10/20/10

Highly Effective Teacher in DCPS.....But is it worth the aggravation?

Through five observations done on me while teaching at a DCPS elementary school last year, I scored a 'highly effective' rating. This sounds just wonderful up front but the excitement soon melted away to reveal a very disappointing experience. Initially, as a reward for a job well done, I got sent this beautiful clear plaque which now sits in my classroom, I also got invited to a gala event for highly effective teachers at the Kennedy Center, and most importantly, I was offered a large bonus with some very unsettling strings attached.

Up front, it all sounded great; I definitely felt rewarded for a job well done. My initial thought was generally positive. 'I can get to like this' I remember thinking. It also reaffirmed that, perhaps, I might actually choose to stay in DCPS longer than I had originally intended when hired last year. I began researching these 'strings' to be able to make the best decision on whether to take the money or not. If I decide to take the money, I would have to sign away early retirement and contract buyout. The third 'string', and of most concern to me, (3) takes away the cushion of a year's assured salary in the case I get excessed.

Before I go on any further I would like to get something clear. I liberally use the description 'highly effective' and 'non-highly effective' here for descriptive purposes only. Not for a minute do I think teachers who got a non-highly effective rating through observations are less effective than those who did. There is no way to truly measure what all a teacher does in her class and the true long term affect she will have on her children's lives.

I called the DCPS IMPACT office to get more information on this particular clause. The man on the other end of the line at the DCPS Impact office explains to me that "The thinking behind this was that if you are a 'highly effective' teacher you should have no problems finding a job at any other District or school." His answer stopped me cold. Let me get this straight. For seemingly being a better teacher, I get 'rewarded' with less job security? This made no sense. I also began to inquire with colleagues particularly about the possibilities of getting excessed. I was told by some teachers who have experienced being excessed in DCPS, that this could pretty much happen at any time in the District. On the other hand, I was also reassured by others that surely this could never happen to me, or at this school, or at this time. Somehow these reassurances did not reassure me of my job security. We all have seen plenty of teachers let go last years who had solid contracts in hand; making it plenty clear that even written contracts can be dissolved.

Does DCPS actually think they are going to help retain their 'highly effective' teacher population in the District by taking away these teachers' job security? If, by any chance I were ever excessed from my current job, I am lucky enough to have solid credentials to pretty much get a job anywhere. Yet, somewhere in the planning of the particulars of this bonus, they forgot to ask themselves 'what makes them so sure that excessed, highly effective teachers who have not been in the District long will look within the District for a new job?' I understand how highly effective teachers who are excessed and who are close to retirement might find this even more frightful, for they can't just easily relocate to another district. Suddenly, this bonus took the form of a huge carrot stick that might just lead to nowhere positive.

My question to the team of people who thought this up the workings of this bonus would be, 'If I were excessed, not given any warning and given a mere 2 months full pay guaranteed while I looked to be placed elsewhere, would I even want to continue to work for such a precarious and unreliable system?' If such excessing were to happen, people who have good enough credentials and have only put in few years in the DCPS system will leave the system in search for less punitive school systems. While teachers who might not have the same possibilities of finding a job elsewhere and the close-to-retirement teachers would surely opt to stay within the system. Isn't that purely anti productive to what we want to happen? We are scaring away the incoming new HE population of teachers and making the experienced close-to-retirement teachers worry about their job security.

I am only 37 now and do not yet own a home. Yet, the minute I buy a home and have mortgage and other more pressing financial responsibilities, I will require a higher level of job security; one that DCPS obviously can't afford, especially for their top teachers. What is most ironic though is how this current system now assures that the seemingly non-highly effective teachers remain in the system with very little risk to their job security, while also creating an adversarial situation with (especially newer) highly effective teachers. A newer highly effective teacher would surely reconsider working for such a clearly punitive system and may look elsewhere for a system that respects their abilities and values professional strength through better treatment of their employees. As a fairly young teacher in the district, seeing how the more experienced highly effective teachers are made to worry about their job security makes me think that perhaps there are other less punitive systems out there where an excellent teacher can teach and not worry about losing it all.

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