Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

Improving urban public education: 8 ideas from a veteran teacher

To succeed in any academic subject (and to become knowledgeable citizens), students must learn to read.

It’s hardly news that less than half of the kids in Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools are proficient in reading and math. Education “experts” have weighed in on this topic, but we haven’t often heard the perspective of classroom teachers. What follows are eight ideas for improving urban education; they’re based on what I learned from 34 years of teaching in public and private schools:

Bill Leslie

1) Provide one year of free preschool for all children from low-income families. Critics of urban public schools rarely acknowledge that many kids come to kindergarten already a year or more behind. “How is that possible?” you might ask. If prospective kindergarteners have not been read to at home, they’re behind. If they do not know that letters represent sounds and that numbers represent numerical values, they’re behind. If they have little experience with drawing and coloring, they’re behind. Preschool for everyone would help level the kindergarten playing field.

2) Cut district administrative costs to the bone; use the savings to pay for preschool and intensive reading instruction. Some years ago, I worked in a quasi-administrative capacity with the St. Paul Public Schools. It was my observation that there were roughly four levels of administration between the superintendent and the principals; I don’t think this situation has changed. Would anyone notice if we cut two of these levels? I doubt it.

3) Make reading education an absolute priority. To succeed in any academic subject (and to become knowledgeable citizens), students must learn to read. Starting in second grade, students who are significantly behind in reading should be put in small, intensive reading classes (no more than 10 students per class) for half of every school day until they catch up.

4) Make it easier to remove underperforming teachers (and principals). Most teachers work hard and do a fine job, but there are some who do not. Under the current teachers union agreement with the St. Paul Public Schools, it takes a principal at least one year of observations, documentation and meetings to remove an underperforming teacher (the equivalent of part-time job). Let’s give underperformers three months to improve their craft; if significant progress is not shown by the end of this time period, termination should immediately follow.

5) Layoffs (when necessary) should be based more on teacher quality and less on teacher seniority. It’s unconscionable to put anything other than teacher quality first when it comes to deciding which teachers should stay and which ones should move on. Many districts now require principals to evaluate teachers several times a year — let’s make use of that information.

6) Limit standardized testing to one week each school year. Students improve when they show up for school, stay at the same school and receive good instruction. Students are not helped by spending a month each year on standardized tests.

7) Allow teachers to take ownership of their instruction. Unfortunately, many school districts now take a top-down, “stick to the script” approach to supporting instruction. Successful schools value teacher input and encourage teachers (and students) to be creative, take risks and think outside the box.

8) Pay bonuses to teachers who serve in lower-achieving schools. Higher-achieving schools tend to attract the most highly regarded teachers; lower-achieving schools too often are left with inexperienced teachers and high staff turnover (a double whammy for students). To keep top teachers at lower-achieving schools, let’s make it worth their while by paying a $10,000 annual bonus.           

Urban teachers are practical, they work very hard, and they know a lot. They know that some urban kids need a preschool boost if they are to succeed in higher grades. They know that excellent teachers and strong principal leadership matter. They know that focused, sustained, small-group instruction matters. Improving urban education is not an impossible task — let’s make it happen.

Bill Leslie taught for 34 years in public and private schools around the Twin Cities, including 25 years with St. Paul Public Schools, before retiring three years ago.


If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (35)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/11/2015 - 08:40 am.

    I agree with most of what you say Bill, but what is Head Start if not free pre-school for low income kids?

    • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 05/11/2015 - 05:13 pm.

      And your problem with that is, Mr. Swift?

      And here I thought that the usual right wing objection was that nothing is free …

    • Submitted by Bill Leslie on 05/12/2015 - 09:57 am.

      Head Start

      Thanks for your comment. Head Start is certainly a step in the right direction, but it’s not universally available – there are waiting lists in some locations.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/11/2015 - 08:43 am.

    Holy crap

    Except for item one, I totally agree with this fellow (much to his chagrin, I’m sure.)

  3. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 05/11/2015 - 10:13 am.

    Perhaps the absence of your points 1 – 8 in MPS are…

    …contibutory causes of the horrid performance of our public schools.

    Developing and implementing these would most likely improve the performance of MPS schools.

