Friday, September 20, 2013

Moral Character Does Count, But ...

A quick look at Gotham Schools this morning shows me that a teacher, who was caught bringing twenty bags of heroin with him into a courthouse for jury duty, was reinstated this past week. The DOE had successfully fired him. They followed the due process rules and left it up to an independent arbitrator to decide, who decided to fire him. He appealed in court and a judge reinstated him.

I don't know all the facts of this case and haven't read the judge's ruling. Having said that, and using very broad strokes,  I don't think, generally speaking, that a person who is caught in possession of that quantity of drugs should be a school teacher.  It's not that I find the use of drugs repulsive. I do not (although I do not use them and do not condone their use at all). For reasons that are either right or wrong, society has deemed their possession and use illegal. Teachers, who are there to prepare youngsters for society,  should be seen as models of it. That's not to say I sit in any kind of moral judgment of people who use them. I do not do that either. If you want to break the law and use drugs, then, who am I to stop you? Just try not to do it as a teacher, ok? Sorry, but there is an opportunity cost for entering this profession and living the life of Kerouac is one of them (love his books. Glad he never taught high school).

Now the mayor has said he will appeal the decision and, for the first time in eleven years, I am tempted to agree with him (again, I say that without looking at the specific facts and without knowing the details. I am tempted to agree with him. I have not decided to agree with him. There may well be something within this case that mitigates everything. That's why they have hearing officers and NYS Supreme Court judges who look at details and weigh evidence). But I am only speaking to the general topic as to whether people who are caught in public with twenty bags of heroin should be teachers. I think they should not. It would appear the mayor thinks the same.  Morality counts. And teachers should have a high moral standard.

But, as Huff Post columnist Marc Epstein has written, we are living and working during a period where much of the institutional history of the BOE/DOE has been erased.  It is important to remind anyone who is interested in things like this that the "department" (back when it was "board") use to test the character of people who applied to be a teacher in this city. This was done in order to determine whether or not the applicant possessed the moral standard sufficient enough to be a teacher in the first place. That mark -possessing the moral standard sufficient to be a New York City teacher- is a very high standard to meet and the people who ran education in this city knew it. That's why they vetted every applicant before allowing him or her to stand in front of a classroom (this isn't my observation, by the way. Epstein first made it in a huff post piece. I just can't seem to find the doshgern link!!).

Anyway, were these character tests in place now, would a person who uses heavy drugs have been offered a job as a teacher in the first place? The answer may well be no.  (Traits of heavy drug users can fairly easily be discerned if only one were to asks those questions). 

In addition to keeping heavy drug users out of the classroom, vetting teachers before they are hired would be far more cost effective than this process. Once caught, a drug using  teacher with sensiblenhiring practices, costs the system tens, in some cases hundreds, of thousands of dollars to fire and to keep fired (when you count money for the lawyers, for the hearing officers, for the reporters, for the salary and salary of the sub). That's a lot of money!

And during this time, the department will lob complaints about how tough it is to fire teachers. They may even strengthen firing practices (which they did back in 2007, causing consternation for many innocent teachers who found themselves on the wrong side of a false or jackes up accusation) while continuing to ignore hiring practices which could avoid these headlines in the first place.

Look; morality counts with this job. Allowing users of heavy drugs to teach our students shouldn't happen. But there is a way to avoid these things from happening: Vet the applicants who ask to be my colleagues and help bring that pride back to my profession.

That's right, check their moral character first and we'll just see how many more of these stories (which may have NOTHING to do with this post as I have not read the details!!) appear in the news.

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