Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A school's plan backfires, making things better instead of worse

A while ago I wrote about the case of the schoolteacher in eastern Pennsylvania who was suspended because she said some offensive, but true, things about her students on a blog that was supposed to be private but wasn't.  She was quietly reinstated in August 2011, but the school administration set her up to fail.  In direct violation of their own policies, they allowed any parent to "opt out" - to withdraw their student from this teacher's classes.  And in a move stinking of hypocrisy, shortsightedness, or just plain unfairness, they did not allow any parents to "opt in" - to sign up their student for one of her classes.

The administration's intentions were obvious.  By the end of the year, this teacher's classroom enrollment would be down to zero, and they would have a justification to eliminate her position and fire her - or at least remove her from the school.

Well, their plan backfired.  Instead of three classes of 30 students each, she ended up with classes of 12, 15 and 7 students.  Those 34 students are the luckiest students in the school.  They are receiving the kind of education that a student in a classroom of 30 can only wish for.  Not only that, but they are mostly self-selected "good students."  The troublemakers, the ones that this teacher wrote about in her blog, opted out of her class, leaving only the students who really wanted to learn.

This makes for a perfect classroom environment.  And that makes her, probably, the luckiest teacher in the school.  With a student-to-teacher ratio below 20, she can give each student some real one-on-one time.  She can concentrate on the ones who need help.  She can take time to give the high flyers an extra boost.  She can phone or email all the students' parents regularly, without having to stay up late at night grading papers and preparing lesson plans.

The other teachers may be a bit envious of her. They still have 30 students per class, 3 classes per day.  They still have the whiners, the rude ones, and the slackers.  They may have students who need help, but they can't help them, because they're so busy dealing with the whiners, the slackers, and the inertia of the average.

I really hope they don't end up resenting her.  Any resentment they may feel should be directed at the administration, not at her.

The administration set out to punish her, or to make her fail. Instead, the punishment has turned into a reward, and when the standardized test scores are published next summer, their intended failure will show itself as a big success.  Her students' scores will average higher than those of the other students - not necessarily because she's a better teacher, but because she and her students had a better shot at teaching and learning.

So what are the rest of the students at this high school doing?  They're still whining and complaining. And her unlikely defender continues to fight the good fight.  I say more power to both of them.

You can read about this delightful turn of events on her blog.

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