    However, this doesn’t mean it will solve all the fundamental problems which our DREAMS tell us will be solved by better schools. There is a confusion in thinking that school performance is both necessary and sufficient to realize social and economic equality. It may be necessary, but it ain’t sufficient.

    Thanks to Mr. Leslie for his offerings here.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/11/2015 - 11:09 am.

      The objective

      shouldn’t be “social and economic equality.” It should be competence and self-reliance.

      Because eventually, a free society has a much better chance of becoming equal than an equal society has of becoming free.

  4. Submitted by jody rooney on 05/11/2015 - 10:33 am.

    Number 3 is what I consider the key point

    People who don’t read well or a lot are at a disadvantage in understanding the rest of the world.

    But I would also add that we should also make sure that kids can see to read. Vision screening is a part of school now but in chaotic homes glasses get broke or go missing. I would make sure that all children have their home and school pair of glasses so that they never are without glasses to read.

  5. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 05/11/2015 - 10:39 am.


    I have only one question. How do you identify an underperforming teacher?

  6. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 05/11/2015 - 11:09 am.

    great list of suggestions

    There must be something wrong though because here I find my self on the side of our two great conservative voices, Swift and Tester, and I find myself annoyed by the nit picking about glasses and DREAMS (whatever that means). Unfortunately I think that between the bureaucrats and liberal nit pickers nothing will get done.

    While we are adding DREAMS and glasses, let’s further encumber these great ideas with meals, parenting classes, class hours, ipads, and any other blah blah issue you can think of to weigh these down so much that nothing gets done. Form a committee, wait for a subcommittee to form a list of unspecific goals, have another subcommittee study to see if these goals fit in our “culture” and match with inclusiveness mandates, decide that nothing can go forward without an additional 100 million dollars, marinate it at the school board for a couple years, process it through at least two superintendents and then punt.

  7. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 05/11/2015 - 11:55 am.

    Those who have experience with inner-city public schools realize that the pay increase this author recommends for teachers who willingly go to tough, rough schools is simply too small to compensate them for the dangers they will face there.

    Further, in all the talk-radio and talk-TV discussions of how TERRIBLE our public school teachers are, no one seems ready to assess the negative impact all the right-wing blather about Teachers Being the Problem has had on recruitment. It’s never huge class sizes; it’s “underperforming teachers.” It’s never the astonishingly low teacher salaries, from get-go to retirement; it’s “underperforming teachers.” It’s never the glaring need for classroom support personnel in addition to the main teacher; it’s that the teacher can’t teach in the first place?

    Money talks. Public education at the classroom level is starved today in our country. That’s why more and more really bright young people never even consider teaching as a career, in public or (non-unionized) private schools. We need to get beyond the blaming of teachers, which is easy to do and lends itself to flame-throwing grandstand acts, and talk about how much we’re willing to cough up to support a public school system in the heart of the beast that is the inner city in the U.S.A. Where the little kids are never read to, they are often abused or neglected and see stuff children never should, but learn to imitate.

    I can’t understand why right-wingers and other assorted libertarians refuse to admit that millions of our urban children reach the age of five with at least a year or two of developmental disadvantage, and can’t catch up without extraordinarily expensive interventions..

    • Submitted by joe smith on 05/11/2015 - 07:25 pm.

      That is what Kindergarten was for, it was sold as a way to close the gap for 6yr old 1st graders. When pre-K doesn’t close the gap for 4 yr olds, there will be a call for 3 yr olds to be in school. If the left has their way parents won’t have anything to do with raising their own children.

  8. Submitted by Shar Fortunak on 05/11/2015 - 12:19 pm.


    I am tired of hearing about underperforming teachers. There are under performers in every line of work; look no further than the US Congress. Are there any under performers in state legislatures?

  9. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 05/11/2015 - 01:02 pm.

    #9 – Fund Kids instead of the trickle down union schools.

    • Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 05/12/2015 - 08:06 am.

      this means nothing…

      …other than to be a complaint about unions unless you are saying that the state should give little kids money directly.

  10. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/11/2015 - 01:38 pm.

    It ain’t (much) about the money

    Kudos to Mr. Leslie for at least putting some ideas out there. I have to go along with Jody Rooney’s point: command of the language enables and supports every other form of learning, so reading is, simply put, essential to the whole educational endeavor.

