September 10, 1996 in Nation/World

Teacher Challenge Parents Part Of The Solution School Administrators Can Use Help Identifying Problem Teachers

Marny Lombard Staff Writer Juli

Parents can help get incompetent teachers out of the classroom, but it takes a long time - often much longer than the school year.

Educators advise worried parents to follow the same guidelines that any involved parent does: Be active in school. Get to know the teachers and principal. Listen to the teacher’s side of the story. Calm down and go armed with solutions or suggestions.

“If they never see your face except to complain, they won’t listen,” said Sue Mitchell, a mother of three and six-year substitute teacher in the Central Valley School District.

What looks like a problem teacher may be, instead, just a bad first impression.

PTA leader Miki Tillett remembered her oldest son’s start in Sharon Schawo’s first-grade class at Spokane’s Sheridan Elementary School.

“I was not too sure about his teacher. She was an Army brigade kind of teacher, and I wasn’t too sure she was the kind of teacher that he needed,” Tillett said. But “after volunteering (in the class) for a week, I just fell in love with her.”

If a teacher flounders, parents often give schools the first clues. Parents who spend time in a bad teacher’s classroom may provide the eyewitness accounts that help pry that teacher out.

Sigrid Brannan, principal at Otis Orchards Elementary School, suggested that parents, child and teacher all meet first to make sure they have the same view of events. Occasionally, what looks like a problem is due to a child’s lie.

If talking face-to-face with the teacher doesn’t resolve the problem, go up the chain of command. Brannan meets with the parents.

Sometimes, she moves the student to another class.

“That’s my least favorite choice, because I think children need to learn how to deal with a wide array of people.”

If Brannan heard more legitimate complaints about the same teacher - “Grocery store rumors don’t do it” - she would watch the teacher more often than the law requires and suggest specific improvement plans.

If repeated efforts fail to help, administrators say, the options are transferring the teacher to another school, reassignment to another grade level, or probation.

Probation is often the prelude to a teacher quitting or being fired.

“I remember one incident in particular in which we put a teacher on probation because of complaints that parents made,” said Frank Bertino, superintendent of the Wallace School District. “The teacher could improve, but he wouldn’t. He was insulted and eventually resigned.”

Usually, little official information about a burned-out teacher escapes the school. Evaluations are guarded by state privacy laws. Once a teacher is on probation, lawyers drop a curtain of secrecy around the process.

Some parents believe legitimate complaints about teachers never are resolved.

Mitchell, the Central Valley mother and substitute, tried several times to solve concerns about a foreign language teacher two of her daughters had in junior high.

“I’ve gone to three principals to talk about this teacher and this is what they say, that she is a brilliant woman - which I understand - and that we are working with her. But nothing has changed.

“We finally smartened up and waited until they (the children) reached high school before starting foreign language,” she said.

Other parents said incompetent teachers just outlast the students.

Cathy Nickle’s youngest child graduated from West Valley High School in 1994, but she still remembered frustration over the years about certain teachers.

“It seems to me,” said Nickle, mother of three, “that the bad teachers just kept going and going and going - and all of a sudden your kids are out of that school and you don’t care anymore.”

They should care, Brannan said.

“Those parents can continue to help us.” Specific information can build a case against a teacher.

Six months or so after the child has moved on from that school, Brannan suggested, “write a letter (to the principal) saying that you’re available to provide any information - objective information. It has to be ‘When my child was in Mr. or Mrs. X class, I went in and this is what I saw.”’ Staff writer

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Marny Lombard staff writer Julie Titone contributed to this report.

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