Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sometimes people get fired

The administration at my school (and lots of other schools around DCPS) handed out termination letters to several teachers today. I know of 4 at my school, and have read that there were 6 fired at CHEC, as well as many others. Now, I don't agree with all of the terminations at my school. There's one teacher -- a first year DCTF -- who was really working hard and trying her best; she may not have been good, but I think she deserves the chance to improve. She was fired. And then there's another teacher -- a 25 year veteran -- who is never on time to class, shows movies at least once a week (not educational movies -- Shrek 2), and sits in the back of the room and reads the paper while her kids copy vocab words out of a text book. Oh, this is a physics class by the way. She was not fired. So, needless to say, I disagree with some of the firings.


Sometimes people get fired. Sometimes, your boss doesn't think you're doing a good job, and so you lose it. Sometimes this happens. Usually, the person deserves it. Sometimes, he/she maybe doesn't deserve to be fired, but still wasn't performing very well. Rarely is the person doing a really great job. Now, if someone is fired who really is doing their job well, and was fired for political or arbitrary reasons, then I'm glad we have a union to fight it. But honestly, if the person in question just wasn't performing well -- was showing up late and giving the kids busy work and not properly managing the class -- then I guess I don't feel that bad. They should have been using all that free time to update their resumees. Heartless? Maybe. But we don't have an absolute right to a job.


Conflicted said...

And our students have a right to an education. But I'm still a little, what's the word? All I can think of is melancholy. It's not a happy thing.

Dee Does The District said...

Unfortunately, those of us who are probationary teachers are afforded very few rights to combat terminations. First- and second-year teachers in DCPS have very little power (even with WTU backing) against unwarranted, or warranted, firings. I'm not sure that many people are aware that those without tenure can be fired WITHOUT CAUSE.

Kings said...

Harry - I'd like to see that paper reading teacher go (or stop reading the paper) as much as you would -- and I feel sure there's a way without busting the union and putting all teachers at risk for the kind of arbitrary firings we're seeing of teachers who don't have protections.

"Sometimes it happens" is not good enough. Most people don't become teachers with ambitions of taking their chances fighting their way up the corporate ladder - their ambition is to teach kids.

I wonder what percentage of private school teachers get fired - anyone know?

ibc said...

But we don't have an absolute right to a job.

You, sir, are NO DCPS employee!!!

ibc said...

"Sometimes it happens" is not good enough. Most people don't become teachers with ambitions of taking their chances fighting their way up the corporate ladder - their ambition is to teach kids.

I don't get it. Most people don't become professional baseball players with ambitions of taking their chances fighting their way up the corporate ladder--their ambition is to play baseball.

But sometimes, their skills aren't up to par, they're not sufficiently motivated, or for any of a million different reasons, they're not good enough, and they get cut.

The idea that "wanting to teach" is both necessary and sufficient in and of itself is one of the (many) things that needs to change.

Toby said...

From what I'm hearing from my many contacts throughout the system, and this goes along with what Turque wrote on last night's dcwire, is a variety of teachers are getting the axe. Teachers on the 90 day who were not making progress to correct their weaknesses, as determined by principals and observers from 825, have received termination letters. What I'm not clear about is those provisional teachers. One I know about is an excellent educator, supported by her principal, but hasn't done everything necessary to move out of probationary to permanent. I don't know if her principal can save her. Others who are probationary were not recommended to continue and terminated. So I don't see how this wave of firing is freeing the system of ineffective teachers.

Kings said...

pro-athletes are paid big bucks and are super talented, have a short career based on physical prowess and there aren't very many of them.

Bad analogy.

scottahb said...

Dee, I can't imagine why someone would fire a teacher without cause.

How, all of a sudden, has the student become so subordinated in this? A good administrator should care more about how good a job a teacher is doing in the classroom, and should know because he or she is coming to do regular observations. They should also know that it takes not one year, but three or four to become a truly good teacher. He should care more about this than whether he and the teacher necessarily see eye to eye.

Education should be the last thing politicized, and I'm sad that it is.

Dee Does The District said...

Blog post to come: I was a victim of the massive teacher terminations yesterday.

Anonymous said...

The point is that it's unfair for a first year teacher to get fired because their school has unrealistic expectations (like CHEC) and another teacher who could be just as good, gets to stay because they were placed at a crappy school, where she is the best one there.

I feel it would be better to let people transfer and if no one picks them up, then they would be fired.

ibc said...

pro-athletes are paid big bucks and are super talented, have a short career based on physical prowess and there aren't very many of them.