    I taught for 30 years (in another state), and was paid less than a trash collector every one of those 30 years. I’ve never reached median income in any community where I lived. If money were my primary motivation, I’d either have left teaching after a year, or more likely never become a teacher in the first place. That said, even in olden times, when parents and students both had at least a modicum of respect for the profession, I could never persuade the grocery store manager to accept the respect and affection of my students in exchange for food for my family. It’s not that money is unimportant, it’s that people become teachers – and remain teachers – for reasons that go beyond dollars and sense.

    Were it not so sad, it would be laughable to expect “superior” performance of a socially-essential task from people who are regularly ridiculed and negatively stereotyped. Offering a “bonus” of $10K to work in particular schools is not quite an insult, but almost, and it speaks volumes about the atmosphere – instructional and otherwise – that must exist in those schools. Most of what I’ve read in the educational literature in the past few years supports the notion that teachers in general are far more influenced by working conditions than they are by salary. I’m not going to turn down a “bonus” that boosts my annual income by 25%, but the very fact of offering such a “bonus” suggests that, first of all, I’m being significantly underpaid, and second, that the ambiance of that school must truly be poisonous. What’s the source of that poison, and why hasn’t it been eliminated? (hint: that’s a leading question)

    Finally, to second Shar Fortunak and go even farther, all the blather about underperforming teachers is little more than that: blather. Every job has people who do it well and people who struggle. The countries that routinely beat our brains out in international academic competitions do not fire teachers who aren’t doing well. They put them in training programs so that they will become better teachers. It’s an extraordinarily difficult job to begin with, made more difficult in this society by numerous other culturally-specific problems. Demanding, as many current “reformers” now do, that every teacher be “exceptional” is simply sophistry. There are no professions, from plumber to airplane pilot, wherein every practitioner is “exceptional.” More to the point, I doubt there are many professions that would be able to recruit new members successfully by advertising low pay, lousy working conditions, no control over what the work involves, and evaluation based on the performance of clients who did not choose to be clients.

    Most – not all, but the majority – of the most vocal critics of public education literally do not know what they’re talking about. Having sat in a classroom for a number of years is not the same thing as being responsible for that classroom for a number of years. Moreover, many of public education’s critics don’t care about education in the first place: they’re trying to undermine public education so that they can profit from its privatization (i.e., the reversion to the early 19th century), and if they have their way, the educational result will be religious and political indoctrination, and the shrinking of children’s minds rather than their expansion. If they’re successful, only the well-to-do will have well-educated children, just as was the case in this country in the 1840s.

  11. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/11/2015 - 02:11 pm.

    If It’s True that

    “Many districts now require principals to evaluate teachers several times a year,”…

    I’m having a hard time recognizing how this level of teacher evaluation can be squared with Mr. Leslie’s desire to “cut district administrative costs to the bone.”

    Just because Mr. Leslie wasn’t aware of what those on the district administrative task were doing, does NOT mean they were not doing useful and necessary work.

    Observing teachers takes TIME, whereas, a very large amount of administrative time in the rural schools I taught in and the suburban and urban schools my sons attended,…

    was taken up with issues involving unruly students and their parents,…

    curriculum planning and evaluation,…

    preparing budget requests, etc.

    In any given building it was clear how to gain a positive evaluation from those in charge (with a very few exceptions),…

    make their lives easy, by never asking them do to anything,…

    demonstrate respect and even admiration for them,…

    i.e. make THEM feel good,…

    tell others what a good job they were doing and how much you admired them, etc..

    By the way this works even better in business environments.

    I was never very good at kissing up in these ways, however, because I preferred being honest over and above “getting ahead,”…

    but those who were good at kissing up and who were willing to do so, NEVER received a bad performance review and,…

    in business settings, were often promoted over far more capable and hard working employees.

    In truth, the ONLY way teacher evaluation can actually be useful is if they’re carried out by third party experts,…

    experts who are VERY well versed in every possible teaching style,…

    VERY knowledgeable in every area of curriculum,…

    and VERY skilled at reading the circumstances in a classroom,….

    something akin to the state inspectors who regularly visit every nursing home for health code violations.

