Assault on Teaching: PA Senate Edition
May 17, 2016

The teaching profession has been systematically under assault for some time.  Stop me if you’ve heard these:

  1. Teachers get summers off.
  2. Teachers are glorified babysitters.
  3. Teachers get paid too much.
  4. Teacher benefits are too high.

All this ignores:

  1. That teachers are required to keep getting college credits, or we lose our jobs.  Many of us use summers to get these credits, since papers don’t grade themselves and our evenings are usually booked with more work.  And we have to rewrite/rethink curriculum and review our materials.
  2. Teachers are highly trained professionals who have to, in addition to teaching (which is in itself a huge task, of course), substitute as parents, friends, counselors, social workers for kids who don’t have the benefit of a stable life.
  3. Many of us have Master’s degrees–I have two– and would probably make more in the private sector.  It’s why there’s a teacher shortage.  We’re actually underpaid.
  4. This one kills me.  I have a great pension, yes, but I pay 7.5% of my salary toward it.  That’s a hefty chunk and the benefits offset the lower wages.

Here’s the complaint I often encounter that will be the subject of this post: It’s impossible to fire bad teachers because of tenure.

Let me be very clear: that’s straight, anti-teacher propagandist bullshit.  Why?  Tenure just entitles teachers to due process before being let go (which every worker in America should have, frankly).  Without tenure, a teacher can be let go for a single bad evaluation (instead of offered guidance or help, which makes more sense).  Tenured teachers have to get two consecutive bad evaluations and they can then be fired by the Board.  This strikes me as fair.  I’ve seen bad teachers weeded out of the profession.

But Pennsylvania’s Legislature doesn’t think the system works when it comes to getting rid of bad teachers.  Let’s take a look at what they are changing in regard to teacher layoffs:

  1. Eliminate seniority as a factor in layoffs, replacing it with layoffs based on evaluations.  So if you did poorly on an evaluation, you get laid off first.
  2. Adding “economic reasons” to the list of available justifications for laying off a teacher.
  3. Increasing the years it takes to get tenure from 3 to 4.

This is a scam, particularly because the evaluation system that the state implemented in 2012 is still patently unfair.  I’m really liking lists today, so let me explain why (in list form):

  1. The system, called the Danielson Model, is a corporate system (of course) paid for by the state, rather than designed by the state.  It is time-consuming, redundant, and still not fully understood, given its newness.
  2. Despite having been implemented in 2012, teachers only have to have a full Danielson evaluation once every 3 years, meaning that a teacher could’ve only encountered it last year for the first time.  (My wife, a teacher, falls into this category due to late implementation by the Scranton School District.)  It would be absurd to use 1 year of data (she did fine, of course) to determine who deserves to be laid off, given how untested this system is.
  3. Teacher evaluations reflect student performance on standardized tests.  These tests are high-stakes, take weeks out of our year, and are deeply flawed.  Between PSSAs and Keystones, kids are constantly bombarded with testing, teachers are encouraged to “teach to the test” rather than do their jobs, and, ultimately, education becomes less about learning information valuable and necessary when it comes to being a functional, thinking human being.
  4. Remember those tests from #3?  Of course you do.  A portion of each teacher evaluation score comes from the performance of the whole building on those tests.  Say what?  That’s right.  I teach 12th grade English.  My students aren’t taking Keystones.  They took them already in previous years.  So I’m being evaluated on something I have absolutely ZERO control over.  This is grossly unfair.  It’s unfair to the teachers who DO have control, because we have students 45 minutes a day.  We aren’t parents.  We can’t make students do homework, care about school, study, etc.  We can do our best to inspire, but parents are our best allies.  Increasingly, parents either view us as enemies or they simply don’t care.
  5. Worst of all, the tests DO NOT COUNT FOR STUDENTS.  That’s right.  They have NO BEARING on student graduation.  They spend weeks taking tests that have no relevance to them.  They hate this and I don’t blame them.  But what do you think that does to the test scores teachers are being evaluated on?  No kid is working to his/her potential because there isn’t a consequence for failing.  All that happens is teacher evaluations suffer.

The problem here is that the state passes regulations and requirements, then cuts funding, then says teachers are 100% accountable.  If a district doesn’t do well, we get blamed, funding gets cut further, and with limited resources things get even worse.  It’s an intentionally designed catch-22.

Under Gov. Tom Corbett and the Republican-controlled state legislature, the teaching profession was sabotaged by drastic funding cuts.  Add to that the cultural, political, and media war on teachers. All of this has led to a coming shortage.   It’s evident to anybody in the profession.  There aren’t enough substitute teachers anymore.  Why?  Less are going into the profession.  I taught English Methods for the past 2 semesters at Marywood University.  One class had 8 future English teachers, the other 5.  That’s dramatically smaller than the classes of 20 that I sat in over a decade ago.  Over the course of my decade of teaching, I’ve always asked my seniors what they want to do professionally when they enter the workforce.  Every year there are less and less who say they want to be a teacher.  This year, I had zero.

This change that the Republicans in our legislature are pushing undermines teachers and students.  Teachers can be laid off due to economic reasons?  They created the economic reasons by starving districts of funds!  Teachers can be laid off regardless of seniority based on a flawed, inherently unfair, untested system?  They are just making it easy to get rid of teachers higher up on the pay scale.

The war on teachers is awful.  Education is the bedrock of a community and it’s our job to provide it.  But we have a legislature that constantly starves us of the resources we need to do our jobs, then blames us when the system underperforms!

I’d say this is a joke, but it isn’t funny to watch schools unravel.


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