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Teachers and Sexual Misconduct: Is it the Talent Pool?

Much has been made of the AP’s recent expose of sexual misconduct in the teaching profession. Though I won’t discuss it in this post [and probably not at any length later], I commend it to you in full:

AP: Sexual Misconduct Plagues U.S. Schools

Also, check out Scott Reeder’s report at The Hidden Cost of Tenure. His long-running investigation of misconduct in Illinois schools is one of the finest education journalism pieces I’ve read in years.

Illinois Does Poor Job Dealing With Teacher Misconduct

But I wrote this post to discuss a troubling statement I read on Dave Saba’s blog.

Saba, the President of the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, says that sexual misconduct in the classroom is a byproduct of a shallow talent pool and strained human resources departments.

In The Shallow Pool he writes [emphases mine]:

Here is an analogy for the AP report on sexual misconduct plaguing schools. It is the unfortunate consequence of not having enough applicants for all the job openings in our schools. When the talent pool gets shallow, school districts end up hiring whoever is available. When HR spends the bulk of their time running around filling jobs at the last minute, the wrong people are going to slip through and get into a classroom.

It is going to get worse and that is an outrage. I was presenting at AASPA and met with numerous district HR people. Some are hiring from overseas and end up being immigration lawyers, housing specialists and cultural integrators – which sucks up so much time that they cannot do the rest of their jobs and the teachers don’t work out and leave anyway. Others are venturing far from their state to recruit – costing time and money. For math and science teachers they are lucky to have one qualified applicant for the job and when you only have one applicant you don’t have a choice. They are desperately seeking ways to fill jobs and taking what they can get. Is that what our students deserve? Or do they deserve a teacher selected from many great applicants?

Being desperate creates a perfect situation for some of the people listed in the AP article. We have got to increase the talent pool so that our districts do not end up getting the sludge.

It isn’t negligence by hiring managers and school officials, says Saba. The problem is that HR is forced into that negligence because they aren’t inundated with enough incredible candidates to make their job easy.

This stance is indefensible.

I left the following comment on Saba’s blog. I decided to reproduce it here in part because it is subject to moderation before posting and may never appear on his site. It sums up well my thoughts:

I find several parts of this post to be problematic.

You start by saying that schools are forced to hire suboptimal candidates because the talent pool necessitates it. If true – and that can be argued – it only addresses those who have offended and been disciplined in a former district. That’s only part of the problem. Or would you say that a deeper pool would allow you to avoid the would-be offenders, too?

If HR spends their time “running around filling jobs at the last minute,” that’s a problem with HR and it’s one that can be fixed. Schools aren’t the only organizations who: a) hire and b) are forced to draw from a talent pools that aren’t terribly appealing.

You’ve also implied that HR is forced to do a shoddy job with hiring – if they’re filling jobs quickly at the expense of proper background checks, they’re not just doing a disservice to us all, they’re putting students in harm’s way.

Can you genuinely excuse a district – even if rushed or dealing with a single qualified applicant – for failing to investigate properly a teacher’s professional past? And can you excuse a district who knows of a teacher’s sexual misdeeds and hires him anyway out of professional necessity?

There is no excuse for hiring a teacher with a criminal or school-level disciplinary record pertaining to sexual misconduct.

Absolutely none.

And if you think otherwise, I’ll let you explain to parents that their child is in a classroom every day with a teacher who has been disciplined for sexual misconduct but that the district hired anyway.

You can explain to them that the real problem is a shallow talent pool that strains district resources and results in negligence that puts their children at risk for sexual abuse. You can tell them that it’s unfortunate, regrettable, and if there were just more applicants, you wouldn’t have to hire predators. You can also ask the community for more money to augment staff so you wouldn’t be forced into such irresponsible hiring practices. Accepting the abhorrent, blaming others and asking for more money? An unpopular trifecta indeed.

Again, you can give that presentation communities across the country. I’m not going to do it.

