Commentary, Antoinette Evans
Last week, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu handed down his verdict in the closely watched Vergara v. California trial, essentially doing away with job protections for tenured teachers. His decision was justifiable and based on real concerns.
After all, no one will argue that achieving tenure alone is a guarantee that a teacher will be effective. Yet due to job protections, those teachers have been far less likely to be removed from the classroom — even if their students consistently perform poorly on state assessments; even if they display a lack of classroom management skills; and even when serious behavior problems are ongoing in their classroom, the latter of which can lead to an unsafe and uncomfortable learning environment for other students.
Such a system is a disservice to the very students who are already struggling in poor communities, in schools where it could be argued that the majority of ineffective teachers end up being placed.
The impact on the students themselves is apparent to anyone who speaks to or observes them on a regular basis — boredom, lack of motivation to attend class daily, and feeling discouraged and uninterested in learning or achieving – all of which does much to explain the high dropout rates in many of our schools.
All students deserve a good teacher: A teacher who is not only knowledgeable of the curriculum and standards he or she is teaching, but a teacher who connects with their students and builds a trusting relationship with them; a teacher who makes every effort to plan exciting, interesting yet challenging lessons that will keep students engaged, motivated to learn more and stay inside, not outside, of the classroom; a teacher who will verbally and respectfully fight for their students’ rights and well being; a teacher who is open to change, seeks personal and professional development opportunities, and is open to learning from their students as opposed to only their colleagues.
That is not to say that the focus should be solely on dismissing ineffective teachers from the classroom. We should also be talking about how our school districts can better support the needs of struggling and ineffective teachers. Offering monthly and even weekly professional development trainings is one answer, that most districts already offer and that has been proven as an effective tool for those teachers who want to improve. But what else can be done? Would significant salary increases motivate teachers to become more effective? Would a decrease in classroom sizes limit teacher stress? Or, does the question of good teachers require a more complex and nuanced set of answers?
Perhaps it’s time we take a few steps back and observe the education system and its many flaws, carefully and wisely, with the intent to restructure the system in a way that will benefit all students, from all schools, in all communities, so our future leaders of the world will be better prepared to serve, to lead and most importantly, to live better lives than their parents.
Richmond Pulse contributor Antoinette Evans is a spoken word artist and educator. She is currently earning a credential in Multiple Subject Teaching at Touro University in Vallejo, California.