Teachers should be up to the challenge of educating

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From my first day of school, when my mother brought me to the building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I had drilled into me by my parents that teachers were supreme. You did not question or show disrespect to them.

In my years in the city public school system and at college, I think I had only one teacher who might not have lived up to my parents’ standards and, in the long run, he was no problem. One of the teachers from my early days, Mrs. Maloney, was someone I remembered for many years. I cannot remember what she taught, but she made a great impression on me, as did others.

In the course of my business life, I worked with many teachers in New York City. I used to say, “I know only the best teachers” and that was true. The ones I worked with cared about their students, worked hard and long and tried to keep abreast of new trends.

One I especially remember was a biology teacher in a Queens high school. During her sabbatical, she took time to work with a student who went on to the national science fair.

I also knew a teacher who was transferred from one high school in Queens to another. Even the teachers union would not defend her, as she took an early retirement because she was just not a good teacher.

Unfortunately, not all doctors, lawyers, engineers or clerics are good at what they do. In some cases, as I learned as a public member of the state Board for Professional Conduct for many years, many of these “profession­als” should not have been doing what they were doing in the first place or had kept at it too long.

This applies to teachers as well.

I am a believer in unions not just because it is in my DNA, but because I believe the working person needs protection against employers who may mistreat them. Money is not the root of all evil, but the love of money is. Too many employers cannot see beyond that love.

But should a teacher who should not be teaching because he or she is no good get tenure because they have been able to survive for a certain period of time? Must students be subjected to those who should not and cannot teach? Should teachers be subjected to students who do not respect themselves, others or the learning process?

I am not an educator, but I think I know a good teacher from a poor one. I think you who read this know this as well. Should someone get before a class of students day after day and not do the job for which they are getting paid? Can we, as a society, afford that kind of tolerance for incompetence?

That was never good and in the technological 21st century it is unacceptable.

I think the answer lies somewhere between those who hide behind their tenure and those who strive to help those they get paid to help. We cannot continue on this path to communal illiteracy.

More and more in the business world employees are judged annually by their superiors. These evaluations should be objective and I would hope most are. But we all know that subjectivity and personal animus can enter into such evaluations. Many readers will know this from personal experience.

That is not the kind of judgment we need about teachers, but we should have judgments on a regular basis. Just because teachers have been doing work for a certain period of time should not mean they get a pass if they are no longer up to the task of educating.

The United States lags behind in education on too many fronts. There are many things to blame for this, not least of all the fact that not enough parents these days give some kind of direction to their children or do not support a teacher in efforts at education. But while parents and students must do better, so must the teaching profession and those in charge of the educational process.

Yes, evaluate the teachers. Do it fairly, frequently and with one goal in mind: to help students learn.

And if a teacher has gotten to the point of not doing the job, let that person find another profession. The teaching profession cannot be immune to the way the world works because the world of education is not working well.

And that may be the understatement of the year.

Updated 7:26 pm, May 9, 2012
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