Every year, our superintendent likes to come to the high school and shadow a student for the day. Every year the building principal gets to pick the lucky student. Every year that student is one of our academic top 10 in the senior class. I don't blame the principal for making this call. You don't really want your boss following around a student who did not optimally relate to the educational environment and is therefore only too happy to be a problem. In much the same way, teachers tend to want to be observed in front of their "best" class (however this may be defined). So it was that I had the Biggest Wig in all of our district joining me for a lesson this past week. Warned well in advance, our time together went very well and I know that the Grande Fromage had a lovely experience, having recieved a note to that effect. In truth, I wasn't ever all that worried as my rapport with my students tends to be superb and I was visited during the most advanced level course that I teach, a room full of the brightest minds in the building well accustomed to shining in front of an audience. Likewise, said cheese and myself have always enjoyed a good working relationship. All in all, it put a bit of spice into what was originally going to be a relatively rote week.
The other, more significant seasoning came from the purging of several tenure candidates at this extremely late point in their probationary period. As mentioned several days ago, this is the second year in a row that my district has decided that several teachers who have been with us for almost three years are not satisfactorily doing their jobs. Why it has taken three years for the administration to realize this is somewhat beyond me, or anyone who is not a district administrator for us. It certainly serves as a nice, subliminal "fuck you" to all of the building administrators who have vouched for competency to this point in time.
No one can tell you how an administration decides which teachers get to stay and who are forced to go. Those of us looking for rational reasons would probably seek study of a teacher's administrative observations. Surely there must be some sort of evidence in the only official records that a district has of a teacher's performance. And in fact this is sometimes the case when the cloud sours in the late probationary period. Regrettably, sometimes is far from universal. I have seen teachers who have performed superbly through all years of observation suddenly receive observations denoting performance as substandard (our district uses a more subjective language relating performance to the district's expectations--as if the district were a conscious thing). Why have these professionals fallen so far, so fast? Perhaps they have become distracted or failed to remain willing to learn. This must happen in some cases. However, there are indications that other, more subjective aims may be in play in at least some cases. Consider a young teacher with fine observations for two years. The dreaded year three disease hits and all of a sudden observation performance is tailing off rapidly. District administration is displeased. The principal does another observation. The teacher excels. Wat happens? I would hope that in some places, district administration would realize that all teachers have a bad day on occasion and give the teacher in question another shot. In my district, something else happens. The principal is reprimanded by district office for going against the grain. District office sweeps in to re-observe and again finds nothing to merit continued employment. These are the kinds of things that drive myself and my co-workers to wonder about the competency of the people who call the shots.
How is it that these two threads for the week, involving the same district structure and personnel, with two vastly different sets of inputs and outputs can occur simultaneously? It serves as another reminder of the bizarre and disparate nature of public education in my district. Unification of message and practice is expected of all teachers, but at the highest levels of the district such unification is always sacrificed to blind pragmatism for purposes best understood only in elite circles. The fact that these decisions affect people with lives makes it all the more upsetting.