but to do so with no organization or thought process. That is a morale killer amongst teachers—especially those not rehired for the upcoming school year.
Unless a new approach is taken, school districts will continue to play the “blame game” and continue to get the same results—a school district with a destructive culture. How then can school districts around the country be successful? The solution is simple--change the culture of school districts by changing the way school districts make decisions.