We should not rob our schools of our most creative teachers

We are driving excellent teachers out of the profession with our insistence on measurement and standardized systems of accountability. People who became teachers because they were fascinated by the developing human mind, attracted by the chance to help children reach their potential, engaged by the challenge of fashioning learning experiences that would help children grow – these people are leaving the profession in droves.

The Marzano teacher evaluation tool, the Marshall teacher evaluation tool – many of the best teachers don’t respect these cumbersome, awkward tools and they don’t want to live their professional lives bound by them. No one would become a public school teacher in the United States today unless they were naïve enough to believe one guru could know everything (Marzano, Marhsall, and the rest of the gang), and liked working in a top-down system where the focus of their job was following directives.

Young, educated adults with the choice of such professions as doctor, lawyer, researcher, business executive, professor, entrepreneur, and the like, will not choose to become teachers in the current climate. At one time, before the women’s movement took hold, the smartest women could be directed into the teaching profession. Later, as doors opened for women, a sizable chunk of idealistic, highly educated young adults still chose teaching. Now, with the increasingly rigid, standardized culture we have created in our schools, together with increased opportunity for women, very few highly qualified young people will choose the teaching profession.

We are robbing our schools when we drive creative teachers out of them. Teacher evaluation tools such as those currently in vogue are enormously damaging to the success of public education. Administrators do not need such proscriptive, expensive, fear-inducing measurement tools to know which teachers in their schools are under-performing. In a school environment, where closed doors do not really exist because children spill out of them telling their tales, there is no way to hide one’s failures as a teacher. Administrators must take note, however, and rigorously document a teacher’s failings carefully if there is a problem.

It is popular for districts and constituents to blame unions when under-performing teachers are not fired, however this blame game is off-track.  Teacher unions are in the business of helping to create successful schools – they do not want schools that fail anymore than the rest of us. At the same time, teacher unions do take seriously their role of protecting workers from indiscriminate, undocumented, biased firings.  For this reason, school administrators need to do their job properly and document problems with employees – the responsibility for incompetent employees who continue to be employed year after year lands squarely in the lap of principals and superintendents who do not perform their duties well. Costly, time-consuming, purchased evaluation systems are unnecessary and are negatively impacting school budgets nationwide. What we do need are administrators who take up paper and pen and keep proper records of under-performing employees – this is a fundamental part of their responsibilities.

Children suffer when top teachers – adults who are natural problem-solvers, questioners, and thinkers – resign from their schools.  In the name of improving public education we are robbing children of the teachers best suited to help them. As we do so, more and more of those who are able will pull their children out of the public schools and put them into private schools. Our public schools will become ever-increasing repositories of the underprivileged, taught by the least qualified teachers.

We have a responsibility in this country to speak out against injustice. We are a nation that stands for equality of opportunity. There can be no equality when the basic equalizing institution of our democracy falls into the hands of those who would impoverish education in order to earn a buck. We need a movement to push corporate interests out of the education business and simultaneously raise the teaching profession to the level of other professions. We need to create the conditions that will encourage our finest young graduates to compete for the honor of working in our schools. Then teaching will become a difficult profession to decide to leave, rather than how things stand –  a profession witnessing teacher shortages and flight.




Kathreen Harrison

About Kathreen Harrison

Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher in Maine. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. She has worked in a variety of schools in New York and Maine in a number of capacities – French teacher, gifted and talented teacher, elementary school teacher, and curriculum coordinator for island schools. She has lived in Maine for 20 years and has a particular interest in school reform.