Every time I read an op-ed or letter to the editor arguing that good teachers have nothing to worry about if their evaluations are based on their students’ performance, I have to laugh. The truth is that even the best teachers can find themselves with an unsatisfactory rating and eventually find their mental/physical health destroyed (“Werribee Secondary College pays out six-figure sum to second teacher over workplace mistreatment,” The Age, Feb. 4).
The latest example comes from Melbourne, Australia, where the Werribee Secondary College (our version of high school) was ordered to pay $1 million to a teacher who suffered a nervous breakdown after being assigned too many classes of badly behaved students. The Victorian Supreme Court ruled that the school breached its duty of care because it gave the teacher an unending series of difficult classes, and failed to support him. This was the second such claim. A former teacher complained that she was assigned the worst students as punishment because she had raised her voice about workplace conditions.
This pattern of abuse is precisely why teachers need a strong union. I’ve written often before about events at Brooklyn Technical High School, where a bullying principal harassed even teachers with exemplary records to the point that they transferred out before their health was ruined. If these teachers didn’t have a union, they probably would have been fired or found themselves under a doctor’s care. This is not hyperbole. It happens wherever teachers find themselves alone.
The best way to prevent principals from giving the worst classes to teachers they don’t like for one reason or another is to have a policy of random assignment of students. Not only would this eliminate retaliation, but it would provide a fairer basis for determining the value added by teachers. But I doubt my recommendation will be adopted because principals are reluctant to yield power.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.