Friday, March 05, 2004

No. 5 in a series on parental involvement in schools:



When I rode my dinosaur to Oakdale School in what's now central Omaha many years ago, I had the time of my life. I loved school, loved my classmates, and loved my teachers . . . except one.

She was a meanie. She called a weak pupil in our class a ''dummy'' in front of everyone. She accused another one of cheating, in front of all of us, and we knew he hadn't. She never did anything overt to me, but I was upset about what was happening in that classroom. There were other things she did that I didn't even know about.

The thing is, my mom was among those parents who ''marched'' on the principal . . . and that teacher was G-O-N-E.

We got a great long-term sub for the rest of the year, and everything was rosy.

Especially my opinion of my mom. Wow! I was impressed. She loved me enough to get involved to protect me . . . and she loved those other kids, too.

Guess what her major was in college? Education. It takes a good parent and a good educator to recognize professional incompetence . . . and have the guts to do something about it, for the benefit of children.

That's the attitude that parents are being forced to take, more and more, in dealing with poor and mediocre teachers in our public schools today. They used to be an anomaly that you'd run into maybe once in your child's K-12 experience; for a myriad of reasons, though, they are becoming more and more common. Since so many people believe that teacher ''tenure'' is unbeatable, many parents just let their children ''take it'' from a bad teacher. But that has repercussions that can last for years, and maybe forever.

You have to be smart about this. You can't just go off half-cocked, and you can't make a judgment based on one ''bad hair day.'' It has to be incompetence that is significant and habitual.

Recognize that incompetence is never deliberate. Nobody MEANS to be a bad teacher. Personal problems are almost always the culprit. Bad teachers deserve empathy and kindness, not arrogance and cruelty. Lots of times, things outside a teacher's control are at play, too: bad teacher training, bad curriculum and instructional methods, bad district communications, etc. But I have yet to meet a GOOD educator who DOESN'T want the bad apples weeded out. I have yet to hear about a bad apple who WANTS to be weeded out, either.

So here are the two things parents with backbone need to know:

It'll never happen unless WE make it happen.

And it's perfectly legal, under state law, to dismiss an incompetent teacher, even if they have
''tenure'' and have worked for that district for more than three years. Here's how Nebraska statutes define the justifiable firing of someone who has been substantially and habitually incompetent, under Section 79-824(4):

(4) Just cause means:

(a) Incompetency, which includes, but is not limited to, demonstrated deficiencies or shortcomings in knowledge of subject matter or teaching or administrative skills;

(b) neglect of duty;

(c) unprofessional conduct;

(d) insubordination;

(e) immorality;

(f) physical or mental incapacity;

(e) failure to give evidence of professional growth as required in section 79-830;

(h) other conduct which interferes substantially with the continued performance of duties.

You can check out all the education statutes on:


If there's a teacher in your school who shouldn't be teaching, use these laws. That's what they’re for. Document what's wrong. Get a copy of your district's teacher evaluation form, and analyze what sections the bad teacher doesn't live up to. Make photocopies of papers that show his or her incompetence. Get together some dated notes of phone calls. Obtain the concerns of other parents. If you have to -- and sometimes, you have to -- get a tape recording or videotape of the teacher having a screaming fit, improperly touching a student, calling students (and, often, their parents) horrible names, cursing, and so forth.

Then take these materials up the chain of command, starting with the teacher's boss -- the building principal.

If the district won't do anything, or puts you off, you can lodge a complaint with the State Board of Education, and through due-process, they can make things happen, too.

The only thing you SHOULDN'T do is nothing. There are children, including your own, depending on you.

Before your last child graduates and you ride your dinosaur off into the sunset, make a difference in our schools, and help make the teaching profession better by weeding out its weak links.

If they won’t do it, somebody's got to.

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