    Lacking that, and lacking sufficient time, energy, and, as is far too often the case knowledge in many curriculum areas,…

    the efforts of most local administrators to evaluate teachers will tend to be a day late, a dollar short, and clouded by whether or not they personally LIKE that teacher, or personally like better another teacher whose job might be cut.

    Of course for such a cadre of excellent teacher evaluators to be deployed, statewide, would be quite expensive,…

    which means our “conservative” commenters, here, would be adamantly opposed to such a system of TRUE and ACCURATE teacher evaluation,…

    as would some teachers who have gotten by through kissing up to their administrators and/or school board members,…

    and some administrators who truly enjoy requiring their teaching staff to kiss up to them in order to receive good evaluations.

    Considering the attitudes of some community members and school boards,especially in small rural schools,…

    who have sometimes been inclined to seek to get a good teacher fired because their son or daughter was failing a class, a failure which risked bumping them our of sports or music competitions,…

    or because that teacher was teaching factual information when mom and dad and their church preferred that their child only be taught things that reinforced what their religion held to be “true,”…

    and the attitudes of some administrators who seriously disliked any teacher who would NOT kiss up to them,…

    union protections are an absolutely necessary part of maintaining a successful, well-functioning teaching staff in any school system.

    Considering that teachers go through two solid years of more intensive evaluation and mentoring BEFORE they’re granted tenure,…

    it’s only REASONABLE that the dismissal of teachers whom some parents dislike (often for reasons OTHER than their teaching ability),…

    receive the benefit of careful observation and adequate due process before they lose their jobs,.

    If we remove such professional (i.e. UNION) protections from the teaching profession, I can guarantee that the quality of teaching and student achievement will drop like a rock, statewide,…

    which is, of course, likely to be what many of our “conservative” friends would like to see.

    After all, there’s a lot of money to be made in educating kids whose parents are willing and able to pay,…

    if those “conservatives” can just wrest the primary and secondary education systems out of the hands of the state,…

    and get their own grubby, slimy, profit-mongering hands on it.

    Then they can minimize their own tax liabilities by demanding reductions in funding for public education because the public schools systems are “inefficient” and “wasteful” and the teachers are “lazy,”…

    and we all know that EVERYONE works better and harder if you cut their pay! (snark intended).

    The more they tear down the public schools, the more money they make in the private schools they’re running.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

    (and WHEN, prey tell, are we EVER going to recognize this “conservative” attack and denigrate public schools in order to create a very profitable private school system scheme for the massive con game and scam that it is).

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/14/2015 - 12:18 pm.


      “professional (i.e. UNION) protections”?

      Sorry. Many professions do just fine without that bureaucracy and process. Let’s see. There are Engineers, Accountants, Lawyers, Finance, Scientists, etc professionals who are graded on their performance and results everyday. I always find it ironic that Teachers who are happy to test and grade students seem to have an irrational fear of being graded themselves.

      Please stop putting the Wants / Fears of the Adults before the Needs of the Unlucky Students.

  12. Submitted by Steve Barrett on 05/11/2015 - 07:28 pm.

    Yes! And here’s a few more

    All good ideas coming from an experienced teacher…A few more from an experienced parent that’s married to an experienced teacher: 1) stop providing salary increases for advanced education degrees – the main beneficiaries of these degrees are the night and online schools that provide them, not the kids in the classroom. 2) reduce staff development sessions that interfere with classroom instruction – kids have too many days off during the school year! 3) use paraprofessionals to lead physical eduction and redirect the savings to core subjects like reading and math…sorry gym teachers but the cost benefit ratio of your instruction is far lower than that of your colleagues in the classroom.

    • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 05/15/2015 - 08:08 am.


      Yeah, more reading and math. Then we can have more fat kids sitting in front of computers because they don’t know anything else. I think your cost-benefit analysis has the same flaws as national testing.

  13. Submitted by Barry Stern on 05/12/2015 - 10:55 am.

    Let’s not limit to our experience

    I wouldn’t disagree with any of Bill’s eight ideas for improving urban education, and some comments are on target as well. While we’re all products of our experience, we should not be bound by it. Consider the following:

    1. Replace the factory model comprehensive high school that 80-85% still attend. It has never worked for half the students, less in large cities. The replacement would look more like today’s high performance collaborative workplace, where people work in cross-disciplinary teams to solve problems, mine data to assess what works best at the least cost, use technology to help diagnose and improve performance, and continually try out new products and ways of doing business to maintain competitive edge. In such a school cohorts of students and teachers would remain together all/most of the school day and not scurry from one unrelated class to another and one teacher to another as they do now. Their mission would be to help one another succeed and get over the bar, just as our sports teams, orchestras and Navy Seals do.

