Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

The Teacher Firing Flow Chart

Everybody’s talking about the firing of incompentent teachers today, and how difficult it can be due to union rigamarole.

Take this flow chart for example, which outlines the steps that must be taken to fire a bad teacher in New York City. It was so huge that it wouldn’t fit on the page (below is just a snippet), so check out the file for the whole convoluted thing.

i-b89c1dec70b3903e344a94c9d9bd1b0b-small chart.bmp

A good point was made here:

For current wages and under current working conditions, there’s no ready supply of good teachers to replace those who would be fired if we made firing teachers easier. The California Basic Educational Standards Test, required to receive a California teaching credential, requires a tenth-grade reading score. And California is so short of teachers that it has to give emergency credentials to some applicants who flunked the C-BEST.

The key word here seems to be wages. Most people, myself included, don’t think teachers get paid enough….perhaps if we make teaching a job *worth* having and *worth* performing well at, the need for discussion over firing practices may be moot. However, holding principals responsible for the teaching performances of the 100 or so teachers under their care doesn’t seem quite fair either.

When I was in high school, there was a certain teacher than came to school drunk almost everyday. His face was red, his speech was slurred, and all day he sipped out of a mystery cup which had a distinctive odor. Everyone knew it, I’m sure his fellow teachers and staff knew it, and we all wondered why it was allowed to go on. Obviously, it impacted his teaching quite a bit. However, I recently learned that this person is still teaching there (whether his practices have changed since I was there, who knows). I certainly think that such a situation merits firing, and the fact that he wasn’t displays a real flaw in the system.

I sometimes wonder if, on the unlikely chance I have kids, whether I’ll send them to public or private schools. I’m a product of public schools, and its worked out ok obviously, but the amount of bad teaching, anti-scientific attitudes, apathy, and abuse of power I’ve seen makes me uncomfortable with the state of public education. I’ve also had some awesome, truly caring teachers who impacted me in an entirely positive way. Sad to say though, they were few and far between. Happy to say, they were enough.


  1. #1 bsci
    February 26, 2007

    I’m a product of public schools, and its worked out ok obviously, but the amount of bad teaching, anti-scientific attitudes, apathy, and abuse of power I’ve seen makes me uncomfortable with the state of public education.

    I’m also a product of public school and I’ve seen some of these, but are things really universally better in private schools? I’ve heard enough private school stories about bad teaching, apathy and abuse of power. As for anti-science, at least public schools have open standards. Private schools have much less governing what they should teach.

    In some private schools teachers are paid more and are easier to fire, but that doesn’t address all your issue and you get what you pay for. If you want to send a kid to a private school with high teacher salaries, chances are those salaries will be linked to tuition costs.

  2. #2 Roy
    February 26, 2007

    While wages are a big problem, they’re not the only one. Even when they hire new teachers, teacher burn-out is a problem amongst young/new teachers.

    Yeah. The money is terrible- especially if you’re teaching something like art or science and end up having to purchase tons of your own equipment for the class.

    But (and I readily admit that this is just my experience with the people I know who are teachers) one of the biggest problems seems to be the burnout that comes from being a new teacher. Every time I talk to my teacher friends, they’ve got horror stories about what it’s like, and about how frustrating it is. They want to teach- they love teaching. But, parents and administrators make it very hard. Class sizes are huge, and many of them feel like they don’t get any support from the higher-ups. It only takes one or two shit-head parents per class to make a teacher’s life hell. You get a student who has parents who are convinced that their child is an angel, or who view the teacher as a glorified baby-sitter, and things take an ugly turn. How do you teach a class when you’ve got a kid who won’t behave, and administration afraid to take serious action against the kid because they’re concerned with bad publicity or lawsuits, and parents who blame any failure on the student’s part on the teacher, but who aren’t willing to take a proactive role in the kid’s education?

    I started college intending to get into education. After I took several education courses, and sat in on some high-school and elementary classes, and after interviewing teachers and talking with my teacher friends, I realized… no way. I couldn’t do it. I love my field of study, but there’s just no way I could do it. I’d have been miserable.

  3. #3 Dave F.
    February 26, 2007

    The Council for American Private Education says that in 2003 – 04, 11.5% of U.S. elementary and secondary students, or 6.3 million, were enrolled in private schools.

    The same link says that in 99-00, 48.6% of those private-school students were in Catholic schools; 15% in “conservative Christian” schools; another 18% or so in other religious schools (Baptist, Lutheran, Jewish, etc.).

    So something like 80% of private school children are in religious-affiliated schools. From direct and longtime experience with Catholic schools, I’d say the overwhelming majority of private school teacher do not earn salaries higher that prevaling public-school salaries in their areas. (That might not be the case for Episcopal High in Alexandria, Va [tuition, room, and board: $35,650].)

  4. #4 Orac
    February 26, 2007

    The key word here seems to be wages. Most people, myself included, don’t think teachers get paid enough….perhaps if we make teaching a job *worth* having and *worth* performing well at, the need for discussion over firing practices may be moot. However, holding principals responsible for the teaching performances of the 100 or so teachers under their care doesn’t seem quite fair either.