Bad analogy.

Ah, right. Sorry: there really are no innate talents that are required to be a teacher, and they're a dime-a-dozen.

Got it.

Kings said...

There are many innate talents to be a teacher and they aren't really known until someone starts teaching, and it takes a while to develop the talents.

Many more teachers are needed than professional athetes, so we need not only the exceptionally talented, but the very talented as well.

Got it?

ibc said...

I don't disagree with any of your points, but as a refutation of my original post, they're as inadequate as the argument that "Pursuing a career in teaching is not like pursuing a career as a professional baseball player, because baseball players use a bat, but most teachers don't."

Okay, one more time:

There are many innate talents to be a teacher and they aren't really known until someone starts teaching, and it takes a while to develop the talents.

So at what point can you make any sort of determination? Never? After the teacher gets tenure? If your answer is no to both of those, then at some point you cut the bad prospects loose. If your answer is "yes" to both, I can't help you.

Many more teachers are needed than professional athletes, so we need not only the exceptionally talented, but the very talented as well.

Not sure how anything you've said is incompatible with what I've said. The bottom line is, sometimes you wash out--that's a natural part of the process. The idea that "you need a lot of teachers" is irrelevant. Hell, the bottom-performing 10% should be fired as a matter of course. Every other teacher and school administer knows who these people are.

My original point was that the oft-heard argument that someone should get lifetime tenure because they "really really want to teach" is idiocy.

lodesterre said...


While your final statement is true - i.e. wanting something and deserving something are two different things - the sports analogy is still pretty weak. When you compare what the least paid bench warmer makes in professional baseball compared to the average teacher's salary then it is ridiculous. Pay me that much and I will gladly be an at-will employee.

What bothers me most about your argument is that it is based on the premise that we "don't have an absolute right to a job." I don't see that anyone is saying that we all have a right to a job, merely that, once we have that job, we do have rights in regard to how we are let go. No one is saying protect the lousy but this idea that all 250 of the recent firings were lousy teachers is presumptuous and, given some of the letters here and elsewhere, seemingly untrue. This "Michelle Rhee is doing what she has to do" mantra of the Post and of certain Rhee supporters is as troubling to me as the idea that the police need to have their hands "untied" by the constitution so that they can really be effective in their work. There is a gross assumption of guilt and less of a concern that someone may be innocent before proven guilty.

Rhee has assumed that over half the DCPS teaching force needs to go based on test scores and overall quality of the schools. Teachers are being blamed for the neighborhoods they teach in, the condition of the schools and other aspects that they truly have no control over. Some of the 250 being fired, like Dee, are first year teachers who may be more than effective but have run afoul of their principals due to their attempts to advocate for their children or may have been put into positions in which they were given no real support and then asked to succeed (because, God knows, Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers have emphatically proven what an inspired teacher can do with the worst types of kids). I don't know your experience but I have found that advocating effectively for your students can often run you into trouble with your administrator - especially if that advocacy threatens that administrator's sense of power. THAT is why we all deserve job protection - not a right to a job but a right to not be fired on the mood, anger or whim of one individual. What we do as teachers requires that we have this protection. It allows us to teach without fear of doctoring our teaching according to the tastes and desires of the moment or of the person running the school or of the parents of any given year. Baseball players aren't fired for what they say in an interview otherwise the Player's Union (OH, Yeah, that's right, they have a union)would take the team to court.

When I read about Dee's case alone I see the typical story - new teacher comes in, works hard, gets good reviews, speaks truth to the administrator (perhaps sometimes too colorfully on her blog)and, during a purge of workers, is made a casualty (despite glowing evaluations).

As for innate talents and teaching. Every single one of us who teaches knows how terrible they were their first year. Good in some things, not all, and certainly not the whole package that one would want to be as a teacher. It takes time to develop into being an effective teacher. Some do it quicker than others and some don't do at all. Some are good in the early years, become cynical and calloused and stop using their ability and others work constantly at staying fresh in their thinking and talents. But baseball it ain't.

Kings said...

Thank You, Lodesterre.

I have nothing to add but xoxoxoxo

The Washington Teacher said...

Our system is a punitive one. I have talked a lot about this on my blog, The Washington Teacher. It is an unfortunate reality that we face. Let me use an example I wrote about a little while back.

