By Kate Sims
A month ago, I read about a case in Manawa, Wisconsin of a teacher who acted inappropriately with students. There weren’t many specific details about the teacher’s misconduct that were made public. “Misconduct” can mean anything from causing mental harm to enticement- sexual contact with a student. When trying to follow up on the case for more details on what the wrongdoing was, I couldn’t find any new leads. The keywords I used, like “misconduct” and “fired,” were not unique anymore, and the search was too broad. This led to an idea. Where other deviants of society are put into a database for the knowledge of the public, why isn’t there one for unprofessional teachers?
There are a few databases out there, such as the National Council of Teacher Quality (NCTQ), which have information on 120 school districts across the country, but there are far more schools that aren’t registered. Formality has a bit of flexibility in these databases with private regulations. Arizona is one of the only states that has a database, but an article titled “4 things we know about Arizona teacher database errors,”pointed out many of its flaws.
I would like to make a point that I am not trashing our teachers, but pointing out the idea that the many good ones are overshadowed by the media coverage of so many cases of teacher misconduct. Just in March, in South Florida a teacher was fired for drunken behavior and another in Jacksonville for inappropriate communications with several students with sexual context. The teachers in my life have been some of the most influential people from my 8th grade art teacher to current professors here at University of Tampa. But looking back into my middle school days, there were emotional bruises from a school counselor, whom I remember would isolate me during in-school suspension and even encouraged kids to bully me for being different. I found out the counselor was later promoted to a position at a high school.. It’s scary to think that a person who kids are supposed to be able to confide in would be the source of their misery, and get away with it.
In Wisconsin, Michael Burman was charged with 20 felonies involving the enticement-sexual contact with a student, where he only got six months of jail time through a plea deal! “The bottom line is sometimes [a plea] is necessary. If every single case went to trial our system would collapse, “ Alex Duros, a district attorney told USA Today. In Texas during 2007, a middle school teacher had his teaching licence revoked in the state as a result of sexual solicitation of a student. He had been teaching for two years in Indiana before his past was discovered.. Where was the documentation of his convicted crime and revoked license when Indiana hired him? There needs to be a middle ground between the convictions swept under the carpet and those in charge of hiring these people.
I propose the idea of a federal database for primary school educators. The government focuses so much on the financial necessity of our educational system and how many standardized tests students must take, but not enough attention is paid to what qualifies a teacher, nor a strict adherence to the conduct a teacher must display. They are training our future leaders, shouldn’t that be reason enough to be strict about their ability to be hired, fired, or even rehired if they display misconduct with students? Teachers who are guilty of disregarding students needs, physically or emotionally harming them, discriminating against them, or engaging in sexual activities with a student should be compiled in this database to prevent them from abusing children in another state.
Like any system, it will have bugs and disadvantages. I remembered a case from my home town, where one teacher committed a crime, and it affected her husband who worked at a different school. With anything at a federal level, things can become a bit impersonal and cold. I can acknowledge that. The database proposal is something that is more for the comfort and security of the children. It may also help lessen the strain on our teaching workforce by ensuring deviant teachers do not hold positions that could be given to an educator just as qualified a with clean record.
A database that could record professionals’ qualifications, experience, and awards obtained, or discrepancies isn’t just a tool for school districts to formally hire on a leveled playing field, but could also be an asset to future parents. Some of us are parents already, or older siblings, or will be in the family situation in the coming years. Are you satisfied on who will be in charge of the children in your life? Again, there are many I am satisfied with and sad to have seen retire, but I can’t help but to have some doubt.