    2. Get disciplines out of their silos, even basic language and math skills which can and should be taught together as the fundamentals of the workplace. One cannot be too good at fundamentals. Instructors would co-teach cross-disciplinary projects and lessons, and help students learn teamwork, time management and other workplace habits in the course of learning academics (for an example of how to do this, see and

    • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 05/15/2015 - 08:05 am.

      Great Comment

      While most people address problems in our schools by looking at teachers and administration, your comment is one of the rare ones that look to the root problem, our overly structured students.

      In the ‘real’ world, work is about making contacts and collaborations with those around you. In school, the emphasis is on out-performing the person in the seat next to you.

      One of my favorite stories is about Navy Seal training. In the classroom, there is an exercise area in the back. At any time during a two-hour class, Seal team members can get out of their seat, do pull-ups or push-ups for as long as they want, and sit back down. Know thy student.

  14. Submitted by Bill Leslie on 05/13/2015 - 04:11 pm.

    Blaming the teachers

    Thanks for your comments, everyone. I’d like to rebut several posts that complain that I seem to be “blaming the teachers” when I talk about making it easier to remove under-performing teachers. I offer my rebuttal by way of anecdote. Some years ago, a teacher who was clearly incompetent moved to “my” school in St. Paul. How did we know she was incompetent? This teacher had poor classroom management skills, her students spent little time on task, she was frequently late to school (causing others to have to cover her class), she did not keep good records of student achievement, and I could go on. The principal, who also was new to the school, investigated complaints about this teacher from parents and from other teachers, and then she undertook the arduous task (year-long, as it turned out) of at first trying to help the teacher and later trying to remove her when it became obvious that no amount of help would make a difference. Ultimately, the principal (who handled the process well and had the support of the staff), succeeded in removing the teacher in question, who, shockingly, had been working in the district for twenty years. No doubt, there are others like her teaching in St. Paul today. To dismiss this story as “blaming the teachers” is to deny reality . . . to bury your head in the sand. Other professions have a fair and expedient process for dismissing under-performing employees. Why can’t teaching? In my view, this is not “blaming the teachers” – it’s elevating the profession.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/14/2015 - 11:25 am.

      Excellent Piece

      Bill, Thank you for an excellent piece. We were discussing many similar ideas over here.

      One question I have is regarding “Let Teacher Take Ownership of the Instruction”, the challenge I see is that some Teachers seem to see that as enabling them to choose the content they want to teach in a class. They are fascinated with stars so their science class focuses on stars… How do you see constraining the content they teach while allowing them freedom to use a style/tools that work for them and the students in the class.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/18/2015 - 09:05 am.

      Burying heads?

      Other “professions” have labor contracts as well, ever tried to get rid of an under-performing CEO? If it were impossible to get rid of poor teachers you might have a point, but what you’ve described here with your anecdote is a process whereby a poor teacher was identified and removed from service. You just seem to think it took too long. You’ve got 8 suggestions here and you waste two of them advocating making it easier for inexperienced principles to fire teachers?

      This is supposed to be a piece about improving urban education systems. Than you give us a pet peeve as if lopping off a few months of administrative procedures for terminating a few bad teachers is a transformative idea of some kind. If you don’t think “bad” teachers are major problem why are you discussing them? And if you think “bad” teachers are the problem… then you are indeed blaming the teachers… not once, but twice in the same article.

  15. Submitted by Sue Timo-Stavenau on 05/15/2015 - 11:00 pm.

    Need for unbiased evaluations of teachers

    There really is no need to pass a law to eliminate or lessen the protection of teachers through seniority. There are numerous strategies used by administrators to cut competent teachers including those who had been recognized as “Teacher of the Year.”

