Voting teachers off the island

Dangerously Irrelevant offers for discussion a modest proposal:  Let students, parents, teachers and staff vote the school’s worst teacher “off the island” every year.

1. Do our damnedest to create a positive working climate for teachers: ongoing administrative and community support, decent resources, professional development that’s actually useful, etc. Sometimes easier said than done, but nonetheless…
2. In nearly every school there usually are a handful of teachers who are just going through the motions (or worse). Students know who they are. Other teachers know who they are. Administrators know who they are. Parents know who they are (that’s why they work so hard to get their kid some other teacher instead).
3. Every year fire the worst teacher in the school. If you don’t have a robust teacher evaluation system (or if you’re worried about administrator bias), do it like they do on Survivor: everyone gets a vote and the one with the most votes leaves the island. Administrators, teachers, staff, students, parents – everyone involved with the school gets a vote. Dismissal by consensus. The more that are involved, (hopefully) the less likelihood of a witch hunt. If necessary, modify the master contract to make this happen.

It’s common in business to “manage out” (fire) the worst performers each year. The boss decides, however, not a committee of co-workers.

Update: Los Angeles is paying teachers not to teach while the district investigates charges against them or tries to fire them. One man has collected $68,000 a year since 2002, when he was charged with touching and sexually harassing female students. Non-teaching teachers can’t be assigned to clerical or support work, the district says, because of union rules. You’d think they could find non-contact teaching work, such as grading papers.

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  1. Sign on the wall: “The random firings will continue until morale improves.”

  2. Um… you do understand this is satire, right? When he uses the phrase “modest proposal,” he provides a link to Wikipedia’s entry on Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” I doubt he’s serious about actually doing this.

  3. Ponderosa says:

    I hope it’s satire. One problem with this plan is that teachers often don’t really know what goes on in other teachers’ classrooms. In the past five years, only one colleague has managed to come in and observe me teach. I’ve had only fleeting looks at how my colleagues teach.

  4. Darryl says:

    Satire or not, it is a great idea. I have been talking about this for years. The idea did not originate with me; rather, I was part of it during officer candidate training in the late 1980’s in the Army. It worked great! It was slightly different in that a candidate selected the “bottom three” in his platoon every five days. A tally was done and the highest scoring person became a private rather than an officer. This forced all of us to try our best everyday; it forced all of us to work cooperatively everyday; it taught all of us that sometimes hard decisions had to be made. Also, morale was great. I knew the entire time that a slug would not become an officer, and every five days the group became stronger and more professional as the slugs were sent packing. How exactly is this a bad idea? I hate to preempt unfairly, but I’m fairly certain that marginal, mediocre, and I’m-only-here-for-the-paycheck teachers will vehemently disagree with me.

  5. Margo/Mom says:


    I would add on that an additional problem is that most of the time nobody but students know what goes on in classrooms. And nobody pays attention to students.

    Certainly in an ideal world–where we tackled the problem of improving the quality of teaching–this would be rectified. This would likely involved freeing up some, or all, teachers to be able to observe on another–not one shot, annual tours–but regularly, until it becomes a regular expectation, rather than akin to being “on stage.”

    I recognize the satire–but it hits perilously close to what teachers seem to fear is a reality. Mention evaluation and they are already circling the wagons. Teachers deserve quality evaluation systems–ongoing, relevant to their practice. Certainly, as a group of employees, they have some of the highest levels of protection among any working group in the country, having not only contracts with guarantees of due process, but also easy access to tenure, a higher level of protection. It always strikes me as paradoxical that they are so incredibly averse to anything that approaches evaluation in any meaningful way. It would seem as though one benefit of a secure workplace would be that it would foster an ability to roll through the human failings that inevitably dog evaluation.

    Teachers who consistently receive low ratings (from peers, students, parents, administration) could, if well structured, receive input into things that must change, and how to change them. Setting a path for improvement tends to up the ante for anyone who is either just phoning it in–or really needs to make a decision about doing something else. I have never had a contract, or the level of protection afforded most teachers. I have worked in environments that fired people willy-nilly (and most of us soon discover that stupid management is not illegal in most cases) and those who made use of every opportunity to maintain and improve employees. In the second case, I have witnessed a few firings. Each came after a long (years, in some cases) time of commitment to the evaluation and improvement cycle. In those cases, I would say that everyone generally breathed easier when it was over. In quick fire, tyrannical systems, most employees keep their resume up to date (as soon as they catch on)–and the good ones are actively looking.

  6. I actually don’t see anything too wrong with this proposal, except that I would have the final decision in the hands of the principal, subject to the approval of the Superintendent.