Back in the nineties, there was a reduction in force which was supposed to be based on a competitive ranking scale completed by principals. One could earn up to 25 points maximum based on degrees, performance appraisal results, experience, specialties, etc. Obvbiously if you had a higher rating you could earn more points and out rank colleagues and maintain your job. If you had 2 degrees you could earn more points and so on.

As a relatively new employee, I had recently fought to win my permanent status because our principal refused to grant permanency to everyone because as she said had the power to do what she wanted to. When she ranked me, she gave me zero points because in her words, everyone had to pay a price if they chanllenged her authority in anwyay. Human resources said it was impossible for her to give me zero points but she did it anyway. Long story short, I lost my job just because the principal illegally rated me lower than any other staff.

Because for so long, principals have gone unchecked with no real checks and balances in place- they can and have gotten away with not following our policies and procedures. There have been no consequences when they act illegally. My example is one such example of how people who are outspoken, advocate for what is just and right or advocate in the best interests of students become targets and can be fired arbitrarily. While it is hard to believe it is true.

Another case was a teacher at Duke Ellington School for the Arts in DC who got fired because she was fat. Eric Holder, Attorney took her case some years back before working in Obama's administration on a pro bono basis. The dance teacher taught his children dance and the teacher could not afford a lawyer. Long story short, Attorney Holder won this teacher's lawsuit against DCPS for discrimination and she was awarded back pay and benefits after several years.

blog: http://thewashingtonteacher.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

I watch the conversation here with interest because as I look at the teachers who were not retained at my school, there was not one that was let go for personal reasons.

You might say I am biased as an administrator, but as one of those administrators who actually did at least 120 class visitations this year and tried to work with many of the provisional teachers who were struggling, the reasons they were not retained were lack of planning (winging it), no classroom control, being afraid of our students, and spending whole chunks of each period not teaching.

There are others who are veteran teachers who should have probably been let go, but due to the paper work required were retained.

If you ask the students at our school whether any of the teachers who were let go should have been retained I doubt you would have a found many student advocates for these teachers. I feel for first year teachers, but having seen enough students suffer through a whole year of learning nothing (but still earning passing grades even when they showed up less than 15 days in a semester) I cannot see giving these teachers a second year with students. As a veteran teacher myself it pains me to let teachers go, but that is mediated by the pain felt by students who wasted a year learning very little.

Just trying to present the other side before the conspiracy theories get to far out of control.

Kat said...

I could have written your post, Anonymous 6/25. It is the same experience I had at my school.

While I do have concerns about seemingly "good" (or at the very least remediable) teachers being fired, let's not forget that many others simply needed to go.

Toby said...

Anonymous administrator, I can see why you went anonymous. as your your remarks are very honest and eye-opening. You actually made 120 classroom visits? I guess that's three or four observations a week for the whole school year. You must be an AP: my poor principal was too busy to be in our classrooms, but most of us do a pretty good job so she didn't have to be on top of us to make sure we were teaching.
Winging it and an obvious lack of planning are serious, as is "whole chunks of each period not teaching". Any class that I have had that has been problematic, I had to plan for each 15 minutes and even over-plan. It was exhausting but I couldn't let them get out of control.
Your point that students couldn't have another bad year where they learned very little was well taken. But were any ineffective veteran teachers put on the 90 day plan and terminated too? You mention that it's a lot of paperwork, which is why the 90 day plan hadn't been used very successfully in the past as it ties up already overburdened administrators. Again, keep posting your thoughts as an administrator.

Kat said...

All of these blog postings make me want to ask excessed or terminated teachers a few questions:

Did you plan all of your lessons in advance, not just the observed one(s), ensuring optimal use of instructional time?

Did you plan units, not just discrete lessons? (At minimum, did you follow the DCPS pacing guides? I acknowledge these are a joke, but still...they're there for teachers to use in the absence of any other instructional framework.)

Were your activities student-centered and connected to the lesson, with valid practice of the concepts? (Not "time fillers"?)

Were your assessments connected to the standards? Could the students make the connection, if asked?

Did you have a clearly communicated and consistently followed management plan, with supports as well as consequences?

Did you maintain contact with the parents of your students, returning phone calls/emails in a timely manner?

Were your lessons relevant and engaging most of the time? (Understanding of course that "relevant and engaging" is sometimes a hit-or-miss prospect.)

Did you collaborate with colleagues, comparing notes on students, lessons and assessments?

Did you keep your principal apprised of your students' progress rather than wait for him/her to ask you?

