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This is the 14th IAE Newsletter
in a series on Credibility and
Credibility and Validity of Information Part 14
Assessing and Responding to Marginal Teachers
Retired Superintendent of Schools
The International Olympics
uses an objectively valid system to select medalists in timed and
distance events (e.g., running), and a different subjectively credible
system to select medalists in events that are based mostly on a
performer's style (e.g., figure skating). One would think that
identifying the capabilities of students and teachers could be
Alas, it's not that simple. An earlier IAE free downloadable book on
Common Core State Standards explored the complex issue of developing
valid/credible ways to measure student success (Moursund &
Sylwester, 2013). This article focuses on how to determine who are
marginal teachers, and how to improve their skills.
Marginal teachers are exasperating. For example, parents complain and
ask that their child be moved to a different teacher. A marginal
teacher's poor instructional and classroom management skills reduce
student learning. Student misbehavior, including bullying, is often
Unfettered use of Smartphones and computer tablets can similarly become
a significant distraction. Parents and colleagues now expect technology
to be used positively to facilitate interactive instruction and group
work (Gleave, 2014). Parents get upset if they discover these
deficiencies in their children’s teachers. Colleagues often have mixed
feelings about a marginal teacher, liking the teacher personally but
aware of deficiencies. It's thus often not one thing, but the aggregate
of deficiencies that defines a marginal teacher.
As a school district superintendent, I always expected that a marginal
teacher and the teacher’s principal would resolve issues. Alas,
solutions were often multifaceted and thus very challenging.
Administrators have three obvious remedies: negotiated resignation,
dismissal, or helping a marginal teacher to improve. Teaching
improvements that remedy deficiencies would obviously satisfy all
parties. Resignation or dismissal usually follows a prolonged
evaluation of a substandard or marginal teacher. Let's examine the
three possibilities within the context of three case studies that
contain some elements of real life supervision experiences.
Resigning with Dignity
Ted was a long-time personal friend and a former teaching colleague. He
could retire but chose to continue teaching (in an affluent community).
His 5th grade teaching and management skills were now marginal. They
were tuned to an earlier period, ignoring current provincial
requirements and cultural changes. Parents expressed their concerns.
Students were bored and misbehaved. Unfortunately, at this stage in his
career Ted wasn't interested in making the effort to change his
approach to meet current professional expectations. The level of
criticism was credible: Nice person, poor teacher.
The principal asked that he be assigned to a different school to get a
fresh start. The central office assigned him to an inner city school as
an extra teacher. The principal assigned him to a small fourth grade
classroom and visited his class at least once every morning and
afternoon to monitor and assist Ted and his students. He also
personally began the students' mornings with physical exercise so that
they were ready to sit quietly in class.
Ted’s teaching became acceptable with this high level of support.
However, Ted's school got a new principal the following year. He
assigned Ted to a regular classroom and eliminated intensive
supervision and support. His annual evaluation then indicated that
Ted's teaching was consistently substandard, and he recommended
I reviewed all the data we had on Ted and found it valid and credible.
When Ted met me in my office, I reaffirmed my friendship and my respect
for his commitment to teaching over his career. I told him that his
principal recommended dismissal. His teaching would be re-evaluated for
possible dismissal the following year. It was his choice but as a
friendly colleague I recommended that he retire with his dignity and
reputation intact. He immediately responded that he intended to resign
the next day. We reaffirmed our friendship and mutual respect as he
left my office to begin the next phase of his life.
Dismissing an Incompetent Teacher
Rod was a grade nine science teacher. He demonstrated subject
matter expertise, and skillfully used guided and independent practice
followed by testing and remedial teaching. Students excelled in his
class. His classroom control was exceptional. These positive attributes
were viewed as valid and credible. Supervisory research
(Darling-Hammond, et al., 2012) supports these attributes as effective.
Unfortunately, Rod’s interpersonal relations with students and parents
were decidedly autocratic. Supervisory research (Darling-Hammond, et
al., 2012) supports this concern. Collaborative rather than autocratic
classroom management is most effective for student learning. Students
and parents occasionally complained to the principal about Rod’s
interpersonal relations, which added credibility to this concern.
