District defends aid given to teachers who struggle early

Lockwood dismissal puts focus on policies, `unsatisfactory' firings

June 11, 2000|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Many educators agree that, for a new teacher, the first two years often are the hardest.

"You can teach for 20 years and it never becomes an easy job," said Barbara Allen, a Howard County staff development facilitator. "But those first two years are very, very difficult. It's more than just teaching in the classroom. It's meetings that have to be attended, record keeping, working with parents, learning new curriculum. They spend hours and hours of planning. It is very challenging."

So it's no surprise that from 1993 to last year, about 14 percent of Howard County teachers -- a total of 287-- left the district within their first two years on the job.

Some moved out of the county. Some got better jobs, got sick or got married.

In 14 of those cases, the school district found them "unsatisfactory" and asked -- or told -- them to leave.

The recent firing of Glenwood Middle School teacher Kristine Lockwood has called attention to the district's policies on new teachers who are deemed unsatisfactory.

Lockwood, a seventh-grade language arts teacher in her second year, has filed an appeal of her dismissal with the state Board of Education, which is in the process of alerting Howard County school officials so they can respond.

While they are unable to discuss Lockwood's case specifically because of personnel confidentiality, district officials agree that during the non-tenured years -- two years for most, three for some -- new teachers and the principals that hired them often find they've made a mistake

During the probationary non-tenured years, school districts are not legally required to give any reason for dismissing a teacher.

"The idea of tenure, non-tenure is something that most states, most districts have. So this is not unique," said director of elementary schools Tricia Tidgewell, who worked on the district's most recent updating of the teacher evaluation process. "It's an opportunity not only for the employer to look at the employee to see if it's a good match, but also for the employee to look at the situation to see if it's a good match for them."

But the district does have a layered and lengthy system in place for new teachers designed to help them through those first two years, Tidgewell said.

All teachers are evaluated, but non-tenured teachers are formally observed more often --at least twice a semester -- and given a written evaluation, based on those classroom visits, at least twice a year.

New teachers are required to develop yearly goals, as experienced ones are, but they're given more help by administration and support staff, she said.

Teachers who have trouble meeting their goals -- usually aligned with the district's goals -- have to help develop an "action plan." The plan is usually implemented after the teacher's first unsatisfactory evaluation. It is meant to assist the struggling teacher by focusing on all unsatisfactory areas, setting up objectives and a timeline for improvement and pointing the teacher to any number of mentors and support staff for one-on-one help.

"The purpose of the [action plan] is not to terminate somebody," Tidgewell said. "The purpose is to help them with their professional growth."

Most times, Tidgewell said, the action plan helps.

"Most people that are on action plans do improve in the particular area or areas and they grow professionally and become good teachers," she said. "But there are some, that regardless of whatever support, for whatever reason, they do not come up to the high standards that we have."

Those teachers generally leave on their own, said Mamie J. Perkins, the district's director of human resources. But some have to hear from their principal and Superintendent Michael E. Hickey that their contract won't be renewed for the next year.

Though it is not official district policy, many teachers first are given the option to resign before the next step of non-renewal. On official hiring-and-separation reports, many of the reasons for those resignations are marked "personal."

From 1993 to last year, 287 teachers resigned within the first two years of teaching. Of those, 77 resignations were marked for "personal" reasons.

Officials said that's how many of the unsatisfactory teachers, who resigned because they were asked, get filed. The "personal" classification shouldn't keep them from getting jobs elsewhere."`Personal' can mean a lot of reasons," she said. "That's why we use the word personal; it's a catch-all. Sometimes it might be a health issue that they don't want to discuss. Sometimes it might be something going on at home."

Probably fewer than five teachers each year are asked to resign because they are unsatisfactory, Perkins said.

Lockwood refused to resign

Lockwood said she was given the option to resign, but refused because she did not have an opportunity to consult with her teachers' union representative and because she wanted to stay at Glenwood.

Lockwood takes issue with how many times she was observed by district administrators and support staff .

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