Arrow-right Camera


Failing Teachers Need The Boot

Wed., Jan. 3, 1996

Nothing improves education like a skilled, inspiring teacher. And no amount of money or curriculum reform can make up for a teacher who alienates students and deadens the subject matter.

So the public has to consider it encouraging news that Spokane School District 81 is attempting to discharge a middle-school teacher for unprofessional classroom management. Only the slow, inordinately expensive teacher-discipline process can determine whether this particular discharge is warranted. Outsiders are in no position to judge.

Regardless of the case’s outcome, what the public can applaud is the school district’s evident commitment to professional standards and accountability.

After all, students face toughening rules. For example: This year, some high schools began barring the classroom door to students who are tardy. They must cool their heels in a tardy room instead of disrupting class. Statewide, students who skip school now are picked up by police and are referred for appropriate intervention.

It’s fair to hold teachers accountable as well. So powerful is their union and so litigious is the disciplinary process that for years it was rare for teachers to be fired even when they had had sex with a student. Instead, they were passed quietly along to other districts. Now, that is changing for the better.

But to discharge a teacher for inadequate classroom skills remains so rare, it’s newsworthy.

Yet, teachers vary widely in their skills. Parents know that as well as administrators do. Some teachers are so inspiring, they launch careers. Many do a solid, steady job. And a few do damage.

Teachers who do damage create problems that last for years - passing on kids who haven’t learned, fostering fear of certain subjects, tolerating misbehavior and more.

And yet, teaching is an art, a product of human personality, moods and creativity as well as skill. So evaluation is subjective.

That’s why it’s appropriate for District 81 to work hard, as it does, at improving weak teachers. But how successful can such an improvement program be unless it’s given credibility by a demonstrated readiness to boot consistently ineffective performers from the profession?

Students quickly learn if a teacher expects excellence or will tolerate something less. But good teachers don’t merely expect the best - they know how to get it. They have credibility. Same goes for school districts.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Webster/For the editorial board

Click here to comment on this story »