One day Rod became exasperated and permanently removed a student from
his class. The current issues with this student included being late and
insolent. In fact, he had a long history of misbehaviour including
being late for class, off task behaviour, chatting during instruction,
texting friends in class, and rudeness. The student’s mother complained
about this expulsion to the assistant principal. The assistant
principal investigated and reinstated the student with a set of clear
expectations and consequences for future misbehaviour. Rod was incensed
and informed the principal that he would not accept the student back
into his classroom.
The principal contacted me, and I visited Rod in his classroom. I
confirmed that the student’s behaviour was clearly unacceptable. I told
Rod that I supported the assistant principal’s plan to deal with any
future misconduct. I also made it clear that a teacher does not have
the authority to permanently expel a student from class. I reaffirmed
the principal’s authority in this matter and gave Rod a letter
documenting my decision. He responded that he refused to accept
my decision. I wrote Rod a letter suspending him until he and the
student returned to the classroom. He appealed his suspension and
refused to return if the student was readmitted. I decided to lift
Rod’s suspension and I immediately transfer him to a new school for a
fresh start. Rod bitterly refused this directive. He was immediately
dismissed for being absent without leave and for being insubordinate.
Rod unsuccessfully appealed his dismissal to the Board of Education and
a provincially legislated board of appeal.
Moving a Teacher from a Marginal to an Acceptable Level
A professional colleague contacted me to arrange instructional coaching
for Bev, who was teaching in a small town near Saskatchewan. She had
been a respected teacher in the school district. However, a
professional malaise had set into her classroom performance. She now
seemed bored, rather than enthused, about teaching. Parents preferred
not have their children in her classroom. Her classroom curriculum and
instruction were dated. Bev had become strident in dealing with her
grade three students. The superintendent accepted the above concerns as
valid and credible
The school district superintendent thought that in-classroom coaching
by five exemplary grade three teachers in our city schools would
complement the principal’s developmental supervision. Bev received one
day a week coaching over a protracted period of time. These visits by
our district teachers invigorated her teaching career. She was
motivated and modernized by the coaching experiences she experienced.
Indeed, she maintained an ongoing professional association with two of
My superintendent colleague told me at the end of the year that Bev was
once again enthused about teaching. She was beginning to use the
up-to-date curriculum and instruction she had observed in the
progressive teachers’ classrooms.
Credible and Valid Supervision for Marginal Teachers
Successful responses to Ted, Rod, and Bev depended on useful and
persuasive supervision. Administrative responses to marginal teaching
must be grounded in a clear understanding of what is most important and
what works in the classroom. Research on instructional effectiveness
provides this valid and credible grounding for supervisory and
Research findings provide a great starting point for improvement
efforts. Darling-Hammond, et al. (2012) has identified seven features
from instructional research:
Demonstrating expertise with the subject matter;
Connecting to prior student learning;
Providing models and learning platforms;
Guided and independent practice;
Ongoing diagnosis and re-teaching;
Frequent testing, feedback and correction; and
Collaborative classroom management.
Improvement begins when these findings are used
as a credible and valid starting point for responding to marginal
teaching. Peer coaching, portfolio development, interdisciplinary
study, and cooperative learning are effective developmental supervision
approaches to increase teacher competence. Current research in
cognitive neuroscience supports these approaches and suggests
complementary ways to assist marginal teachers learn and teach
effectively (Sylwester, 1995).
Dismissal and voluntary resignation require that teacher evaluation be
accurate and consistent. Darling-Hammond, et al. (2012) reported that
current evaluation platforms are accurate when the seven research
findings listed above are the basis for assessment and appraisal. She
also endorses regular classroom observations throughout the year by a
school principal who is trained in using the factors above.
My decade of experience as a superintendent of schools convinced me
that firing an incompetent teacher occurred infrequently. When
necessary, it was often a brutal and painful process for everyone
involved. The difficulty and pain are magnified when a teacher is
marginally competent, as opposed to incompetent. Performance evaluation
can leave any teacher distressed, confused, and anxious. Helping a
teacher improve is a far more effective and satisfying alternative for
all involved. References
Darling-Hammond, L., Amrein-Beardsley, A., Haertel, E., & Rothstein, J. (February, 2012). Evaluating teacher evaluation. Phi Delta Kappan.
Sylwester, R. (1995). A celebration of neurons: An educator’s guide to the human brain. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Doug Gleave served as
superintendent of staff development and superintendent of schools in
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, for twenty-three years. He now writes
professional articles. His Ph.D. is from the University of Oregon.
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