Did you use the observation pre- and post-conferences (structured or unstructured) to have a professional dialog with your admin about the challenges or successes you were having in your classroom? (As opposed to seeing the PPEP as a "gotcha" tool...which in some schools it might be, but in a healthy school, it's not.)

Did you seek the opinion, advice or feedback from any of the following: principal, AP, special ed coordinator, school-based professional developer?

Do you have evidence of creating a personalized PD plan (e.g. via PD Planner) to indicate your commitment to your own professional learning?

Did you maintain cordial and professional communication with all staff members in the school? Even if they were nasty to you? (Ok, I know that last one is tough because we have a lot of nasty people in DCPS, but it indicates professionalism, not to mention maturity.)

If teaching in a tested grade, did you use the data provided by your PD to assess and inform your instruction?

Did you regularly reflect on your own observations, identifying what worked and what didn't, and let the results of those reflections inform your instruction as well?

Were you at work on time, attending meetings regularly (e.g. faculty, department), and staying until the end of the contracted day?


If you can honestly answer "yes" to all of these questions -- not to me or to anybody else, but to yourself -- then you should fight this DCPS decision with all you've got.

I'm sure there are more questions, but this is what I came up with off the top of my head, as a professional developer.

Kings said...

I'd like all the teachers who were not fired to ask themselves Kat's questions and tell us if they can answer Yes to all of them and if they feel their superior performance was the reason they were retained over some of their colleagues.

Anonymous said...

You are so right. I'm there, and I agree.

Kings said...

anon - what is "so right" and with whom are you agreeing?

Anonymous said...

I think Kat's post was really thoughtful and speaks to what all DC students deserve from their teachers. Whether you were fired or not, if you're not answering yes to those questions, that's a problem, and something you should want to improve upon and give serious attention to.

I don't understand why Kings feels the need to deflect from the very valid portrayal of what a teacher should be doing. Is it because s/he her/himself can't answer yes to all those questions? That's the implicit answer to the fact that she suggests that plenty of teachers were not fired even though they can't answer yes to all those questions.

And we wonder why so much of the public is upset with teachers in general and question whether their hearts lie with the students' best interests or in just protecting their jobs at all costs to students?
Just to be clear I'm not the 5:08 Anon.

Anonymous said...

Kings comment comes across as a deflection of the real issue. This is not about the teachers who remain, it is about the teachers who were let go, and whether they should have been let go. It may very well be that some of them should not have been fired. But in fighting their dismissals, make no mistake, they will have to answer Kat's questions.

Actually maybe Kings is right and it should be about those who remain, those who might want to start asking themselves those questions soon. Next June promises more of the same and anyone who doesn't go into 09/10 with this in mind is very naive.

Kings said...

I thought Kat's questions were somewhat pompous. Accurate, perhaps, but implying that fired teachers should really look at themselves in the mirror, in a way that retained teachers don't need to.

If theses are important characteristics of a;; teachers, then all teachers should consider them

Kat said...

Yes, all teachers should consider them, but since the post is about fired teachers, that is who I addressed the questions to.

Calling my suggestions "pompous" is humorous. It's what I do for a living, Kings: work with teachers to help them become better than they already are. My questions are indicators of "good teachers": planning, organization, communication, reflection, commitment, etc.

When you go to your car mechanic or your doctor, and s/he tells you something you don't want to hear, do you call them pompous, too?

Good grief. Lose the defensiveness.

lodesterre said...

I do think the point is being lost a little in this argument. It isn't whether or not the teachers who were fired or retained can answer these questions - clearly there are teachers in both categories who can and cannot answer yes to these questions. The point, to me, is if there are teachers being fired who can answer yes to these questions, who have been designated as exceeds expectations teachers, than all this talk about making the system better for the children is simply that - talk. Our system needs every single good teacher it has and then some. To lose people who have invested themselves in their schools, who have established a rapport with their students and colleagues, and who are possibly making a difference for their school and this system seems to me to be a step backwards. I'm sure there are plenty of lousy teachers who were let go. However, if my school is any indication, there were also plenty of lousy, very lousy teachers retained. The 90 day plan has been used as it has always been used by principals - as a way of getting rid of those teachers they wish to be rid of, instead of as a tool to help teachers improve or get out. I know of Dee's reputation only from what other teachers write here but if she is anywhere near close to that reputation I wonder how any school can let a teacher such as this walk out of their door.

Anonymous said...

When someone takes over a company, s/he gets to decide a direction and path for that company to take. Indeed, this plan is probably why s/he was hired.

