Here's why I quit teaching at a Baltimore high school

August 03, 1993|By Peter Robbins

This is a teacher's letter of resignation from Baltimore Cit schools.

I SPENT the last year teaching in one of Baltimore's comprehensive high schools. Based on my experiences as a newcomer, I'd like to offer a few recommendations for changing a system which, on the face of it, seems not to be working. For reasons implicit in the following, I will not be returning as a classroom teacher in the fall.

* Shrink school size. The school where I taught had 1,400 students, not large, perhaps, by today's standards, but schools of this size breed anonymity and disrespect. Students don't know teachers, teachers don't know students and neither group feels any connection with the administrators who for the most part concern themselves with plant operations, public relations and discipline. A smaller school allows a greater level of personal contact all around, and inevitably fosters a greater sense of involvement, responsibility and mutual respect.

* Get tough. Tenured or not, bad teachers have to go. Since these nonfunctional educators do not leave on their own accord, they need to be forced out. Teachers certainly deserve decent, even aggressive representation, but in defending the personal interests of all teachers, the union has made it all but impossible to remove the bad ones. This is a serious disservice to the real constituents of the school system -- the students. What is needed is a new system for weeding out incompetents, one that is speedier and less costly than the current system, and which, while protecting the rights of teachers, at least considers the evaluations of the students.

* Come clean. Instead of trying to hide the school's deficiencies, principals and other administrators need to own up to them. Everyone knows this school is not doing the job (and I have no reason whatsoever to think it is unique). Owning up to the fact is a minimum but absolutely necessary first step toward doing something about it. Students, parents and taxpayers deserve to know what they are getting. The school bureaucrats, who are widely seen as inaccessible, inefficient and uncommunicative, would have to benefit from the good will that comes from frank and honest dialogue. A community that has been lied to will be cynical, and a cynical community will never be an involved or supportive one.

* Expect success. While admitting their immediate failures, the schools must still expect success from themselves and their students. Educators have lowered their standards so much that students don't have to work to succeed. Some administrators seem to be grateful to students merely for their attendance. (I've heard that over the intercom a number of times: "Today was a good day; thank you all for coming to school.") At effective high schools attendance is expected; success is praised.

When reflecting upon such a muddled and sluggish bureaucracy, the stars who remain are the truly great teachers -- the capable and the concerned. Thank them and look to them for hope.

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