Response to today’s conversation

Commenters on the AJC Get Schooled blog had a range of reactions to whether teacher tenure is doing a disservice to education by keeping bad teachers in the classroom, or whether the greater problem is a lack of professional development to help adequate teachers become great. Here is a sampling of the comments under each poster’s chosen screen name.

Ned: Often, the gap between an OK and a great teacher can be mitigated with mentoring and coaching by great teachers. However, funding for those positions has been cut. Outsiders have no idea about the working conditions … no merit/step/cost of living increase (five-plus years in some school districts), hence you have first-year and sixth-year teachers making the same salary. Teaching is the only profession where we are made to feel the love of our craft should be enough and we should be willing to do it for free.

ProHuman: In a world of termination without due process, teachers would be susceptible to the ideological or personal whims of parents or administrators; let's say some parents don't like the teaching of evolution, or teachers who are homosexual, or certain books, or the fact that the teacher censures their child for bad behavior, or that the teacher grades their kid on a different scale on writing assignments because the teacher knows full well the kid is capable of more (this happened to me in high school; I was mad as heck then, but my parents were very happy, and so am I now these years later). Should school administration have free rein to fire those teachers to keep those parents appeased? Is that in service to education?

MotherofTwins: One person's adequate teacher is another's champion, and vice versa. I also agree that helping teachers who want to be great is a fantastic idea. Just don't expect anyone to be great all of the time, or for all people. My kids have benefited from all types of teachers. They've been inspired, learned patience and forgiveness, and have learned that complacency is not a good idea. This is part of being in a large public school, and is part of learning how to interact in the world.

Dave: The problem is that every possible solution to create better education for our children is always blocked by the teachers unions. This should not be a surprise or even something controversial to say; after all, the whole point of a union is to "protect" their members, and students are not their members. If it were me and I got to wave a magic wand, I would re-form education in an open way. The process would be simple; first and foremost, I would get rid of the federal Department of Education.

4Public: I have not seen much really good teacher training; most of it is mediocre, but there is no argument with the idea that everyone can improve. However, great teaching is an art, a factor of personality, enthusiasm and intelligence. You can teach a teacher a more effective way to teach long division, but you cannot give her a new personality. Teaching is a performing art, and most great teachers had it from the start, or not. (As an aside, one thing you really can teach a new teacher is classroom management. Most teachers do not start out knowing how to keep order.)

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