Thursday, May 26, 2005

Selecting Teachers

I figure Nick Nolte has played the same down & out character in about 17 movies, always to find redemption before the closing credits. So I was not surprised, at the end of his 1984 entry, Teachers, that he stuck to his principles and beat the union to keep his job in a troubled urban high school. (I agree that the only valuable part of the movie was the 38 Special song in the soundtrack, but isn't that off-topic?)

The scene that always stuck with me is his pleading with the school's union representative over his unorthodox methods, and realizing that his job was on the line as a bargaining chip for the union's agenda of getting an additional 3 minutes of lunch time in the daily schedule. Yeah, it's just Hollywood, but it's a reminder - if a bit melodramatic - that while unions play an important role in American labor, their logic can get a bit gooey.

And that's where we come to teacher selection. In Philadelphia, as in most districts as I understand it, the teacher's union decides which schools teachers go into, based on seniority. "Dear Teacher Jones, you've had a long and thoroughly mediocre career and have managed to keep your job in spite of utter lack of proof of your ability to cultivate excellence among your students, so we are going to reward you by sending you to a nice, comfortable school to coast toward retirement." No thanks.

To make sure it gets good teachers, not merely whomever the union decides to move here, or whomever some other school wants to dump, Henry, along with a handful of other schools in the district, has opted for the past several years for "site-based selection" of new teachers. Each year, a school's teachers have to agree to participate in the site-based selection process. If the teachers don't agree, the union rules.

This process gives local input - school and parent input - into which teachers come into our school. As a school with a great reputation throughout the district, plenty of teachers want in. The Principal/Teacher/Parent team on the selection committee makes sure the new teachers who come into our school are a good fit for our school culture, with high expectations for themselves and their students.

I've been given the opportunity to participate in the school's site selection committee. Interviews are scheduled over the next couple weeks, and I can't wait to meet & talk to the teachers who want to come to Henry. I won't disclose any decisions (that's the school's job) or specific discussion, which could compromise the process.

But if that Nick Nolte teacher-character shows up, I'm voting for him!

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