    Here are some of the techniques used by local administrators:
    1. Change the employment contract so that senior teachers who had earned lane change credits have to re-earn their credits to advance on the salary schedule. This might mean they need an additional 45 credits at their own expense.
    2. Add extra work requirements so that senior teachers cannot complete necessary job details and perform successfully.
    3. Disallow senior teachers who are injured on the job from attending medical appointments after school by requiring them to attend nonessential meetings.
    4. Refuse to back senior teachers in discipline matters such as cheating on tests, copying other students’ papers, or improper use of the Internet.
    5. Direct senior teachers to use improper teaching techniques and then cite the teachers for poor student performance.
    6. Set a minimum number of teachers who can receive poor performance evaluations each year and direct those evaluations toward senior teachers.
    7. Schedule senior teachers at the high school and middle school levels in multiple classrooms so that they have to travel from room to room each hour.
    8. Split senior teachers between buildings with the travel time counting as prep time.
    9. Assign a disproportionate number of students with serious behavior issues into the senior teachers’ classrooms.
    10. Direct students in higher grades to demand information from the senior teachers about their grades every day at the beginning of class to interrupt the lesson.
    11. Take senior teachers’ answer books for detailed projects off their desks after school without their knowledge and keep them hidden in the administrators’ offices. Then write the teachers up for not completing lessons on time.
    12. Provide the senior teachers with computer equipment and software that is not functional and write the teachers up for not following the lesson plan. Tell parents that the teachers just do not know how to use the equipment.
    13. Change the teachers’ schedules the day before the trimester or semester begins so that the teachers will be teaching a class they have never taught.
    14. Do not place the order for the teachers’ materials until after the school year begins.
    15. Forbid the senior teachers in higher grade levels from correcting papers during class time while students are working independently but allow younger teachers to do so.
    16. Make numerous drop-in visits to the teachers’ classrooms and criticize the teachers in front of their students.
    17. Do not allow senior teachers to store classroom materials in file cabinets or closets. Direct the teacher to store materials at home.
    18. Direct the senior teachers to inventory and remove all books and materials from a classroom so a different teacher can use the classroom without providing a space to move the materials to. Take photos of the teachers’ desks with those materials stacked up on them during the summer and make the photos and disparaging remarks part of those teachers’ evaluations.
    19. Call the teachers at home and leave a message that the families hear on their answering machine that the teachers will be placed on evaluation. That message is more effective if it can be left on the birthday of one of the family’s children.
    20. If the senior teachers have any kind of disability refuse to make minimal accommodations that were directed by their vocational rehabilitation specialist.
    21. Open senior teachers’ personal mail. When questioned state that it is necessary to know what teachers are doing.
    22. Place higher grade students in the senior teachers’ classes who have a history of missing an excessive number of days then criticize the teachers for their lack of performance.
    23. Demand that seniors teach from “bell to bell” then criticize the teacher for not spending time to answer individual students’ questions.
    24. Never allow senior teachers to sit down during class time but allow younger teachers to do so.
    25. Interfere with the teachers’ prep time by having the secretary call the teacher down to the office then have the teacher wait in the office while the administrator is unavailable.
    26. Refuse to allow an independent observer to view the teachers’ teaching ability when there is a question about their performance.
    27. Make or allow baskets of students’ uncorrected papers disappear from the teachers’ offices and offer no explanation for their disappearance.
    28. Support comments made by younger teachers and students that older teachers should be eliminated.
    29. Tell senior teachers that they look “tired” and should leave to do something else.
    30. Question or criticize the senior teachers frequently to intimidate and bully them.
    31. Tell senior teachers that they should retire.
    32. Communicate about senior teachers using other than the school district email so there is no paper trail of any discriminatory procedures.
    33. Find creative but cruel ways to sabotage senior teachers’ work.
    34. Enlist younger, less senior teachers to interfere with the senior teachers’ work to ensure own ability to retain their jobs. Turn less senior teachers against senior teachers.
    35. Exclude senior teachers from important decision and policy making forums or downplay the value of their input.
    36. Place inaccurate and false comments in senior teachers’ evaluations.
    37. Retaliate against the senior teachers if they question their evaluations. Union reps will then counsel the senior teachers to resign rather than to “have the dogs set on them.”
    38. Retaliated against teachers who express concerns about water dripping through ceilings and mold growing in cabinets and ventilation systems.

