Sorry, teachers, but a job evaluation is not a disease

/ 5 June 2012 / jennifer

Joe Soucheray, Pioneer Press, June 5, 2012 –

“I’m tired of this. I just want to get back to work,” said teacher Marina Hammond, on a medical leave from her job with the St. Paul public school district, at her home in Minneapolis on Monday May 21, 2012. Hammond has suffered from heightened stress associated with stepped-up performance scrutiny in the district. (Pioneer Press: Richard Marshall)

It remains a mystery to me as to which is more surprising, that some St. Paul schoolteachers have taken medical leaves because of the pressure of having their work scrutinized, or that Mila Koumpilova of the Pioneer Press found a couple of them who were willing to admit it.

The story appeared in the Sunday Pioneer Press, a story that essentially reported on a number of teachers, apparently at the urging of their union, who have taken medical leaves for insomnia and anxiety and the like because principals and other administrators were stepping up their judging of the teacher’s work.

I read it. Then I gently set the paper down and stared out the window for a moment. I thought to myself, “Possibly, I have missed something.”

You mean for years and years they haven’t had their work evaluated and then when it gets evaluated they get sick?

So I read it again, and then a third time. I don’t think I missed anything. There are teachers — certainly not a significant percentage — who have taken advantage of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act to take what they euphemistically call a timeout from the classroom. Those leaves are unpaid, but because teachers can bank their unused sick days, they can also turn those timeouts into paid leaves.

And they do this because a superior has visited their classroom with a clipboard?

This would be comical if it wasn’t so terribly expensive and ultimately unaffordable.

One teacher in the report took a leave and then cashed in his 200 sick days, for which he was paid!Now, I would say this in defense of teachers. They can’t perform miracles with kids who come into the classroom every morning from homes where they are receiving little if any direction. If a kid is getting away with nothing but video games and comic books at home, the teacher can’t magically turn the kid into the next Stephen Hawking.

But because so many kids can’t spell “cat” or add two plus three, public education as an institution has to try to do something. They are introducing the process of evaluating teachers. By 2014, the evaluation of teachers and principals will be mandatory.

In reaction to having their classroom observed or having been admonished for not following the curriculum agenda set by administrators, some teachers have apparently just wilted on the vine. They can’t take it. I suppose some of them would argue that they find the intrusion disagreeable and that they should not have to bow to the whimsical gobbledygook dreamed up by bureaucrats back at the central office. That might be true. Too bad. Soldier through it and do the best you can.

Most of us could get a medical leave, too. It is, after all, a federal program. I don’t know how it works in your field, but I suppose if I was walking down the street and a large piano being lifted by crane into somebody’s penthouse suddenly snapped its cables and fell on my head, I could get a medical leave. I wouldn’t even need a union.

However, if an editor started standing around my desk one day and said, “Your spelling needs to improve, you’ve got to get to the point quicker and you better start responding to my emails,” I wouldn’t be able to claim a medical disability because I was suddenly made nervous.

Well, more accurately, I could try, but I would have to find a doctor to sign a note, and my doctor has already found me to be a touch on the eccentric side, so I wouldn’t be getting anywhere with him. More to the point, it wouldn’t happen.

No, I have that wrong. It _shouldn’t _happen.

If, after years on the job, you want to claim a disability because your work is being examined for competence, probably for the first time ever, you should just move on, and we shouldn’t have to pay for it.

Joe Soucheray can be reached at or 651-228-5474. Soucheray is heard from 3 to 6p.m. weekdays on 1500ESPN.