Thursday, February 23, 2012

Elmo & Friends

Several years back I worked at a large middle school whose teaching staff largely resembled the "Island Of Misfit Toys."  I figured that out pretty quickly after bring hired.  I just didn't know that some of the misfits actually played with toys....

Latrice Johnson was a fourth year teacher who taught 8th grade language arts. Her reputation wasn't very good in terms of teaching, but to be fair, I never observed her or worked with her.  Latrice was quick to write referrals and send students to the Dean's Office for misbehavior.  On one particular occasion the student was almost out of control with anger by the time he reached the Dean's Office.

"Puppets!" he screamed.  "What?" questioned the dean.  "PUPPETS!  She talked to me after class with PUPPETS!" "

"You mean like Mr. Hand?" said the befuddled dean.  "YES! PUPPETTTTS!"

This led to the discovery of the fact that Mrs. Johnson has been using puppets as her primary form of classroom management for sometime. You have to remember that 8th grade boys have muscles and mustaches.  They're pretty much past playing with dolls.  Mrs. Johnson would have her students stay after class and tell the puppet on her hand why they were acting the way they were.

It didn't stop there though.  Mrs. Johnson would frequently reference Elmo in her teaching, and openly admit that watching Elmo videos after school was her form of therapy (she should come to my house, my damn kids won't turn that crap off...not very therapeutic in my opinion!).  On one occasion several lap top computers were stolen out of her room- while she was teaching.  Amazingly, they were recovered.  When Latrice heard the news, she shouted, "I'm so happy!  I can't wait to go home and watch some Elmo videos to make me feel better about this day."

Administration talked to her about this stuff, but she refused to relent.  She believed in what she was doing, and continued to use the puppets frequently in her classroom management.

Obviously, this is a person you wouldn't want teaching your child. The principal was a first year administrator and thankfully saw it the same way.  He opted to not bring Latrice back and gave her the reason of not being age appropriate for junior high students.  She sued the school district claiming racial discrimination.

With all the talk about 'bad teachers' that politicians and other uniformed outsiders have been slinging for years, this is one situation where I take some exception with the way things are in education.  A tenured teacher has basically an iron clad job for life unless they commit a crime.  A non-tenured teacher can simply sue.  How is administration supposed to remove ineffective teachers?  No principal or superintendent wants to be in the newspaper for something like this, and certainly does not want to put the district (and tax payers...) through expensive legal proceedings.  This principal was new, and perhaps too naive to understand that his courageous correct decision was going to be largely problematic.  Merit pay, judging teachers based on high stakes test results, and other goofy things that people outside the industry are cooking up are unfair and not likely to improve teaching.  However, at some point, there HAS to be a method for removal of really awful teachers like Latrice.  

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