If you find that difficulties with hiring practices result in suboptimal – and in this case dangerous – hires, by all means suggest that state laws get tougher, discipline for offenders is more swift and/or more serious or that graduate/licensing/certification for administrators includes effective HR training. Those would all be sensible solutions.

But don’t justify the negligence of hiring those guilty of sexual misconduct by pointing a finger at the applicant pool. That’s the hiring equivalent of, “Dressing like that, she was asking for it!” and it’s nothing short of shameful.

11 Responses to “Teachers and Sexual Misconduct: Is it the Talent Pool?”

  1. Dave Saba says:

    Thank you for your comments and they are posted. I am absolutely not excusing the behaviour – I agree with you that our current state of hiring teachers is inexcusable. I am merely pointing out the problems that need to be solved –

    * ABCTE is trying to address part of the problem by recruiting more teachers to make sure we have a big enough pool that states and districts can be selective in hiring.
    * States and Districts need to invest more to hire HR professionals who can make sure that every teacher is properly screened and has a proper background check
    * We need standardized background checks and the companies districts use to ensure that each district is getting the right information on each individual before placing them in schools.

    I am absolutely not forgiving schools who pass these individuals around. I am trying to point out that we have got to help these districts ensure it does not happen again.

  2. eloquentmind says:

    The good teachers are leaving due to the horrible state of schools, especially in secondary education. I have my B.S. in Secondary English Education and am certified in all content I teach. I will be leaving next year due to what is going on in the SDHC. I promise you that someone “not worthy” or “questionable” will most likely replace me. There will be a mass exodus of great teachers next year. I promise you. Who suffers again? The children.

  3. Matthew says:

    Dave,

    Thanks for replying. Though I understand that you aren’t excusing the behavior, I find using the issue of sexual misconduct in schools to springboard another agenda to be both exploitive, opportunistic and, in the case of this particular argument, largely inappropriate.

    You have not made a compelling case that current hiring practices in schools are inadequate rather than negligent. Instead of asking for more money to expand HR or to beg that we graduate/certify more teachers to make hiring easier, it would be better to take steps that ensured HR committed to doing their jobs properly for the sake of safety – even if it means we hold off and put in a long-term substitute until we can make a safe, quality hire.

  4. Matthew says:

    Eloquentmind,

    Thankfully, we’re starting to hear more and more about why teachers leave and how we can keep good teachers. The problem you described is too widespread and has been allowed to grow for far too long – hopefully we can combat it properly and swiftly because, as you said, students suffer.

  5. Matthew: Thanks for the comment.

    I have grown weary of the “image is all that matters” focus of the public school systems that I am most familiar with.

    I conceptualized over ten years ago that public exposure is their Achilles heal. The system has well defined strategies to deal with public exposure. Retorts of “Broadbrush attacks” and “isolated incidents” are just one small part of their defense package.

    Cries of lack of resources is also part of the defense. I am very familiar with these strategies from a Special Edcuation view point. I have 20+ years of personal experience along with over 10 years of advocacy training. I have been across the nation and have met with members of congress in DC while learning about and chasing the issue.

    I am now seeing the same phenomenon with how the systems deal with teacher/student sex.

    Last week two Hillsborough parents filed suit against the District even though the accused teacher committed suicide a year ago a few days after he was “openly investigated”. Apparently he was not concerned with his plight until the accusations reached the overt stage of investigation. Perhaps the usual “under the radar” inquiry failed to provide him cover. But when he killed himself, the District ended the investigation. It wasn’t about the 2 or more female students. It was about the District.

    Time will tell.

  6. Matthew: it gets better.

    I am curious how you interpret the last sentence, and are you familiar with suspensions not being a punishment. Hegarty is the school spokesperson.

    “Green decided to suspend Kendricks on Oct. 12 because she continued to talk about an affair, saying she would get the teacher fired, Hegarty said. The school also had concerns about her class work and wanted to meet with a parent or guardian, he said.

    This type of suspension is not considered punitive, Hegarty said, and instead forces such a meeting.”

