Students Call for Voice in Teacher Turnover

Students+Call+for+Voice+in+Teacher+Turnover

Lauren Arnold, Co-Editor-in-Chief

High school, particularly Rangeview, is a home away from home for many students. They develop communities and ties that cannot easily be broken: friends grow to be families, and teachers grow to be mentors or even second parents. It is the atmosphere that forces a student out of the comfort of her warm bed and urges her to actually look forward to that first bell, and it is the people that create the atmosphere.

People are the common denominator of each day; no matter what is scheduled for the new week—a guest speaker, an assembly, a test students are in no way prepared for—students can always be sure that they will be surrounded by their Raider family. Their best friends will be loyally waiting by their lockers, and their favorite teachers will never cease to be at the front of the class.

This guarantee, however, is not always concrete. A teacher’s spot on the RHS roster cannot be taken for granted. Last year alone, brought a total of eleven empty positions, four of which resulted from teachers being “non-renewed.”

Many students are outraged that their opinions aren’t taken into account when it comes to teacher firings.

Students have been vocal in their opposition to this teacher turnover, but before dissent can evolve into a significant change in policy, the student body must be well versed in the current process of teacher hirings and evaluation.

     What is the hiring process, really?

Teachers must be evaluated for rehiring each year, but getting hired by a school in the first place involves a thorough interview process. The initial step that a high school must take in selecting its teachers is posting an opening on the district website. Once an individual responds to this advertisement of sorts, the department chairs of the school assist in the organization of the interview. A potential teacher must undergo an extensive session of questioning in order to determine if they are the right fit for the school.

According to Principal Ronald Fay, Rangeview is unique in its process of selecting a teacher in that the administration ensures that teachers will be able to succeed to the best of their ability by providing them with a mentoring program. This support continues throughout their first three years of teaching, with an additional two-and-a-half-day teaching boot camp before their first year to familiarize the incoming teacher with the Rangeview mindset.

    So now RHS has a new teacher, what determines how long they stay?

Despite the common misconception that a teacher is rehired or politely asked to leave based upon test scores or student performance alone, the process of deciding whether a teacher will continue to stay at Rangeview is a delicate and strenuous one, according to Fay. Each teacher is formally evaluated three times a year with at least four additional informal in-class evaluations.

These evaluations, however, are not as black and white as they may seem. Fay discloses that Rangeview puts an emphasis not on the academic growth of the students (although this is an important factor) but on whether or not the teacher is engaging.

“Whoever is doing the reading, the writing, the talking is doing the thinking,” says Fay.

A teacher’s place here is all about the degree to which she fits Rangeview. According to Fay, she must have a “growth mindset”— the willingness to continue to improve no matter what level of teaching she has reached.

But what many do not know is that state evaluation requirements have changed: “The state now requires an evaluation tool that includes over a hundred checkboxes of qualifiers,” said Dave Brooks, a popular former RHS English teacher who spent three years at Rangeview. “Rangeview has put the onus on the teachers to prove that they do all of them.”

 

Mrs. Walsh smiles for the camera (John Headley)
Mrs. Walsh smiles for the camera (John Headley)

     Why is this decision so important?

It is clear to many that teachers heavily affect a student’s performance, but the influence of a prospective teacher at Rangeview affects so much more than the current graduating classes.

Teachers have the potential to affect thousands of students throughout their career, so it is crucial that they are qualified for the job. What many students may not understand is that teachers must surpass a three year probationary period in order to obtain what once was referred to as tenure. Throughout these three years, letting go of a teacher is a relatively simple process that is conducted not only by the principal but the collective effort of several administrative personnel. Once a teacher survives this initial trial period, the method of terminating a teacher’s position becomes messy and laborious, according to Fay.

The difference between the new probationary policy and the previous tenure policy, however, alters the way in which teachers are let go.

“Principals can be scared of giving ‘tenure’ to teachers if they don’t think they will fall in line in the future,” says Brooks. “However, tenure has officially been dismantled in Colorado. With SB191, if a tenured teacher’s students don’t perform well on standardized tests for two years in a row, that teacher loses tenure. It’s not even called tenure anymore. It’s called ‘non-probationary status.’ The problem is that before a teacher is given non-probationary status, the principal can fire that teacher without even giving a reason.”

The hope of many parents and state administration for this new policy is that teachers will be less likely to provide students with a poor education after receiving a guaranteed position because of this new test score caveat. But what about other aspects of their teaching? Yes, they will be able to be fired if their students do not perform well, but what if they aren’t beneficial to the students as far as support that is not just measured by mere test scores?

What Fay states concerning non-probationary status still touches upon what was a prevalent issue resulting from the tenure process: “Being able to let a teacher go becomes a daunting task.”

The implications of this concept are vast. If there is even a question that a teacher will be detrimental to the student body (or that they simply won’t be as strong of an asset as is needed), something must be done within the first three years of his district career, according to Fay.

Whether there are valid reasons for firing these teachers may still be questionable, under the new policy that Brooks discusses. A teacher’s job security is unstable during probationary status.

