Sat, Mar 23, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Getting rid of incompetent teachers

By Tsai Jr-keng 蔡志鏗

The presence of unfit teachers in schools across the nation is an indisputable fact, as is the extreme difficulty in dealing with them. Incompetent teachers not only hamper students’ learning, but also tarnish the image of professional educators. Despite this, schools and education authorities are at their wits’ end trying to get rid of them.

The reason is teachers often shield one another. The main authority charged with handling cases of unfit teachers is a school’s teacher evaluation committee, more than half of whose members are teachers who do not concurrently hold administrative posts.

When the review mechanism allows teachers to act both as player and referee, it is not surprising that the administration is incapable of taking action, while unfit teachers can rest easy.

Under heavy pressure from parents’ groups, the Ministry of Education has finally completed its draft amendments to the Teachers’ Act (教師法). Under the proposal, when a school convenes an evaluation committee to review cases of unfit teachers, teachers who do not hold administrative posts must comprise less than 50 percent of the committee to help ensure impartiality.

This is the first step toward ending the practice of teachers shielding one another. This policy is long overdue, and parents’ groups have described it as “belated justice.”

As a veteran educator, I think the ministry has done a good job, but it still has room for improvement: The ministry should have taken the opportunity and moved a step further by setting clear-cut criteria defining “inability to teach.” Compiling a list of inadequate teaching and negative behaviors, for instance, would have been an even better start.

Since its promulgation in 1995, the Teachers’ Act has been amended 13 times, but none of the changes have addressed the issue of unfit teachers. This time around, the ministry stiffened its resolve, completed the changes and announced that the issue would be the top priority in the current legislative session. Hopefully, the legislature would approve the amendments quickly, allowing schools across the nation to achieve a new milestone in dealing with unfit teachers.

Among the nation’s 250,000 elementary and high-school teachers, only about 10 are fired each year for being deemed unfit to teach, data show. This number is a far cry from estimates by experts that about one-10th of all teachers are unfit to teach.

Once the amendments take effect, unfit teachers would no longer be shielded by colleagues and dismissing them would be much easier. An effective and rigorous mechanism to reward outstanding teachers and eliminate unfit ones would bolster the spirit and image of teachers as professionals.

While the proposed amendments focus on teachers who are “unfit to teach,” “unfit” or “incompetent” is a rather abstract concept, and different people may have different definitions of what it means.

The ministry should come up with a clear-cut definition, and the most ideal way would be to compile a list of what constitutes unsatisfactory teaching performance.

The list can serve as a guide for teachers to work harder and avoid making mistakes, as well as a reference for school administration and teacher evaluation committees to deal with unfit teachers.

The ministry should adopt a proactive approach to promote a more comprehensive policy so that unfit teachers would soon become history, and students would not have to rely on luck, thinking that having a good teacher is a blessing while being taught by incompetent ones is just bad luck.

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