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On the Same Page

The phrase “being on the same page” took a brow-raising instructional twist on the editorial page of a recent issue of the community newspaper Queens Chronicle. Instead of describing a meeting of the minds, the phrase illustrated, in its literal application, inconsistencies in judgment and perhaps subliminal hypocrisy of attitude.

The illustration consists of two editorials on the same page but with vastly different tones.

The editorial “Time for Tenure Reform” likens some teachers to “soldiers who just won’t follow orders anymore,” “cops walking by a crime in progress,” and “postal carriers who constantly put mail in the wrong boxes.”  These are, the editorial suggests, the kinds of teachers whom the current tenure law protects and who, by means of legislatively enacted reform, ought to be made vulnerable to be spiked out of the profession.

The cited examples correspond to the categories that critics of tenure, masking the real motive underlying their opposition (which is animus against due process rights for teachers), raise: incompetence, insubordination, and the “burnout” phenomenon.

We won’t take the bait by allowing our enemies to put us on the defensive regarding tenure. We support strengthening the standards of the profession and the integrity of its measurement. But the examples provided in the editorial, to the extent they are valid at all, characterize a small minority number of us.

The broad categories of offenders, however, do exist. Certainly extreme cases of deficiencies may be irreversible and such educators don’t belong in the profession. But what definitions of “insubordination,” “incompetence” and “burnout” will the profoundly corrupted system of the DOE accept as grounds for action?

Any that principals give.

Is a teacher fatally insubordinate for sticking with a fruitful teaching style and methodology that the principal happens to oppose? Or for being a day late past the principal’s deadline for posting a new bulletin board? Or for having corrected students’ work prior to posting on the bulletin board, in willful violation of the edict that it be left with a hundred mistakes intact?

Is a teacher incompetent for insisting on using dictionaries in elementary school classrooms from which they have been banished by administrative fiat? Or grading with a red pen?

Or is a teacher “burned out” for lacking a professional spirit by declining to sacrifice her duty-free lunch hour for routine departmental meetings or volunteer unpaid time after hours?

As things currently stand, the DOE almost invariably sides with any supervisor who disciplines teachers, even if there is no substantiation of the violation or if the offense was minor proportionate to the penalty. If there were no tenure, then principals could successfully pursue ultimate penalties for offenses, real, imagined, or concocted, at their pleasure and not be answerable to law.

The Chronicle editorial does not take the ultimate hardline demand that tenure be abolished altogether. Instead they call for a “limited” tenure subjected to “periodic review.”  But one either has tenure or one doesn’t. Once granted, it  is not intended to be arbitrarily revocable by a bureaucrat on the say-so of a boss who, for reasons that may be shallow and venal, determines that a teacher hasn’t minded his p’s and q’s  or, in the popular parlance, “kissed up.”

If principals are to have increased life and death dominion over the careers of their teachers, then at the very least principals must be better prepared than ever to meet the responsibility. But it is no longer a requirement of the DOE, or considered desirable by them, for an applicant for school leader to have any of the training, experience, or expertise that are indispensable for running a school.

Many Leadership Academy graduates and other new breed principals are equipped for running a school. Into the ground, that is.

One unidentified principal, quoted in a Sept. 29  NY Post story about most subject teachers being rated largely by their students’ performance on standardized test scores, supports the idea of physical education teachers being similarly judged by how many pounds have been shed by obese students in answer to the question. This CEO would demand an answer to the question, “Are we seeing a change in their body type?”

Body type is determined by nature. Like eye or skin color. Could it happen that whether a child was weighed wearing shoes or in bare feet may make the difference whether his teacher gets tenure or sacked from the livelihood of his dreams?

In the topsy-turvy universe of DOE fantasy, anything is possible.

According to the Chronicle editorial, “Tenure was developed at the college level to protect professors’ intellectual freedom. The concept barely applies to elementary and secondary schools…”  First, it most certainly does apply. Second, tenure is about the safeguarding of due process, which may be breached in a host of situations exclusive of intellectual freedom.

Another editorial, a quarter inch away from the one on tenure, is titled “The FDNY Experiment.” It focuses on the Fire Department’s current experiment “with reduced light and siren usage for relatively minor emergencies” in Queens. The test is in response to quality of life complaints. Known as the Modified Response Program, it will after a trial period be either kept, dropped or modified after it is evaluated for safety and effectiveness.

Notice the change in tone from the first editorial to the second.

The FDNY editorial cautions vigilance to ensure “that the pilot program was not something cooked up by top managers removed from the job itself but by battalion and division chiefs, experienced firefighters who started at the bottom of the ranks. They know what’s safe and what’s not better than anybody.”

The Chronicle, which is a respected and respectable paper, is right to affirm the expertise of firefighters who, because of what they know and what they have done, have the best understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Why can’t the journalists give the same credit to educators?


1 Comment:

  • 1 Lane Kirkland
    · Oct 21, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    What is the problem with using Teacher Reports to evaluate teachers?
    When I bought my Scab Toyota, I relied on Consumer Reports to give me an insight into the manufacture of Union Automobiles.
    Too bad I had to suffer through all the recalls.
    Oh wait… maybe that Report was not that accurate after all!