If that company has existing employees who are not in agreement with the new president's plan or direction in which s/he is taking the company, those employees have the option to leave. (In fact, one wonders why they would want to stay.)

Now, that president may have a crappy plan. S/he may have a good one. (I'm sure to him/her, it is a good one.) It really doesn't matter though. What matters is the president says who stays and who goes.

If you don't get along with your principal -- s/he could be crazy as a sh!thouse rat, for all it matters -- leave. Get out. Take control of your career before someone takes control of it for you.

In my experience, getting fired was the best thing that could have happened to me. It didn't seem like it at the time, but when I looked back, I realized they did me a favor.

Anonymous said...

Anon administrator's argument might make sense if, waiting in the wings, were hundreds of more effective teachers just dying to work for DCPS. But that's not the situation.

What will happen is that the first year teachers who couldn't control their classes will be fired and replaced by a new batch of first year teachers who can't control their classes.

A more sensible approach would involve mentoring new teachers, but apparently anon administrator doesn't know how. S/he can tell you want the teacher can't do, but can't teach the teacher how to do it.

Meanwhile equally ineffective teachers (and teachers who have less likelihood of improving) are kept on because anon administrators would rather not be bothered with the paperwork necessary to fire them.

Kings' point is a salient one. You can't claim teachers were fired because of their job performance when other teachers who fail to meet the same criteria are not fired. In part, certain teachers were fired because they are easy to fire. They were fired because the administration doesn't have the capacity to train them properly (or even, apparently, to make good hiring decisions in the first place). They were fired because such purges enable the administration to claim that it is holding people to a higher standard (without actually doing anything to see that this standard is met).

Somehow Rhee has taken DCPS to the point where every abuse of teachers is seen as a sign that kids' needs are being put first. But if the kids come back to a school filled with yet another batch of rank amateurs (many of whom had only a 6 week crash course in education over the summer) and the same too-much-work-to-fire deadwood, how is that progress, plus a demoralized group of survivors who see how arbitrary the whole firing process is an who wonder whether they'll last another year if they speak up or ask for what they need, how do the kids benefit?

Teaching Summer School said...

I'm working in a summer school that has some teachers in training, possibly teaching fellows and witnessed some of them in action during these past weeks. They have all been hired and placed at troubled schools, all heavily Title I in some of the roughest areas of NE and SE. These are nice, decent, well-meaning individuals. But I just don't see them really strong in classroom management/discipline, which is foundational to being able to teach the standards. Maybe they'll learn quickly or have a good year; I'm being overly optimistic. If not, I see another group of ill-prepared, not ready for prime time amateurs, and I'm agreeing so much with the above poster's comments.

Anonymous said...

I, Anonymous Administrator, would like to respond to the Anonymous poster who suggested that the logic behind firing ineffective first year teachers is weakened by the fact that there are not 100's of effective teachers waiting in the wings.

I am not a believer in firing your way to a better system since you are right that there are not always effective teachers waiting to be hired. But your argument is based on the belief that all new teachers are being fired, which was not true in my school. Many new teachers struggled and grew with direction from administrators who visited classes and supported them. But if in a school with 8 or so new teachers, three are being fired for being ineffective, I think you should take your chances on doing a better job hiring next time with the wisdom gained from this year. You know the kids have suffered from the year of poor instruction and have seen that some teachers despite your best efforts either did not have the will or the skill to be successful.

One can attack administrators for not knowing how to support new teachers, but those administrators who actually know instruction and spend time or support instructional coaches to work with teachers, often keep more teachers than they fire. While this might not be as common as we may like, I understand also that Principals who are trying to run our schools need to have more people who are self-starters and able to find support amongst their peers. This is why I have always been a supporter of teacher leadership and real professional learning communities rather than the isolation many teachers feel.

I would choose mentoring new teachers and giving them two years to improve their craft all the time except in cases of lack of will to improve or such utter incompetence that it would be unfair to a second group of students. Once again of the teachers I saw who were not renewed, two demonstrated no desire for improvement or knowledge of their deficit despite a good deal of coaching, and one person might have improved with more work due to her desire for improvement. In this case, the principal had to make a decision whether the system would support her growth enough to risk another group of kids to her tutelage.

I do not support unfair firings, but I do support moving ineffective teachers into careers for which they are better suited or to a school system where the students are easier to teach. I respect the work of DCPS teachers because they have a difficult job, but it is not for everyone and we are not a jobs program.