When the Chicago Board of Education announced that 775 probationary teachers would be let go, the general impression was that these individuals were unworthy and inept. Even Chicago Sun-Times columnist Monroe Anderson wondered how CPS could “hire so many incompetent employees in less than five years?”
While some of these teachers apparently lacked adequate skills in classroom management, many others were unjustly sacrificed and deserved a better fate. For one thing, many of those let go were first-year teachers, and with the absence of effective mentors, many of these rookies faced a myriad number of problems. Administrators, department chairs and veteran teachers had their own trials and tribulations, and they simply had no time to address the concerns of new teachers, who often faced countless challenges posed by demanding, and in some cases, troublesome students. Left withering on the vine and feeling largely abandoned, these teachers quickly acquired a “sink or swim” mentality.
The fact that most probationary teachers do not have to be given a reason as to why they are being dismissed seems especially odious. Teachers, like other professionals, need time to grow and develop into first-class educators. As a veteran teacher with over 30 years of teaching experience, I have seen many colleagues who were problematic during their first few years, but who blossomed into wonderful and even master teachers once they gained confidence and classroom management skills.
Another problem is that teachers, even beginning teachers, are not passive employees. Teachers have huge egos and they will be extremely frank when it comes to discussing educational philosophy. Some principals may not be able to handle such frankness, and remedy the problem by not hiring them back regardless of their superior performance in the classroom.
Also, realizing that many of the teachers were on the verge of gaining tenure, one has to seriously ask why they were fired. Did it take four long years to decide that they were incapable of improving, or were they summarily dismissed by new and autocratic principals who arbitrarily decided to clean house with newly hand-picked acolytes?
There are currently nearly 600 principals in Chicago and many of them are relatively new and may lack the management skills they need to be effective educational leaders. Even the board candidly admits that there are principals who are deficient in some areas, and 18 of them were disciplined during the 2005-06 academic year.
One area of deficiency might very well be their handling and evaluation of teachers who, unfortunately, wind up becoming educational casualties in a system that desperately needs quality educators to meet the needs of the children.
Von Steuben High
Local school council teacher representative
Delegate, Chicago Teachers Union