It is really hard to imagine just how difficult and costly it is to remove a really bad teacher from the classroom. When I describe the process to many fellow educators, they just don’t believe me. Since it doesn’t happen to most teachers, they really know nothing about it. When I describe it to those not accustomed to the utter insanity of state education laws and teacher union contracts, they think I must be from another planet.
Last year, I was involved in just such a case and, in light of our current budget crisis and talks of teacher layoffs, I couldn’t help but to see it all in terms of dollars and sense (pun intended). In this case, I am not talking about an ineffective teacher. This case was not a matter of whether or not students were making enough academic gains. This happened to be a teacher who was downright dangerous to kids. His actions put students in situations that could have resulted in horrible consequences. Thankfully, the principal was brave enough to do the right thing and took the necessary steps to have the teacher removed. Just suspending her from the classroom took over a semester. There were countless conversations with the school district attorney, dozens of documents shared, observations from administrators, and huge amounts of energy expended by everyone at the school to ensure the safety of students. There was even another adult added to the payroll to watch the kids who were in the care of the teacher to ensure they were not harmed.
Finally, the teacher was suspended and the process for a hearing started. That’s right, a hearing. An everyone-is-under-oath event with two attorneys, a hearing officer, and stenographer present. The hearing took over a week. And, even though it was determined that the teacher was not meeting the minimum requirements of her job, including ensuring the safety of her students, she was sent back to the school for retraining and mentoring. It will probably take another semester or two until this teacher has exhausted all of her options for keeping her job. And then there will be another hearing, which will hopefully lead to her removal.
So now I am wondering how much this all costs. How many teachers could we save from potential layoffs if teachers were subject to more rational processes surrounding termination decisions for truly dangerous teachers? Is there any other profession that requires legal proceedings of this nature in order to remove a harmful employee? Again, I am not describing the merely ineffective teacher here. I am talking about the teacher who puts the kids at risk of harm. How much of your tax dollars are you willing to spend on this process?