IN REACTION to your series on conditions in Baltimore city schools, "Bright Faces, Fading Dreams," the Baltimore Teachers Union has called for a boycott of The Sun and Evening Sun this week. Specifically, the BTU objects to one of the stories highlighting the difficulty of firing incompetent, tenured teachers.
Irene Dandridge, the BTU president, admits that there are incompetent teachers in the system. She cites a case where a teacher came to her looking for help, and her thought was, "Who hired you?"
It is a good question. The first line of defense against poor teachers should be the city schools' personnel office. When I was hired in 1974, I was told that 50 special education teachers were needed immediately. We gathered in large groups and were rubber-stamped into the system. Our college grades, our student teaching experience and our ability were never questioned. In the group was a teacher who had been fired by Baltimore County the previous year, a matter that did not seem to work against him.
In the past six years, only three of some 4,500 tenured teachers have been fired. The numbers speak for themselves. In such a large pool of professionals in any field, there are bound to be more than three people who, for whatever reason, just can't meet minimum standards. Teachers are no different.
Other professions have developed procedures for disciplining colleagues so that incompetents are not allowed to practice. The attorney grievance commission, for example, examines situations where lawyers are accused of incompetence, negligence or fraud. Physicians, too, must answer to their peers if they are suspected of being incapable of meeting the demands of their profession. Wouldn't it make sense for teachers to establish a system within their profession not only to discipline their peers, but also to offer assistance to teachers who are struggling?
Imagine how demoralizing it is to know that no matter how poorly you perform, no matter how badly you conduct yourself at work, you have a less than .0001 percent chance of being fired. Anyone who has had the experience of working with someone who is unable to do a job can surely appreciate how awful it is to know that incompetent co-workers more than likely will never get their "come-uppance."
Rather than organizing boycotts, perhaps the BTU would be using its time and its members' dues more wisely if it chose to find ways to enhance the teaching profession. Its protest of The Evening Sun's reports of a few incompetent teachers ignores the fact that the newspaper also brought to the public's attention the legions of wonderful city teachers and administrators who work every day in unbearable conditions and against great odds to teach the children who need them so desperately.
The first step in solving a problem is to identify it, and "Bright Faces, Fading Dreams" did this well. One hopes that the Baltimore Teachers Union, instead of organizing boycotts, will find ways to become part of the solution.
Sharon Sweeney Keech is publisher of Baltimore's Child.