    ****
    full context:
    http://www2.tbo.com/content/2007/oct/26/na-affair-rumor-gets-girl-suspended/#comments

  7. Matthew says:

    I really hate having to give this disclaimer, but it applies yet again: I’m not a lawyer, so proceed with caution.

    From this article, I would conclude a few things:

    1. The school responded to the allegations improperly – they simply didn’t investigate the rumors well enough. There seems to be plenty of evidence of misconduct that was ignored or missed due to a shoddy effort at investigation.

    2. The student [Kendricks] was in the wrong by continuing to talk about the alleged misconduct, assuming that she told a school employee directly about the rumors. If she did, the student should have been told explicitly that she shouldn’t continue to talk because of privacy issues and the potential for compromising an investigation.

    Consider this section:

    “Kendricks didn’t report rumors of the sexual relationship to Green directly, school district spokesman Steve Hegarty said. Rather, word of what she was saying at school and to an assistant principal reached Green on Oct. 9.”

    To me, that suggests that not only did Kendricks not speak to an administrator directly, but that whomever she talked with did not make clear how Kendricks should proceed.

    Kendricks is 15 years old. Though common sense would tell someone to avoid gossip, Kendricks should have been told *explicitly* not to talk about the rumors and told why her silence was necessary. If that didn’t happen – and this article suggests that it didn’t – then Kendricks shouldn’t be held responsible. Her behavior likely would have been curtailed had she been advised properly.

    Just because certain behavior hasn’t been explicitly prohibited doesn’t mean that a student can’t be held responsible for it – we know this. But a 15 year old can’t be expected to know the ins and outs of misconduct investigations in public schools.

    So, it seems that Kendricks was suspended for behavior caused by a combination of bad judgment and a school employee’s negligence – and that suspension appears to be punitive.

    I am not familiar with any non-punitive suspension – especially not using the word “suspension” – nor am I familiar with needing to suspend a student to, as Green put it, “force,” a meeting with a parent.

    Sounds like there are quite a few serious issues worth investigating here.

  8. A previous article says the teacher was a special ed teacher. I know that information is protected about the student.

    For the sake of argument, assume that she (student) was in special ed. It would then be safe to assume that her continued discussions may well be a manifestation of her disability. Especially if she actually saw a behavior that was difficult for her to mentally and emotionally process.

  9. Matthew says:

    It’s certainly possible – we can’t know for sure.

    But even if a student’s classification couldn’t possibly have an effect on this particular behavior, we could conclude that a student in special education has plenty of interaction with staff – plenty of interaction that gave opportunities to have an explicit discussion about the need to maintain privacy with this issue.

    And if a student’s disability lent itself to an inability to process the information, the student’s parent should have been notified immediately and the discussion should have occurred with them.

  10. Well here we go.

    If what is written is true, I called it exactly.

    My 20 + years of special ed experience is so far right.

    http://www2.tbo.com/content/2007/oct/26/middleton-takes-teachers-arrest-stride-district-sp/?news-breaking

    “Rouson’s second letter said he represents Shatavia Kendricks, the 15-year-old girl who told Green of the affair and was suspended after she stepped forward.

    “My client witnessed inappropriate conduct between her teacher, Christina Butler, and another student,” Rouson wrote. “Ms. Kendricks reported the inappropriate conduct to school personnel including an assistant principal. Her actions were proper and just in telling the truth about what she observed. However, school officials suspended her for spreading rumors and gossiping.”

  11. Matthew says:

    If what the lawyer says is true, the school and district are in very serious trouble here. Just as the article says, they’d be liable for perpetuating the misconduct.

    An Assistant Principal has plenty of authority to have instructed Kendricks properly. I don’t know what type of recourse Kendricks is seeking here… I find it a little bit odd because any damage to her pales in comparison to what’s been done to the boy.

    If all is as it seems, we’re going to see a barn-cleaning. Which member of the Hillsborough Board represents the area this school is in?

    “A day after Butler was arrested, the student went to school, and was told to go home, the letter said.”

    Charming.

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