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Let's Fire Miss Crabtree

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Poor Miss Crabtree. She's getting married, and she has to leave her job. Such things happened back in the day, before anyone thought of equal rights for women, tenure, or indoor plumbing.

Nowadays we no longer insist teachers take chastity vows, remain unmarried, fill the inkwells, clean the coal boilers, or do whatever else they did in the good old days. Still, without tenure Miss Crabtree could now be fired for some more contemporary reason. Perhaps she told her colleagues how much UFT teachers earn. Or maybe she insisted they provide services mandated for special education students. Maybe she didn't do anything and they took the word of an angry student over hers. Perhaps they posted her scores (despite an explicit agreement not to -- how can anyone trust these folks?) and decided to discontinue her, rendering her license useless in NYC. These things happen when teachers don't have tenure.

Yet, I keep hearing, tenure is evil. Why? Because there are bad teachers out there! If you watch Waiting for Superman, you may walk out thinking they all hide behind the skirts of evil AFT President Randi Weingarten. You might even think Weingarten recruited them and granted them tenure, but she did neither. People who think she did are confusing her with folks like Joel Klein and his merry band of administrators, who actually have such powers.

Say what you will about Weingarten, but she's the most "reform"-minded union leader in the history of civilization. Weingarten most certainly does not defend bad teachers.

In fact, I've never seen anyone at all say we want more bad teachers, or that bad teachers need to be retained indefinitely. I have seen many public figures say that teachers shouldn't get raises because some of them are bad. It reminds me, frankly, of young racists with whom I grew up saying things like, "The bad ones spoil it for the good ones." Sure, we'd like you to have civil rights, but some of you are bad. Until you are all perfect, like we are, we need to continue treating you like second-class citizens.

Let's say teacher A sits at his desk, eating a bowl of Cocoa Puffs and reading the box, while his students throw chairs at one another. Let's say he teaches English but doesn't actually speak or understand it, let alone any other known language. Would that make him a bad teacher? Let's say yes. To defend a bad teacher, you'd have to assert that teachers have the inalienable right to study Cocoa Puff boxes during class time, and have no need to know their subject matter. I've never heard or said such a thing.

Now let's say teacher B speaks to reporters, and writes anywhere and everywhere that will post his ravings about the ineptitude of those who manage the school system in which he works. Let's say he's extremely critical of the preposterous shortcuts that masquerade as reform, and makes a huge stink over things that actually hurt kids, like overcrowding and class size violations.

Finally, let's say both teachers A and B are brought up on charges. Either they have the right to representation, or they don't. Either they have the right to present their side of the story, or they don't.

When I hear the new breed of education experts like Davis Guggenheim and John Legend ranting about bad teachers, I get the impression they feel only good teachers should be entitled to representation. But who gets to decide who are good and bad teachers (particularly without hearing their side of the story)? Should it be Joel Klein, who spent years boasting of test scores gains that proved to be nonexistent? Should it be crusading ex-DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee, whose notion of classroom control entails taping kids' mouths shut? Should it be Guggenheim, who made a film that's largely misrepresentation?

Personally, I'd rather not rely on the good graces of such individuals. I have a little experience with unreasonable supervisors, and I want them to demonstrate I did whatever they happen to be accusing me of doing. Because I have tenure, that's precisely what they have to do (at least for the moment).

If school leaders like Michelle Rhee readily fire hundreds of teachers based on faulty methodology, what are they gonna do to Miss Crabtree? Without a union, who would protect her? I'm hoping my daughter, who dreams of becoming a math teacher, has better options.

In fact, I'd like all my students to have better options than those faced by non-union teachers. I'd like to leave a legacy of good schools and good jobs. I'm afraid demonizing teachers while ignoring outrageous discrepancies in "reformer" talking points will lead to neither.