Teacher's Desk: Renew or Release?

Not only is March the time for CSAPs in Colorado, it is the time principals weed out their probationary teaching staff. Ouch. This is supposed to be the culmination of two or more observations and several walk-throughs and other information gathering (attendance, ability to work with deadlines, complaints, etc.). Unfortunately, some incompetent or mediocre principals have this authority. Principals in DPS and elsewhere look to non-renew a probationary teacher’s contract if the teacher is at the end of her three years with the school district. According to Jeremy P. Mayer in March 11th’s Denver Post Online, districts have a very difficult time firing tenured teachers, so many districts do the dance of the lemons instead, shuffling poor instructors from school to school. Almost no tenured teacher is fired. Many, many times really great probationary teachers find themselves non-renewed because the district would rather employ a Teach for America or recently licensed teacher because they are cheaper!

I have two friends going through this right now, and a third with an equally frustrating situation. My third highly regarded colleague, a retired Denver teacher, is not being hired because her last principal of her final year says untrue, unpleasant things about her to prospective employers. (I had that happen to me too, except I have the right to sue since our negotiated agreement specifically stated that all personnel questions would go to a certain gentleman in human resources and the principal was not to discuss my employment. I chose not to be litigious.) These ladies are fabulous, no-nonsense educators with a ton of experience.

What connects them is that they go over and beyond to guarantee their students achieve. That takes more than dedication, it takes courage. It is easier to let things go, be a “don’t rock the ship” “go along, get along” teacher than it is to find ways of improving oneself, improving students’ academic achievement and behaviors, and improving the school. It is about being the voice for those who are not heard and using a tough love approach when the student needs it.

Mediocre and incompetent principals insist on a staff he or she can control and most often scoff at true collaboration and excellent instruction. The only feedback many teachers get is criticism. It is rare for parents or students to tell their teacher that they appreciate how they have improved and how the teacher helped them to succeed. I have been getting that this week from both parents and students. It was truly welcomed because I received a letter in the mail from the University of Colorado that I was not accepted to their doctoral fellowship in educational policy for next fall. My students’ praise certainly took the sting away from that disappointment.

One of my Special Education English Language Learners wrote the following:

“I get more help at Colorado High School Charter than I did at John F. Kennedy because the teachers at Kennedy did not know what to do to teach me, but at CHSC, all the teachers know I am on an IEP (Individual Education Plan), so I like this school better. I did not learn anything at Kennedy because I didn’t know how to read or understand math. They never helped me to understand any of it. I did not know many words when we read or wrote something, but I do now.”

I’m this young lady’s reading and math teacher and have seen such tremendous growth. Through tough love on my part, she began attending school regularly, making better choices, and participating in class. She became a hard worker, completed all assignments and is on track to graduate in May. Because I was non-renewed, neither my friends, nor myself can work again in a Denver Public District School.

Kathleen Kullback is a licensed special educator with an MA in Educational Leadership and is a former candidate for the State Board of Education