    Until we have administrators who can competently evaluate teachers without bias, we cannot ascertain that students are being served by the best teachers. “When Teachers Talk” by Rosalynn Schnall reveals how many teachers were bullied by administrators. The students suffer.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/16/2015 - 08:24 am.

      Do Not Disagree

      Here is my view. “And if the Administrators fail to deliver good Teacher engagement and Student results, let’s make it easy to replace them. I am happy to give the Public schools more money if they start putting the student’s needs before the wants of the adults.”

      However you are missing the point. If one gets rid of the whole silly seniority based compensation and job security system, all of your issues become less likely and less important. With that gone, if a Teacher is unhappy with an administrator / school they can apply elsewhere and get a job based on their qualifications and capability. Just like we do in the private sector.

      Currently with tenure, steps and lanes, older Teachers are paid significantly more, and more secure in their positions… Whereas I would like better Teachers in challenging class rooms to be paid significantly more, and more secure in their positions… Maybe some day.

      Currently with tenure, steps and lanes, older Teachers are pressured to stay in schools /positions that they dislike for fear of losing tenure and higher than market pay. Whereas I would like older Teachers to be paid market rate based on capability and the challenge level of the students and the curriculum, so then Teachers can seek happier situation as they wish. Not feel trapped each day, which I think is a miserable thing for them and the kids.

  16. Submitted by Sue Timo-Stavenau on 05/17/2015 - 12:15 am.

    Teacher Transferability

    It is important not to oversimplify the reasons why tenure was instituted for teachers.

    Tenure has helped to lower the rate of teachers being fired for personal, political, or other non-work related issues. To this day, principals continue to dismiss teachers or force them to resign to make room for the hiring or retention of friends. Tenure has somewhat helped to make this more difficult.

    In times of cutbacks such as those experienced by a large number of school districts, tenure makes it more difficult but not impossible for school districts to fire talented and experienced teachers to hire less expensive and less experienced teachers. Experience does help make a teacher a better teacher just as experience helps a worker in private industry become a better worker. The continuing education that a teacher completes is there to increase the knowledge a teacher has about his/her subject matter and to learn better teaching techniques. That knowledge benefits the students.

    Where does a talented 50-year-old teacher go when being pressured to quit due to cutbacks? Will the 30-year-old principal in the districts that might have an opening lean toward hiring the older teacher or chose to hire someone fresh out of college? There is probably more age discrimination in education than in private industry.

    Regarding the issue of pay, independent studies show that teachers earn 15% less or more than people in private industry with the same education and experience. When I accepted my first job as a teacher I turned down two job offers in private industry that would have been more secure and paid 25% more per year. I also would not have had to spend nights and weekends preparing for class and correcting papers. I would not have had to spend summers writing curriculum and completing coursework to stay updated on my subject matter and teaching summer school when jobs were available. I did these things because I was dedicated to the teaching profession and the best education of students was my number one priority.

    Anyone who thinks teaching is an easy job needs to experience teaching for a couple weeks. A large number of prospective teachers choose a different profession after experiencing student teaching. Taking away tenure, which is not a guarantee of job protection, will discourage even more prospective teachers from entering the profession. Coursework and training as a teacher is not always aligned with the background needed to land a job in private industry.

    Teachers in increasing numbers are being injured on the job. A very large percent of these teachers end up being forced to resign without compensation. There are more incidences of student violence and teachers are injured breaking up fights and protecting students from the attacks of other students. School districts successfully keep reports of teacher injuries out of public view and vigorously fight workers compensation claims.

    Teachers know that private industry does not guarantee employees will be able to retain their jobs. Perhaps what is needed is more job security in private industry for those who are doing their jobs well. A large percent of recent college graduates feels they will have to wait a long time before they will be secure enough to purchase a home and start a family.

    Inroads have already been made to make teaching a less secure occupation. Why should we discourage even more talented candidates to enter the profession?

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/17/2015 - 09:38 am.

      Different Perspective

      I believe that the current seniority based system discourages some of the best candidates from becoming Teachers, and is very bad for the unlucky students who need the best Teachers.

      The people who choose to become Teachers in MN are those who are okay with starting with a low wage, being subject to work rules and only maximizing their income decades later after attaining additional degrees that may or may not make them a more effective Teacher.

