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From near and far, responses pour in to “‘Bad’ Teacher” essay

We want to extend a warm welcome to New York Times readers who found GothamSchools because of “Confessions of a ‘Bad’ Teacher,” William Johnson’s essay in Sunday’s Week in Review.

In the essay, Johnson, a special education teacher at a Brooklyn high school and a regular contributor to the GothamSchools Community section, describes the pain and pressure of receiving an “unsatisfactory” rating that he felt didn’t take into account the challenging context in which he and his students worked.

Johnson writes:

The truth is, teachers don’t need elected officials to motivate us. If our students are not learning, they let us know. … Good administrators use the evaluation processes to support teachers and help them avoid those painful classroom moments — not to weed out the teachers who don’t produce good test scores or adhere to their pedagogical beliefs. Worst of all, the more intense the pressure gets, the worse we teach. When I had administrators breathing down my neck, the students became a secondary concern. … I was scared of losing my job, and my students suffered for it.

Over the weekend, we received dozens of comments and email messages from teachers, parents, and professors across the country saying that Johnson gave voice to their own concerns about how teachers are being assessed. One even offered to buy Johnson a Starbucks gift certificate to show her appreciation for his perseverance under pressure.

A sampling of those comments is below.

A commenter who describes herself as a “experienced and mature special education teacher” wrote:

Your article provided much comfort after a recent devastating evaluation. … Thank you for putting into words what I was too intimidated to express. It gives me courage to continue with pride, knowing I am not alone.

A frequent commenter, Astraka, says critical evaluations can take a toll on students, too:

What is sad is that our students can see when their teacher is being bullied by the AP or the principal. They take it personally. It reminds them how their parents are treated at work. It reminds them how they are treated at work (many students in my school are working, at night). You can see their reaction when you are observed and the observer walks out of the room. They are more relieved than you are. They can read your face, your demeanor. They can sense your frustration. They feel your pain. The classroom is a very uncomfortable place for them.

A Chicago teacher wrote in an email:

I am a recently retired special education teacher in Chicago. Last year we tested our students nine times (that’s a whole different issue). My kids, all with severe learning disabilities, did not show improvement from test to test. I had not planned to retire — I still loved what I had dreamt of doing since I was five years old.

And Mary, the parent of a child with special needs, wrote in a comment:

Don’t give up on this profession PLEASE. We need teachers such as you. Our children need teachers such as you. I’m sorry if you don’t hear it enough but THANK YOU for everything you give to lives of our sons and daughters.

Last week, Johnson wrote about the experience of teaching John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” to his high school special education students. For more writing from him, check out the archives of his Classroom Dispatches column.