Many principals have a teacher like the teacher I faced. By our district's standards, he was doing a "satisfactory" job. However, he did not share our school's vision that all students are able to learn. He had given up on -- and was negative toward -- several of his most challenged students.
One teacher on my staff does a "satisfactory" job in many ways, but I did not think he was a good fit for our school. I felt he did not share the same philosophy or vision that the rest of us share for our school. Our philosophy is that all students can learn; our staff takes seriously their responsibilities for finding the correct tools and approaches to ensure that all students progress to the highest level of their abilities.
This teacher, however, made it clear that several of his students who had been identified with special needs could not keep up and learn in his class. Often, he was negative with those students. The students knew he felt they were difficult and limited. As principal, that did not sit well with me at all. I made suggestions about approaches or materials he might use, and I encouraged him to read materials by experts in the field -- but the desired changes still did not occur.
In all fairness to the teacher, his teaching skills -- as assessed on observation forms using our established rubric -- fell in the "satisfactory" range overall. He wrote good and detailed plans, and he did a good job with most of his students. I recognized that the observation data I held would not meet our district's standards for termination.
In the spring, my assistant principal and I met with the teacher. It was clear to us that he had had a very difficult year. We shared our concerns for his students and for him. We encouraged him to apply for a transfer to a school/position where his students would not have the special needs that some of our students have. While we were most diplomatic and careful in our word choice, we were adamant that we would not go through another year with the same concerns. We were very fortunate. Our suggestion worked. He applied for and received a transfer to a position in which he will work with more able students.
It was very difficult for us to confront the teacher again. We knew that the first step to solving the problem was for him to recognize the need for change. We dreaded the meeting because we knew he did not see the problem the same way we did. When considering the upcoming meeting, I knew I would have to put my foot down -- carefully.
As much as we dreaded the meeting, all three of us kept calm. The assistant principal and I did not "gang up." Instead, we concentrated on what was best for the teacher. Our point was that a happy teacher is reflected in happy, productive students. He seemed to appreciate our calmness as well as our concern for his well-being. We wish him well in his new position.
About the How I Handled... Team of Principal Problem Solvers
The How I Handled... series is intended to be practical resource for all principals and principals-to-be. Each week, members of Education World's How I Handled team share how they solved actual problems relating to school leadership, parent involvement, professional development, and a host of other "principal" responsibilities. How I Handled team members are anonymous; in that way, they can share freely the range of issues/problems they are called on to solve each day.