PD: Why getting rid of Bad Teachers creates more Bad Teachers

Why getting rid of bad teachers creates more bad teachers.

elmaycover-newsweekI am becoming more and more distressed by the conversations I am seeing in the national media that blame “bad” teachers for all the ills in society.  Take Newsweek’s March cover that claimed that the key to saving American education was to “fire bad teachers.”  Not only do these messages misappropriate blame and over-simplify the very complex problems we face in schools, they unintentially kill good teaching.

Case in point. The other day I was helping a teacher rethink how she planned her lessons. We were working on creating more engaging, rigorous learning experiences for students. After I explained how to create spaces in the classroom to allow her students to learn how to deal with the messiness of learning, she said, “This is great Robyn, but what do I do when my principal walks in and sees all this messiness going on. I could lose my job!”  Unfortunately, I hear the same lament time and time again. I would love to teach this way, but …my principal, the state tests, the curriculum, my district mandate, the parents, etc.

To quote Seth Godin in his latest book Linchpin, “Great teachers are wonderful. They change lives. We need them. The problem is that most schools don’t like great teachers. They’re organized to stamp them out, bore them, bureaucratize them, and make them average.”

There are several reasons why schools don’t work, but firing the bad teachers won’t fix them, especially when the same systems that prevent really great teaching remain firmly in place.

So what do we do? For starters, we have to stop teaching scared. We have to stop letting fear keep us from doing what’s right and take the risk for the sake of our kids.  We have to do what master teachers have been doing for years — ignore the distracting noise outside, close your door, and teach extraordinarily.  We have to stop conforming and doing what is safe.  Instead, we must dare to be good, really good, not at our jobs, but at our calling to help students become great learners.   And most of all, we have to fight every day to get better at what we do, not because of some mandate or because we are afraid of being labeled a “bad teacher” and end up on the cover of Newsweek, but because it is the right and best thing to do. We owe it to our kids. We owe it to ourselves.


  • Every teacher I know – including my spouse – can name poor teachers within seconds of being asked. Bus drivers, electrical engineers and fighter pilots can do the same.
    Yet the party line coming from the national education community is that school districts and/or communities are supposed to grant all teachers the privilege of teaching children for life, regardless of the quality of their work.
    Godin’s comments in Linchpin (which I have read) are absolutely right about the system’s design (in most districts). That doesn’t mean there aren’t teachers who are failing. It also doesn’t mean the lack of success is entirely that teacher’s fault – though for some it surely is.
    The issue isn’t that getting rid of poor performers is a bad idea – whether we’re talking about educ administration, teaching, welding or aeronautical engineering.
    Unlike most other lines of work, we not only can’t (won’t) decide what teacher performance should be evaluated on – many vehemently challenge whether teacher performance should be evaluated at all.
    Imagine the concept of not being accountable for the quality of work delivered was extended to the rest of society.
    Until we build a process for determining what “bad” really means, for “treating” it and for acknowledging that some cases are “untreatable”, it will be difficult to make much progress on improving the quality and effectiveness of US elementary and secondary education.

  • Ateacher says:

    It’s about time we look at “Bad” students and parents.

  • Jose J. Rodriguez says:

    There are some teachers that may not be very good, but theres always a cause and effect. A school district that is not taking care of it’s educational system,
    That includes building, materials, books computers even the water fountain that does not work can cause teachers to be run down. Add the fact that the Federal and State Goverment is allways adding more responsabilities, the administration from the Superintendant, Principals and Supervisors can be very critical, because the school needs to perform well in the States Educational test. Even when the system is not working.
    Also remember we have been taking away for years the responability of parents being accountable for there child work. Proof, during school night you may have 15%
    of the parent show. These are the parents of students that do well in school. The parents teachers want to see never show up.
    We are all part of the system. School districts that offer professional development for teachers during the school year have less problems.

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  • […] when I express concern about the push to fire bad teachers, don’t mean the pedaphiles and the mental, emotional, and physical abusers, and others who […]

  • […] fault? Absolutely not. (Check out my many posts on why we shouldn’t blame the teacher here here here and here). But do I think that there is more that we can be doing in the classroom to […]

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