    Contrary to some of the postings, the teachers know who is a good teacher and who isn’t. My wife was a teacher for 10 years, and believe me, she knew. And when we moved (every 3-4 years due to being in the military), we’ve also been able to establish a rapport with the teachers at the new school and find out who the teachers were that we would want our children to have.

    That being said, firing one teacher a year works only until the dead wood has been weeded out, and after that, you’re getting rid of competent teachers.

    I think that I would prefer to see a 5 year probationary period for tenure instead of the current 3. 3 years just isn’t enough time to evaluate and groom a new teacher before making a final determination as to their future.

    I also think that it ought to be made easier for teachers to move from one district to another without losing seniority or pay or tenure, because a poor fit in one district might be an excellent fit in another district. But note that as it is, teaching is one profession where the teacher can move within the same state to a different district and still keep the retirement credits flowing. No other profession permits that (other than state workers). That is an *incredible* benefit that is not valued by teachers as much as it should be.

  7. Independent George says:

    Or, we could let parents vote with their feet and pick the schools/teachers they think suits their kids the best.

  8. I don’t know if everyone really knows who is the best teacher and who isn’t. Sometimes the best teachers are the most quiet when they get around other teachers. They’re great but no one knows it. Other times the best teachers are the biggest complainers when it comes to things like faculty meetings and their great teaching is obscured by their big-mouthness.

  9. There is no replacement for good management. A good manager should be completely aware of the effectiveness of their people and their strengths and weaknesses. If the manager doesn’t know that, they aren’t doing their job.

  10. momof4 says:

    I know the headmaster of a highly-respected private school and he knew what his staff were doing; his job depended on it. He knew it, his faculty and staff knew it and the parents knew it. BTW, many/most of his teachers would not have been considered “highly qualified” because most lacked ed courses; they had degrees in their subject. No one involved cared how much edubabble they had heard.

  11. Lightly Seasoned says:

    We don’t come up for tenure until our 5th year. Also, required to observe 4 colleagues teaching per year.

  12. My view about teachers knowing what other teachers do is very much in agreement with Ponderosa’s. In fact I have been wondering about this in recent months. We ought to learn a lot from each other, but in my experience, we don’t. We have some general ideas of what our colleagues do, but not much more. I’m sure that’s not the case in every situation, but I think it’s pretty common.

    I have reached two conclusions, tentatively at least, about why this might be so. One conclusion is that teachers, at least many of them, don’t really want to talk about what they do because of the potential of disagreement. We have differing perspectives on teaching and often believe strongly in our view. We are aware that others disagree, but we have our face involved. So why not just let sleeping dogs lie? So we avoid the subject like we avoid politics and religion.

    This situation, of course, is made worse by the propensity of ed schools to be ideological, rather than analytical.

    The second conclusion is that teachers don’t really want to talk about what they do because we don’t have the vocabulary. We can describe what we do to some extent, but much of what we do is on an intuitive level, not analytical. When we try to put it into words we have trouble expressing what we mean. Our words are inexact and easily misinterpreted.

    And this situation, of course, is again made worse by the propensity of ed schools to be ideological, rather than analytical.

    But teachers do have their opinions of each other, who’s good and who’s bad, and who ought to be voted out. There is much we could learn from each other, if 1) we felt secure, felt that we would be respected even when we disagree and have trouble explaining our actions and perspectives to others, and 2) we had the language. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement.

  13. The 4th grade teachers know who the best and worst 3rd grade teachers are. So do the good principals.

  14. Margo/Mom says:

    Good point, Rex. And if we gave up vocabulary like best and worst, maybe we could develop feedback loops that would be helpful.

  15. I don’t think any particular words need to be given up, just the assumption that all professionals require is the budget and the authority and nothing but wonderfulness will ensue.

  16. Ponderosa says:

    I agree with Rob that good management could well solve the problem of slacker teachers. I’ve always marveled at how seldom administrators observe me teach. Not just at my current school, but at two previous jobs. I know it’s hard to fire a tenured teacher, but it seems to me that if a district were serious about it, and felt that “deadwood” teachers were truly dragging the district down, they could find an extra $100K to hire an administrator whose sole function would be to monitor teachers and assemble the documentation needed to get rid of bad teachers. Frequent surprise observations would have the additional positive effects of keeping teachers on their toes, and giving teachers feedback from an ADULT perspective. I’m always begging administrators to come watch me teach –but they’re tied down with the infinite administrivia that attends their office.

  17. I’d hate to be the last teacher left on the Island 🙂