Education Matters

Education matters

January 10 - 16, 2018

Gulf Weekly Education matters

I learned recently that it’s very difficult to sack a teacher in America for incompetence or misconduct. 

This is because the teaching unions there are so strong that they have negotiated with consecutive governments a quite remarkable deal. Quite literally, as soon as a teacher reaches something called ‘tenure’, unless they commit a crime, they have one of the rarest things of all in the 21st Century, a job for life, and who wouldn’t want one of those?

Teachers in the US can apply for tenure after seven years of teaching. They are judged on the quality of student grades alongside the numbers of good quality passes.

They will have received letters of recommendation from their school principals or colleagues and are basically a shining example of good quality educators inspiring our future generations.

But, it would seem that as soon as the tenure is signed and sealed it is not uncommon for standards to drop and for belligerence amongst tenured teachers to set in, but is this because teaching is tough and teaching at a high enough level to reach tenure is exhausting, or is it because once the pinnacle has been achieved, it’s all downhill from there?

Sad as it is, whilst it isn’t always the case and that there are many significant exceptions to this rule, it is the case some of the time and for that there is absolutely no excuse. 

Now, to make matters worse, education districts in the US often find themselves with many of these inadequate but tenured teachers and, for fear of fighting the very powerful unions as a result of the money it will cost to settle each individual case, keep them on as substitute teachers on full pay, even if they don’t work another day in school again. 

Inadequate tenured teachers who are employed full time are often shipped about between the different schools in the district year after year in the hope that a new school will make them a better teacher. It doesn’t. This unbelievable practice is sometimes called the ‘Lemon Dance’.

So, to recap, in the US, a qualified teacher can apply to become a tenured teacher with a job for life after seven years if they can demonstrate that they have made a significant difference to the lives of their students through highly effective teaching leading to good quality grades. Once tenure is received, it is very difficult to remove a teacher from their post due to the strong teaching unions, and relatively frequently teachers with tenure change into mediocre and then weak teachers once they have received it, after which they are passed from school to school in a hope that they will do better at the next school than they did at the last.

Now, all of this reminds me somewhat of Bahrain. Not because of the public system of education which is going through a process of rigorous change, but because of the private system, as there seems to be a certain standard of schools which enjoy doing the ‘Lemon Dance’ themselves very much, and will give jobs to school-hopping teachers quite readily, term after term, year after year. 

The only difference between the US tenured teachers, however, and the array of misfits that do the rounds in Bahrain, in my opinion, is that for seven years at least, the teachers in the US did a good job.

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