We are currently in an unprecedented debate about teacher evaluations, tenure and what it takes to dismiss a poor teacher. There is a case in Florida that is presented in the usual manner, but after a little digging I find the story misses the point because it is entirely focused on alleged misconduct, while the question of routine negligence and indifference goes unmentioned.
Joyce Quiller is a veteran math teacher for the Duval County Public Schools. She teaches high school students in the district’s Bridge to Success program, which enrolls “students who exhibit problems traceable to social, emotional, physical, and developmental conditions which impede the learning process.” In other words, she has a tough classroom.
Last January, seven of Quiller’s students accused her of using profanity towards them in class. They also claimed Quiller, who is African-American, called them the n-word. The district opened an investigation of the charges. Quiller had been disciplined for profanity in the past and after interviewing the students and educators with some knowledge of Quiller’s classroom school district officials decided to terminate her employment.
Quiller denied the allegations. She and her union attorney filed a complaint and a judge ruled the district skipped a step in the contracted discipline process. She should have been suspended without pay, and not terminated. She is now eligible for reinstatement.
There is something for both sides in this story. Either you believe a teacher was wrongly accused by troubled students, or you believe it’s impossible to fire a teacher even if she uses the n-word. And there is no video recording to ascertain the truth either way.
But after examining the district’s investigation report, I found the mundane details of Quiller’s classroom practices strike to the heart of the problem. Those details came entirely from adults, Quiller’s co-workers and superiors.
Assistant Principal Nicole Micheau assigned Vernachele Walton, the school’s math director, to observe Quiller’s class.
Ms. Walton also stated to Ms. Quiller she had no board configuration, no student work displayed, the classroom was messy with books, and trash and calculators were all over the floor…. Furthermore, Ms. Walton noticed there were only four grades in Ms. Quiller’s grade book, and stated to Ms. Quiller her lesson plan book had a serious lack of lesson plans. In response to Ms. Walton’s comments, Ms. Quiller stated there were too many books in her classroom, there were student schedule problems, she didn’t have any books, she had too many papers to grade, she could not make grade submission deadlines, she did not have the time, and she was overwhelmed. Ms. Walton again stated to Ms. Quiller, one easy step would be for her to clean her classroom. Ms. Quiller replied she did not do manual labor. AP Micheau ended up getting other staff members to clean up Ms. Quiller’s classroom.
Quiller gave failing grades to 108 of the 140 students she taught this year. She gave more than 90 percent of her students either “D”s or “F”s.
In response, Quiller claimed the assistant principal has a vendetta against her.
Maybe Quiller is the victim here, but the available evidence, including the grades she herself is handing out, indicates effective learning is not taking place in her classroom. Should the district proceed with the status quo anyway? Should it reassign Quiller? Rehabilitate her? Get rid of her? Reevaluate the Bridge to Success program?
Meanwhile, most of these students will not get a second chance to learn geometry or algebra. We should not be surprised when others like them also turn to the courts for relief.