238. Job Security/Quality Control

It’s nice to have job security. It makes it so you can concentrate on being good, and stop worrying so much about looking good. But teachers do lose their jobs. Sometimes it has nothing to do with the quality of the teacher; a position is eliminated, and a competent, valuable teacher has to look for work elsewhere. But sometimes the quality of the teacher is the central issue, and there can be an awful drama, hurting people and damaging careers.
A good system will see to it that teachers have plenty of support in growing into the roles they’re expected to play. New teachers can take risks and make mistakes without fear. There’s lots of trust all over the place. When the principal comes into the classroom, the teacher feels pretty safe. A good teacher creates an atmosphere in which children feel free to try things out, and a good school provides that same safety for teachers.
But it’s a little more complicated when it comes to teachers. The very natural feeling parents may have is that they don’t want someone practicing on their children’s lives; they want the best teachers their children can get. Someone else’s children can be guinea pigs for teachers who are still learning how to teach. I strongly believe that the best teachers are always learning how to teach, and that children can benefit in many ways by having teachers who are just starting to learn. As I’ve said in a previous article, experience isn’t necessarily the best teacher.
Sometimes, though, a teacher is not skilled, and doesn’t seem to have potential. Sometimes a teacher is even downright destructive, and children suffer. It’s pretty scary to even mention the idea of getting rid of a teacher, but there are times when that seems indicated. The teacher has been given the benefit of the doubt quite a bit, and there doesn’t seem to be much doubt left.
I’ve only had a secure teaching job once. Before I came to Wellesley, and the first few years I taught in Wellesley, I spent most of my waking hours and a good many sleeping hours trying to figure out how I was going to be a good teacher – both as good a teacher as children deserved and good enough to keep my job. Sometimes it felt as if teaching well and keeping my job were two unrelated struggles. I had strong convictions about what was right for children, and these convictions sometimes flew in the face of policy.
I’ve seen many young teachers struggling that way – sometimes disagreeing with administrators, sometimes with parents, sometimes both. I identify with that struggle. But there are also teachers who, in my opinion and in the opinions of other people, are not good for children, and don’t seem as if they’re going to change. A system that protects teachers who have lots of potential probably also protects teachers who don’t have as much. That’s regrettable, but that’s the way it is. And I don’t know what we should do about it.

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