    I don’t know about the rest of the country, but in my state public school teachers are paid plenty well, particularly taking into account that they only have to work less than 10 months a year, and they also have rigid, rock solid seniority agreements in their union contracts, making getting rid of a bad teacher with tenure virtually impossible, barring the breaking of a serious law (and even in that case it wouldn’t be a sure thing to get rid of the offending teacher). On top of that, they can retire at age 55 and have a very generous pension package.

    Oh, no. At least in my state, pay is not the problem.

  5. #5 Orac
    February 26, 2007

    Scratch that; I think the retirement age is 60 years. Still, that’s much better than most people get.

  6. #6 Roy
    February 26, 2007

    I don’t know how much teachers are making in your area, Orac, but the whole “Well, the work less than 10 months of the year” thing is very frustrating. Some teachers work less than 10 months of the year, that’s true. On the other hand, many choose or are required to work during the summer months for summer-school programs, continuing education, or other community programs. In addition, in many states, teachers are required to continue their own education. Add to that the fact that many teachers work far in excess of the standard 8 hour work-day, and may be required to purchase many of their class-room materials out of pocket, and it may start to look like they’re not really making as much as it seemed like before.

    I’m not saying it’s impossible that your teachers are raking in the big bucks, but, generally speaking, people don’t get into the public education profession because they expect to make a lot of money.

  7. #7 Shelley
    February 26, 2007

    Roy, you’re totally on it about working into the so-called vacation time, and buying materials out of pocket, plus lesson planning etc. Oh, and on top of the gobs of paperwork the No Child Left Behind program generates, and the prepping for standardized tests. Thats if you just do the bare minimum to scrape by, which thankfully some of my teachers didn’t. I remember one of my English teachers in high school planned a walk from a park to her house to mimic like a pilgrimmage in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (on a Saturday). The whole class dressed up in medieval grab (teacher too) and she recited it to us as we treked along. Then when we got to her house she had a medieval “feast” waiting for us as a surprise. It must have took a lot of time to plan and organize it all, not to mention money to pay for the food. Obviously she didn’t get paid any extra to do this, it used up her whole weekend. But we all aced the Chaucer test, and I still remember her effort 9 years on. And she got paid about 35K/year.

  8. #8 Mike
    February 27, 2007

    Teachers only work 10 months of the year? But they probably cram a full years worth of hours into those ten months, and then some, if you look at how much time they spend on work (as opposed to hours they are paid to work).

  9. #9 Dan S.
    February 27, 2007

    Please please please see this old Making Light post by Teresa about Common Good and their little flowcharts (in that case, it was about all the steps needed to suspend a student).

    And Orac! How could you?! {sob}.

  10. #10 Jonathan
    February 27, 2007

    It takes far less than that flowchart to fire teachers in NYC before they get tenure – which happens all too often. And for those with tenure, yup, it should much tougher to fire them (but not impossible).

    Someone should look at what used to happen pre-tenure: teachers getting fired for getting pregnant; teachers fired for being too old.

  11. #11 Dan S.
    February 27, 2007

    I just asked my wife how much she’d have to be paid to work as a teacher (in the classroom) 12 months/year.

    A little background: she’s always wanted to be a teacher, from earliest childhood. She graduated with excellent grades from an elite liberal arts college, double-majoring in sociology and education (technically ed. was a cert program, not a major; it also, from what I saw, covered at least all the same material, on at least the same level, and with greater academic rigor, as my M.Ed program.) She of course is on various committees, etc. and spends many saturdays at workshops, etc. Despite having very good prospects if she tried to switch to a) a better school in the district, b) a public school in the ‘burbs, or c) a private school (with pay cut), she chooses to stay at what is literally one of Philly’s worst schools. Last year the majority of her kids did at or above what was expected, with a minority below – the reverse of the school average, and pretty close to the reverse of the district average. (As proud and somewhat in awe of her as I am, I wish she would take a job somewhere else: among other issues, shootings and stray bullets are not an uncommon occurrence during school hours).

    Her answer? Maybe somewhere around $90,000, she thought – trying to stay within the realm of the wildly unrealistic yet not entirely unimaginable – but really, she’d probably just quit. Not really a money issue; a mental health/bearable job issue. Now, not all teachers would – there are some who would be fine with it, she suggests. And I suppose that, for example, most of the teachers at one of the local Quaker schools – where very, very rarely there are fights . . . and the students involved come to the staff to work out how things can be resolved- might manage fairly well. But honestly, quite a few, especially here, would a) just quit, or b) burn out very quickly. They might keep dragging themselves in (possibly drinking too much to get through the day), leading to all sorts of complaints about how all the bad teachers need to be fired . . .

    Granted, as a surgeon, Orac does have one the relatively few professions that are more difficult and more stressful than teaching, so that probably shapes his view . . .

  12. #12 Chris Clarke
    February 28, 2007

    particularly taking into account that they only have to work less than 10 months a year

    You wouldn’t last a year, Orac.

