I recently watched “Stupid in America“, a documentary which basically questions why American students performed so poorly compared to Belgian counterparts – and quite readily points the finger at teachers. It’s a bit scary, in many ways – as I think there were some gross generalizations, but I must say I was intrigued by the discussion on teacher competence and the power of the unions. The fact that New York District and several other states didn’t seem to want to open their doors to the public (granted, the media isn’t exactly Joe Public) rings alarms for me. I thought the comment by the teacher from one of the charter schools was really telling when she stated, “I’m a good teacher. I don’t need tenure to protect me. I need to get rid of tenure to protect kids.”

I’d have to say in some respects, I agree with her. While controversial, I think it’s safe to say that anyone involved in the education system could identify teachers who simply shouldn’t have been in the profession – for a myriad of reasons. And so in many ways, I think transparency and accountability are not all bad.

But how do we decide who is and isn’t competent? Is student achievement our sole marker? Should it be? And who makes those decisions? And what happens if someone isn’t competent? Do we simply close the school, as is the case in the U.S.A.? Fire the headmaster, or teacher, as was my experience overseas in England? Is more money to schools the answer?

While I don’t think any of these are a suitable response, I also think it’s equally irresponsible to have NO response in situations where teacher competence comes into question. It’s not fair to kids. I am very intrigued to see the Competence Code that our STF is developing. Right now, especially after amalgamations, teacher competency issues are falling on the shoulders of our administrators. As a former administrator, I can say this is not a comfortable place to be. Hopefully this competence code will offer a framework that will encourage teachers to be reflective practitioners, as opposed to posturing on the defense, and help to support administrators with the task of teacher supervision.

Teaching is complex; students are diverse. There are no silver bullets, certainly, but I think one of the first steps we need to make is to be upfront about what we’re doing in our classrooms, in our schools, in our divisions…is it really meeting the needs of our kids? If it’s not, we better be open to at least having the conversations about what IS best for our kids.

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