      This means that anyone like myself who is highly internally and externally motivated to work harder /longer to attain better results is unlikely to even apply. In private non-union industry I was free to work as hard as I wished and my employer was free to reward my attaining results. I work with many older Engineers who make less than I do because of my capabilities, attitude and high performance.

      And I agree that subjective terminations occur. I was terminated at ~48 yrs old by someone I think was a terrible Mgr because I was expensive and our personalities did not mesh. Since I was paid the correct amount based on the market, not some arbitrary steps/lanes amount, I was employed again in a better situation within 4 mths.

      Finally, the idea that the highest paid Teachers in Mpls can avoid the most challenging schools because of their seniority should be criminal. If these senior Teachers are the best of the best, then they should be working with the kids that need them most.

  17. Submitted by Sue Timo-Stavenau on 05/18/2015 - 12:12 am.

    Best of the Best Retention

    A challenging school likely includes some very common scenarios. The students may come from high poverty neighborhoods where they are afraid to walk out on the streets day or night. In fact, they might even be living on the street. They may lack parental supervision or discipline and receive the only nutritious food during the school day and when school is in session. Drugs may be bought or sold in their home on nearby on the street. Some students may be subjected to beatings by parents who lack parenting skills or otherwise abused by others in their environment. Some may be responsible for taking care of younger siblings while their parents are working nights and weekends in low paying jobs. Some might lack language skills or have cognitive disabilities. The principals in their schools might lack the background and experience to properly work to improve learning and teaching strategies. The school may be lacking in current technology or aides to assist struggling students. Students may enter and leave the school at any time during the year or have excessive absences.

    Working in a challenging school is a high stress and burnout occupation both physically and mentally. Moving more experienced teachers to high challenging schools without giving them the proper support will only lead to more experienced teachers leaving the profession. The key, then, is to assure that all teachers and administrators in challenging schools get the support and training they need to help their students succeed. A staff that is provided what it needs is better able to help its students.

  18. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/18/2015 - 09:23 am.


    You don’t fix mediocrity with more mediocrity I’m afraid. 30+ years and THIS is what we get from a “veteran” teacher? We should be teaching ALL the students how to read? We should have good teachers? We should manage terminations and lay-offs differently? Free preschool?

    How about we design an educational curriculum that teaches students how to think critically? How bout instead of solving the problem of laying teachers off we figure out how to keep teachers working and giver them the resources they need to do their jobs? How bout instead of making easier to fire allegedly bad teachers we figure out how to attract and retain talented teachers? Free preschool may not be a bad idea why can’t we have a system that knows how to deal with new students that are less prepared than others? Maybe instead of spending so much time trying to make it easier to fire teachers we could give teachers the resources they need to bring less prepared children up to speed? Isn’t the school system supposed to serve all who come?

    We already have a procedure for identifying and terminating “bad” teachers. What we don’t have is a system that educates the students. Clearly firing a few bad teachers withing three months instead of nine isn’t going to transform the system. Maybe we should focus on education instead of pet peeves.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/18/2015 - 09:42 am.

      You may be surprised

      I think treating Teachers like individuals rather than replaceable cogs in a rule bound machine may do wonders. However the Education MN group is determined to fight this. They insist that degrees and years define the cog, it’s worth and where it needs to be placed.

      For the good of the unlucky kids, hopefully this changes sooner than later.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/18/2015 - 10:23 am.

        Yes John….

        “At will” cogs are so much happier than cogs with labor contracts.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/18/2015 - 04:43 pm.

          Pluses and Minuses

          I know this “cog” is. If I am unhappy at work, I am free to look elsewhere for a better situation. And the compensation will usually be similar or more.

          The idea of being trapped in a position in order to maintain my tenure would be terribleness.

  19. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/18/2015 - 09:37 am.

    Outside the box

    7) Allow teachers to take ownership of their instruction.

    We had that in the 70s. Then everyone bought into the conservative hysteria about failing schools and getting back to basics. That’s when we abandoned innovation and experimentation and adopted the standardized top-down curriculum model. Then we inflicted amnesia on ourselves and decided that charter schools were the only way to “innovate” in education. Now we pretend that proposals to raise the bar to minimum standards (i.e. teaching EVERYONE how to read) are radical proposals.

Leave a Reply