  13. #13 fyrewede
    February 28, 2007

    Choose the school your child attends based on who your child is. I was perfectly happy in public school until my mother yanked me out and put me in a Catholic school (we are Protestant — great. smart move, mom!) where I was utterly *miserable* for the next 5 years. I then spent 3 years at a very elite nondeminational private school in Atlanta where most of the graduates go to Harvard and Yale, if not Ox-bridge. Miserable there too. Why? Because both environments were hyper-competitive…and I am just not a competitive individual.

    Despite consistently high test and IQ scores, I struggled academically to the point that my mother finally relented and put me back in public school 8 years later.

    There, I blossomed and really found myself…my voice…my wings. I was in such a diverse and creative environment (half black, half white, some Jewish, some Christian, some atheist, some Buddhist…) that it totally took the pressure off me because I no longer felt like I had to try to compete with kids who were richer, more popular, more athletic, smarter, etc. On the contrary, I finally felt supported and challenged to think *creatively* rather than feeling this constant pressure to PERFORM, PERFORM, PERFORM!

    I saw absolutely ZERO difference in the quality of the teaching — and I say that as someone who has taught high school myself. A kid will get out of school — ANY school — what they put into it, and a amazing amount of their cultural literacy begins not at school, but with you as the parent.

    So yeah — if your kid craves a pressure cooker, there are certain schools that will provide that type of environment, and probably most of them are private schools. If, OTOH, your child is an artist, a soft-touch who rescues wounded butterflies and beetles from spider webs, they may be better off in a place where those gifts are encouraged … or at least not crushed underfoot. There are both public and private schools that would be appropriate for such a child.

    Oh — and also keep this in mind. Except with the top-of-the-line private boarding schools, most private school teachers are paid WAY WAY less than public school teachers.

    Their decision to teach in a private school is a lifestyle choice (preferring smaller class size over a larger paycheck) moreso than it is a statement of their ability as instructors. Either they are, themselves, independently wealthy, or they have a spouse whose income makes teaching on a private school salary possible, or they don’t mind trying to eke out an existence just above poverty level. I kid you not. That’s how low the pay is for some private school positions.

    If I had to recommend a good *start* for almost any child, I would recommend a Montessori school. My mother had to, quite literally, drag me away every day kicking and screaming because I enjoyed it so much. I haven’t met a Montessori kid yet who does not have fond memories of their preschool experience.

  14. #14 Dan S.
    February 28, 2007

    Oh Chris, bravo, and thank you.
    I’m going to quote a bit from his post: “The best advice to give a new teacher: learn how not to cry until you are at home. I have known people in a thousand professions, and routine weeping is associated with but one.
    I wonder if Orac would last a year? I certainly didn’t . . .

    Of course, he does specifically refer to his state. One thing I always try to point out is that the idea of ‘American public schools’ is extremely misleading; in reality there are perhaps five different systems of public education operating in the U.S. (along with maybe three private ones). Certainly, on an intellectual level it’s generally understood that there are two (all those movies, after all!), but a lot of mainstream discourse seems to both a) elide that distinction and b) when it must be addressed, imagines impoverished and struggling minority schools as somehow isolated from the larger situation, carefully not-seeing the historical and structural connections.

    And each of these different systems has different problems and issues. In affluent areas, parents often treat teachers as lower-status employees. Here in Philly, it’s different, in various ways – though it really is quite rare for parents to show up at school and physically attack the teacher.* Being assaulted by a student is more likely: her first year of teaching, my wife had her shoulder dislocated by a kid who had just been transferred into her class. The way she tells it now, it’s almost funny, with her trying to a) not pass out, b) get help, and c) protect the kid from the rest of the class.

    Yep. Downright amusing.

    * Philadelphia Inquirer, March 20, 2005: “As of Feb. 28, 57 such assaults by parents or other adults were reported in the 185,000-student Philadelphia School District this school year, about the same number as last year, officials said.

    In addition, there were nearly 200 cases in which adults – mostly family members – were accused of threatening staff and students, verbally abusing them, vandalizing property, or causing other disruptions in and near schools.

    . . . In Philadelphia, family members have entered classes without permission to berate or assault teachers, reports show. Some threatened to “cut up,” “kill” or otherwise harm staff. Others incited children to fight and join in. In November, a mother, 39, entered a melee at Benjamin Franklin High School. This month, outside Daroff School in Cobbs Creek, an uncle, 28, was charged with choking a girl, 14, whom he had dared to fight his niece . . .

  15. #15 Shadow
    March 12, 2010

    I think the major concern is not the pay but how that is measured (from taxes and not for a set product), not the teachers but the union’s/admin beurocracey (public schools have public rules that are inefficient), and not the time off but the fact that this is paid with by tax’s so there is perceived lazzeyness (when we pay our own money there is a market for the product not the making of the product).

    On the flip side when you pay for your child to go to school the school can always decline when the child is a perceived risk, so either your child behaves or they go to a school that fits them. Administration is kept in check by cost, teachers paying for supply’s will be kept in check by the demand of teachers (the same with a lot of the issues brought up in this form).

    In short it isn’t the people that are the problem it’s the system

  16. #16 Jose
    December 21, 2011

    umm can u plzz send me a full copy of the flow chart that is needed to fire teachers, it will greatly help me with my senior project.

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