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Techam: All teachers should be observed once a year

If the Minnesota legislature has its way tenure will not mean much to future generations of Minnesota public teachers.

The Republican-controlled Minnesota House and Senate have both voted in favor of a new system for teacher layoffs that will place a new emphasis on job performance. If they manage to get Gov. Mark Dayton to sign the bill they remove one of the few shelters that teachers have left.

The current Wadena-Deer Creek teacher contract honors the last-in, first-out idea (LIFO) if lay-offs are necessary. That cut-and-dried guideline would not be there for schools if the decades-old rule of granting tenure is dropped.

Steve Techam is a retired teacher. As chairman of the Wadena-Deer Creek school board he now wears a different hat, but Techam does not believe his views have changed.

"I think I would still say that 99 percent of our teachers are outstanding and really do a good job, they are dedicated people and go the extra mile and they need protection in case someone gets angry whether it's the chairman of the board or somebody else," Techam said.

Removing tenure, or even reducing how much privilege it affords veteran teachers, could lead school boards and teacher unions to a very slippery slope. Who should make the determination of how effective a teacher is at their jobs?

Techam believes that all tenured teachers should be observed once a year by the principal. Their observations would then be used to guide teachers.

"Really, we want teachers to get better," Techam said. "We don't want to fire anybody, we want to improve the profession and that is the purpose of observation. If they don't do their work there is a process that they would be removed, and that is the way it is today."

According to WDC superintendent Virginia Dahlstrom, teachers at WDC are currently evaluated with a system called PD360. The new system is in its pilot year in grades K-12. All new teachers are evaluated by a licensed administrator three times per year until tenured. WDC administrators also complete "Walk-Through" evaluations throughout the academic year.

Dahlstrom said that tenure typically takes place after three completed instructional years in a district but this can be extended.

There can be many reasons why a student succeeds or fails in school. If a student is failing a course and their parents complain to the administration about the teacher, it may be a more difficult problem than an ineffective teacher. Techam knows from his years as a teacher that even effective teachers are not always able to teach students who do not want to be taught.

"Sometimes students don't care, their ambition level isn't there and they don't really care to advance," Techam said. "I've seen it when they take a test and it takes them three seconds to take it. They just mark answers down and they're done. They just don't care and if we judge teacher's ability on that performance, teachers are not going to come out very well."