As hard as it is to believe, 29 states do not allow teachers to be fired if they can’t teach (“Most State Laws Silent on Dismissing Teachers Who Simply Cannot Teach,” National Council on Teacher Quality, Nov. 1.) It’s this omission that undermines respect for the profession. I can understand why.
Yet the issue is not quite as simple as it initially appears. So much of the success of teachers is the direct result of the students they happen to be assigned. Inept teachers can be made to look good if they inherit a class of Talmudic scholars. In other words, the students shine in spite of the teacher, rather than because of the teacher. The reverse is also true. Exemplary teachers can look bad if they are given a class of future felons.
If all teachers in a school were assigned students strictly at random, then valid inferences could be drawn about their competence. But I doubt that will ever happen. Principals have their favorite teachers whom they reward by giving them the easiest-to-teach students. Conversely, principals punish those teachers they dislike for one reason or another by assigning them the hardest-to-teach students. It’s not fair, of course, but it happens more than most people know.
Teachers who consistently demonstrate their ineffectiveness regardless of the students they inherit are a completely different story. They need to be given support to improve within a stipulated time frame. If they can’t, they should be fired.
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