What do you do when your child’s teacher is a dud?

Nov 6, 2011 by

An inspiring teacher can change a life. But what do you do when you think your child’s teacher is a dud, or worse?

In Sunnyvale, after four years of great teachers, Protima Rao’s daughter last year landed in a chaotic fourth-grade class at Cumberland Elementary. The children took over and, Rao said, the teacher would threaten, —‰’You don’t want to learn? OK, I give up.’ ”

In Oakland, Anthony Trunzo said his daughter ended up with a teacher who she said yelled and threatened the class, at one point waving his contract at the Chabot Elementary fourth-graders, and saying, “This means I can’t be fired.”

With the first quarter of the school year over, parents who suspect a problem with their kid’s teacher are deciding now: Should they hold their tongue or try to intervene?

It’s such a sensitive topic that reporting on it draws legal threats and California’s strict confidentiality rules make it difficult to evaluate parent complaints. As a result, this newspaper has chosen to obscure the identities of some of the parents, students and teachers in this story. One teacher could not be located, and the others declined to comment on allegations against them.

The vast majority of teachers are conscientious and willing to resolve issues, school officials say. And they’re quick to point out that children and parents, too, cause challenges in class. But sometimes, because the system often doesn’t force the incompetent to improve or weed out the dangerous, teachers are indeed the problem. Negotiating the system is tough, and even sympathetic principals may not be able to quickly solve the problem of homework overload, inconsistent grading or out-of-whack expectations, let alone disrespect and threats.

So what can parents and students do? If the issue is with some of the teacher’s policies, like not accepting late homework, schools say to start with a phone call or email to the teacher.

If parents do have an issue, teachers appreciate being contacted first. “All I wanted was someone with an open mind, and a problem-solving attitude and who would come to me directly,” said Stephen McMahon, a former math teacher at Pioneer High, and now head of the San Jose Unified teachers union.

If that doesn’t resolve the concern, or if the issue is mistreatment, educators suggest parents approach the principal or supervisor.

In some districts, a chorus of parent complaints may get a teacher transferred, in an annual swap some call “the dance of the lemons.” But tenure laws can protect even inept teachers from being fired or losing their credentials, unless they’ve been convicted of a violent or serious crime.

As a whole, California has been reluctant to join a growing national movement to strengthen teacher evaluations, which often are perfunctory. Once teachers pass their probationary stage, usually the first two years of teaching, they become protected by tenure.

School officials agree the process is slow, clunky and secretive, and may offer little satisfaction for parents worried about their children now.

Sometimes parents can ask to have their child transferred to another class. Others advise their kids to try to adapt, as Trunzo initially did. But after a few months his daughter started acting out, then broke down and cried that she didn’t want to go to school. Trunzo said he then complained to the principal, as did other parents.

Betty Olson-Jones, president of the Oakland Education Association, cautioned that teachers are increasingly getting a bad rap and defended the former Chabot teacher.

“We’re seeing an increase in parent complaints, which often are based on what children said and there is no investigation done. We are very concerned because the national climate now is to bash teachers,” she said. “Certainly there are some teachers who probably should not be in the classroom, but I don’t believe that you have one here.”

via What do you do when your child’s teacher is a dud? – San Jose Mercury News.

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