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.

However...

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.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Poo poo PPEP

Last week we had our final conferences with our administrators on the PPEP (Professional Something Evaluation Something? I don't know what it stands for, but it's how we in DCPS are evaluated as teachers). I'm sure that someone could write a book about the flaws of that system, but it is what it is. And it's out of our hands. What is not out of our hands, however, is how the PPEP is applied. And in my school, it was applied in a manner that can be summed up in one word: crap.

A couple of weeks ago we were given the evaluation form to fill out for ourselves. I'm pretty sure this is not how the PPEP is supposed to work -- my understanding is that the principal is supposed to fill it out with us there -- but whatever. We were then directed to come to the principal's office at a given time to submit the evaluation and conference about it.

The way I see it, teachers are divided into two groups at my school. One group (mostly -- but by no means exclusively -- newer teachers) is desperate for some kind of support, so they see the evaluation as an opportunity to have an honest conversation with our principal about ways they can grow. They spend time filling out their evaluation, and give themselves some "needs improvement" ratings on the areas where they think they do want to get better. They end up ranking themselves probably lower than the principal would. The other group, (mostly -- but, again, by no means exclusively -- veteran teachers) has been trained by DCPS to avoid honesty in evaluation. These teachers fear that any admission of weakness could be an opening for administrators to fire them. They fill out mostly "exceeds expectations" even if they don't believe (or deserve) it. They end up ranking themselves probably higher than the principal would.

Here's where it gets crappy. The principal spent literally 45 seconds reviewing each of our evaluations. She said, "OK, keep it up," signed my form, and sent me on my way. Gee, I'm glad I poured all that reflective energy into it. And, even better, I'm glad that the principal reaffirmed for everyone that it doesn't pay to be honest. Why don't principals use the evaluation process as a tool to help teachers grow? Teachers will never be honestly reflective if administrators aren't willing to actually support and lead them. The truth is that administrators want these dishonest evaluations. No hard thinking, no lengthy paperwork, and no responsibility. This school is ridonkulous.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

But it was excused!

Yesterday one of my "favorite" (and by "favorite" I mean loudest) students was conspicuously missing from class. It was weird because she's almost always present, and we had a test. I thought nothing of it and assumed that she was just sick. Then she came in today. The following conversation ensued:

Mr. Potter: *Student*, you missed a test yesterday. You need to make it up.
Student: But Mr. Potter, I have an excuse!
MP: Well, you still need to make it up -- what's the excuse?
S: I was in court!
MP: For what?!
S: Stealing form Target.

Oh, OK child. No test for you.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Does Reconstitution Work?

We're hearing a lot lately about the different restructurings that will be taking place at schools all across DC this summer -- specifically, faculty and staff at several schools will undergo reconstitution, meaning that everyone is fired and has to reapply for their jobs. The concept of reconstituting a school -- shutting it down and hiring all new employees for the next year -- was also discussed in a recent article in the NY Times. Reconstitution might seem to make a lot of sense -- it shakes up the school and provides a catalyst for change. But there are definitely problems. The article writes,

Randi Weingarten, president of one of the unions, the American Federation of Teachers, said Mr. Duncan’s focus on the worst schools was “the right strategy,” but added, “What I’ve raised with Arne is, wholesale firing of staffs, pretending that if you just close a school and open a new one it will solve all the problems — that’s the wrong way.”

Holy crap, I agree with Randi Weingarten.

My school underwent reconstitution last year, and I definitely do think that it has made an improvement in the quality of teaching and learning going on in our building. That said, my school has not made the kind of rapid turnaround that the article talks about. Like most comprehensive DC High Schools, my school is still chaotic and violent, and children are not performing as they should. I think a lot of that has to do with the leadership involved, at both the school and district levels. My principal does not do as much as she should to support teachers -- she's rarely in classrooms or the halls. For her part, Rhee does not seem to be effectively prodding her principals to adopt better practices. She mostly just seems to be firing principals over test scores.

While reconstitution can be helpful, it demands an incredibly strong and radical leader -- someone who is really willing and able to do things differently. Until we have such leaders in place, we're just shuffling around teachers, causing chaos for students. Unless our principals are highly effective, committed, and armed with clear visions, reconstitution will just be for show.