Book Excerpt: "There Are No Shortcuts"

On Teacher Selection


To all my readers who are parents or just concerned citizens, I implore you to be vigilant when it comes to the public schools. There are constant battles behind the scenes at which your presence could be beneficial.

Perhaps I have an unusual view of the world of education, but each and every day I walk into my classroom and I remind myself of something important: I remember whom I work for. It's not my principal, who is a good guy with many positive qualities. It's not any of his assistants, some of whom I like and some of whom never met Will Rogers. It is certainly not the children, although some teachers forget this and actually believe the children should have an equal voice in the daily running of a classroom.

Front cover: 'There Are No Shortcuts' by Rafe Esquith
Excerpted from There Are No Shortcuts by Rafe Esquith
(Anchor, May 2004).

I work for the parents and the taxpayers. They are the people who pay me and they are the people I serve. It's my job to provide them with the best service I possibly can. This is not always easy or convenient. I simply believe that anyone who becomes a teacher must accept that there are certain parts of the job not described in the contract. As a teacher, I accept the fact that not all the children will be easy to teach. I know that I will often be called on to stay after school to help a child in need. I know that large amounts of my personal time will be spent shopping for my class and planning my lessons. My wife, Barbara, a nurse for fifteen years, taught me that her shift at the hospital did not end when the clock struck a certain hour; it ended when her patients were well cared for, comfortable, and in the hands of the next shift. If that meant staying an extra hour on certain days because a patient needed a hand held or a back rubbed, Barbara was there. It was the job. The same is true for other service professions, and teaching is no different.

In an elementary school, the single most important factor in determining the progress of your child is: Who will be the teacher for the year? Your child will be spending thousands of hours with this person. We all know that the teacher creates the weather in a classroom. Will it be a happy place? Will your child be challenged without being frustrated? Will your child have a voice? We have all been in classrooms and know that it's the teacher who holds the answers to these crucial questions.

As a parent, one of the best things you can do for your elementary-aged children should happen a few months before their next school year. This is the time when schools begin to pencil in which teacher will teach which grades. Most parents know nothing about this process. When this selection occurs, the current school year is well under way and the parents have been to Open House, have seen report cards, and have had a parent conference. Most parents assume that they've done their duty until they turn up the following year to meet the new teachers and check on their child's progress. Yet one of the most important things parents can do is to be part of the process of teacher selection for the next school year. I've seen schools where the local PTA is actually part of the hiring process, and this is as it should be. But this isn't what happens at the Jungle and many other schools, and parents need to know what is going down.

Hobart schoolHobart School

My friend David Bryan, the charismatic and dynamic principal of New Roads School in Santa Monica, California, once told me that part of being a good principal is to have a little bit of the fascist in you. He was joking, of course, but his point was well taken. In the best circumstances at a school, a powerful but caring principal will decide which teacher will teach which class. He will consider teacher requests and personal situations, but in the end, he will ask himself which teacher is right for a particular situation and a particular group of children. When a manager of a baseball team fills out the lineup card, he chooses the best players for each spot; it's his job to put his team in the optimal position for winning the game.

Parents attending Shakespeare play at HobartParents attending Shakespeare play at Hobart school

Most principals are decent people. If they could have things their way, they'd examine a list of all the classes that will be taught the upcoming year, look at their roster of teachers, and create the best matches. In doing so, they would try their best to make sure that a fair system would be in place to settle things if two teachers wanted to teach the same class. Of course, the bottom line should be which teacher would do a better job, but that's not the way it usually works. Decisions can be based on connections rather than on what's best for the children, and as a result, the union's solutions can be disastrous for the kids...

So parents, get involved with teacher selections in your local schools. Be vigilant. Your child's future is at stake, and you may be the only one who will speak up for her interests.

Next: On Teaching »


Excerpted from There Are No Shortcuts by Rafe Esquith. Copyright © 2003 Rafe Esquith. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.