“I don’t want to let anybody go. This is their livelihood, I get that,” says Fay. “This is what they do because this is their passion. And that hurts. We don’t make those decisions lightly because they’re family, but I also am entrusted by this community to look out for the 2,300 students that are currently here and all those that will pass through.”

            What about student opinions?

Although students may recognize that this decision is an important one, they are angered that a number of their favorite teachers have been affected by this policy.

As rumors began to spread last spring that teachers such as Mr. Musser and Mr. Brooks would be let go of, student resistance grew, manifesting itself in the form of an organized petition. Students were outraged that teachers they believed to be effective for them were being asked to leave RHS, and they have become wary of the security of their favorite teachers as a result.

“I really liked [Mr. Musser] as a teacher,” says Junior Amanda Strawmyre. “I was really really sad when he left. He was a great teacher; I learned a lot.”

Students who signed the petition were dismayed at its failed outcome.

“[A] signing of names on a website doesn’t get any action going,” says Senior Rachel Miller, “you have to talk to those in charge and talk to them about what has happened rather than hoping they see these names of people who want them to stay.”

Many aspects of the schooling system, as well as the life of a teenager in general, leave students feeling helpless and ineffective, but it appears as though there may be an easy solution to this particular issue: student surveys.

“[S]tudents are what the school is made up of, so of course our opinions should be heard, and it should matter,” says Strawmyre.

Even teachers have weighed in on this issue.

“I think student evaluations should play an integral part of a teacher’s evaluation score,” says Brooks. “I would also want to make sure the evaluation protects teachers who are really tough on kids.  Perhaps the student evaluation system could have students rate current and former teachers.”

Student surveys are an integral element in the firing of college professors; students are given an end of the year questionnaire that rates the professor based upon several factors and weighs heavily in the decision to rehire them.

Dr. O helps his students with their work (Lauren Arnold)
Dr. O helps his students with their work (Lauren Arnold)

“This is a specific method where district and administration leaders will be able to collect data from a large amount of students on whether they believe their teachers are doing a sufficient job,” says Miller, “and I believe that those in charge should definitely look at those surveys to help guide their decisions.”

The advent of sites such as ratemyprofessors.com has revolutionized the way in which colleges view teachers, providing students with a mechanism through which they can contribute to their own instruction. Because these surveys also provide accessible feedback for teachers, Colorado has considered integrating it into its evaluation process for high school teachers.

According to the Colorado Education Initiative’s (an independent non-profit) website, “Colorado’s Student Perception Survey is a 34-question instrument that asks students about their classroom experience. The questions measure elements of student experience that most closely correlate to the professional practices that are demonstrated to improve student outcomes.”

But is it enough to just take a survey with no promise of a definitive effect on teacher evaluations or an influence in who is fired or rehire?

“It depends on if people would really take it into account,” Strawmyre says. “If we took the time to express ourselves and what we thought, would it be really taken into account or would it just be something that happens at the end of the year that’s just ignored?”

Whether this survey will have as great an effect on teacher rehiring as students would like is yet to be seen. The Colorado Education Initiative will be implementing this method in two years, according to Fay, but they may not include it in the formal evaluation of a teacher, condemning it to serve as only a tool for teacher reflection.

The Colorado Education Initiative website says, “The survey has the flexibility to be used as a formative tool or as a summative measure of teacher evaluation under Colorado’s education effectiveness law.”

    How can students make a change?

The general consensus of the student body is that if students feel strongly about an issue, they must fight for what they believe in.

“If the administration doesn’t think a particular teacher should stay but the students do,” Miller says, “the students need to take the necessary steps to make sure that teacher can keep their job, especially if the students believe they are learning something from that teacher… if the students are not learning anything from a teacher, it is their right as students to let the administration know when the teacher isn’t doing their job.”

Something can always be done to alter an issue for the better, but first, students must consider all sides of the argument.

It is up to the students whether or not they believe that their opinions should be a prevalent factor in the rehiring process, but they must remember that they only have the ability to view the teacher through their own eyes.

“[Students] see a very limited side of that teacher…you’re going to develop a fondness for that person,” says Fay.

In the same way, administration is presented with only one side of a teacher: the professional side. A balance must be struck between the two perspectives in order to ensure that a teacher is both effective at teaching curriculum and providing the motivation a student needs to succeed.

The connection between a teacher and a student can often be very personal, but in order for a student’s opinion to be seriously and thoughtfully considered, students must attempt to examine factors such as the rigor of the teacher’s class with the same fervency with which they scrutinize a teacher’s personality.

Similarly, students crave that both the statewide as well as the local administration acknowledge the importance of the ability of a teacher to reach out to students.

“There’s a process,” Fay says, “and you have to trust the process.”

Remember this advice, but also know that if students care about this issue, it is up to them to contact their administration—do the research and contact the district’s school board. It is a voice that makes noise and noise that makes change.

 

Colorado Education Initiative                                      

Phone: (303) 736-6477                                                                    

E-mail: [email protected]                                                                                                                      

 

APS board of education

Tonia Norman

Assistant to Board of Education

303-344-8060

ext. 28988            

 

For teacher evaluation process questions:

Yvonne Davis at [email protected]