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When Those Who Can't Teach, Do 

Thursday, Feb 18 2010
Comments
We give it all up this week to Beth Barrett's cover story ("LAUSD’s Dance of the Lemons," Feb. 11) on the LAUSD's inability to deal effectively with its ineffective teachers, or those it accuses of being ineffective. Either way, it's a huge issue in Los Angeles, and not surprisingly hit a nerve with students, parents and teachers alike:

"You have covered almost all angles: the superintendent, retired administrators, current administrators, the arbitration panel, UTLA president, and the subpar teachers themselves," writes Ms. Infante. "The public has a right to fair and balanced reporting. [But] this piece, although admirably thorough, is missing the input from the largest portion of LAUSD employees: the teachers who have their noses to the grindstone, and to whom this career is more than just a job; it is a calling."

A somewhat different point of view comes from someone calling himself, we hope not literally, Quik Lube on Slauson: "Changing the way LAUSD teachers are hired or fired to improve school performance? Aromatherapy for a broken leg."

Nicely put, Quik Lube, but Greg here has a more reasoned suggestion: "It seems in both parties' interest — UTLA [the teachers union] and LAUSD — to make evaluations more meaningful, frequent and comprehensive. The vast majority of teachers will receive average or positive ratings. Teachers such as those chronicled in this article are perpetuating a crime on society, though, and need to pursue another career. The union has to recognize that it's in their best interest as a professional union to help counsel these people out, rather than defending them tooth-and-nail."

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Nancy Weems makes a point mentioned by several others: "Burnt out teachers are not a joke and neither is the broken system that produces them. I have taught at USC, for the LAUSD and at charters for some years. Yes, I've seen teachers who are burnt out but the elephant in the room is that public schools are crazy houses and the great teachers I know are leaving the profession."

LAUSD teacher N/A sees a culprit other than teachers and the district: "The parents drive their kids to school in Mercedeses but when the kids get there they have no tissues. This is crazy! I think parents need to wake up and start helping their schools. Start donating time, money and supplies to make the school run.

"Parents expect one person to teach 30 5-year-olds to use the bathroom, tie their shoes, read, write, do math and speak. This is unrealistic. Have you been in a room with 30 5-year-olds, including five-six kids with autism or other special needs? Until you have, you have no idea what it's like. I love my job and yes there are bad eggs in this district, but there are many more parents who just aren't stepping up to bat. Take responsibility for your kids! Or don't have any!"

Jeff has one simple reaction: "Sad, disheartening and shameful. We can do better than this. We need a statewide proposition on this."

No, Jeff, no!

"It is highly simplistic to assume that improvement of schools will result from firing allegedly incompetent teachers," writes Herb. "The basic problem is one of definition: I could be incompetent because I refuse to hop on each of the district's fads, such as the latest, cooperative learning. On the other hand, my classes are interactive, I am enthusiastic, students learn.

"The biggest obstacle is the district's bizarre 2003 decision that every child would take and pass traditional academics starting with algebra 1AB. As a teacher of algebra one and two, I can tell you that for some students, this is not teaching, it is miracle work. Universal mandatory algebra is a social experiment on the order of Prohibition or communism — beautiful in the abstract and a fiasco in reality."

L.A. Teacher wonders why we didn't publish an article about how the school district can't keep its good teachers: "That is the real story here. But I guess you wouldn't sell as much advertising with the headline 'Competent Teachers Leaving LAUSD in Droves.' And why doesn't LAUSD shift all those "good teachers" from high-API schools in LAUSD to low-performing ones? Because those teachers would quit rather than teach the poverty-stricken students and sometimes gang members we have to teach. Your article should have focused on making LAUSD schools teachable enough to attract teachers and to hold students and their parents accountable for tagging, stealing and the other assorted things we have to deal with here. But that article will never be published."

Anne Mere responds to the age issue: "I resent your caricature of older teachers as being senile and unable to perform. Most teachers improve the longer they teach. Young teachers lack wisdom and experience, which are very important. I started teaching in my late 50s after years of diverse and responsible careers in business. Teaching is the most difficult and challenging career I have ever had. And I will lose 50 percent of my Social Security when I retire, if ever."

Stevieray lays out a plan: "It is time for a change. At least two things must be done soon, before another generation of Americans are sacrificed to the twin blood gods NEA and AFT.

"1. Elimination of both tenure and the union. There are absolutely no good reasons for teachers to be coddled the way they are. The majority of Americans manage to find and keep jobs by their own wits and skills ... teachers can do the same. Will you sometimes come face to face with a bad boss? Yep. You can do what we do — learn to live with it, or move on. It's not that hard. In the real world, we call that 'adulthood' ... try and enter it sometime.

"2. Vouchers, vouchers and more vouchers. Let the money follow the child. Not only will this force the addled public school systems up and off their couches, it will also change the academic culture of the schools.

"Got all of that? Do your job or move along. Put your customers (the children) first. Listen to your bosses (the parents). Most of all, grow up. We are not asking you to do anything we, the taxpayers, don't do."

Finally, this interesting suggestion from, ahem, Elroy Jetson: "The only solution is cameras in the classroom. Then we all get to see whose version of the story is correct."

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