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Before you accuse me of not knowing how to spell, yes I did it on purpose.

For those of you not familiar with the Peter Principle, here it is:

In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his/her level of incompetence.

If you happen to be a school administrator, I’m sorry, but from what I’ve seen this holds true.  Let me give you an example.

Last year we had a first-year teacher teaching Algebra 1.  71% of her students failed the class.  She was always upset about the success (or lack of) from her students.  She did everything she could to help them.  She tutored before and after school.  She made home visits.  She really tried.  She refused to give a student a passing grade if the work didn’t merit it.  The principal didn’t want to re-hire her.  The central administration was riding the principal’s backside about her failure rate.  She was constantly told how bad a job she was doing.  They couldn’t find someone to take her place so she was re-hired and given the worst classes.  Her self-esteem was crushed.  She doubted if she was in the right profession.

A second-year teacher was teaching Algebra 1.  His failure rate was about 60%.  Again, he only kept his job because they couldn’t find someone else.  He also was “demoted” and doesn’t teach Algebra 1 anymore.

A 17 year veteran teaching Algebra 1 had a failure rate of 11%.  A 19 year vet teaching Algebra 1 had a failure rate of 7%.  What great teachers.  What shining examples for the slackers.  Try to be more like them.  Watch them teach.  Learn from them.

In my fair state we have End-of-Instruction tests.  When you hear about high stakes testing, this is high stakes.  The Algebra 1 EOI is infamous for its difficulty.  Today we received the results of last year’s tests.

Our school had 67% pass the test.  Now that number may not impress you, but state-wide only 40% passed. 

The first-year teacher who was constantly told how bad she was had 91% pass the state test.
The second-year teacher who couldn’t teach had 87% pass the state test.
The 17 year vet, one of the shining examples, had 31% pass the state test.
The 19 year vet, the man held up as the prime example of doing it the right way, had 19% pass the state test.

The superintendant and the assistant super both showed up in the principal’s office today demanding to know why the two most successful Algebra 1 teachers were not teaching Algebra 1 this year…  They seem to have forgotten that they wanted to fire them 4 months ago.  The principal can’t imagine why those two had such success on the state tests.

Maybe it is because kids will rise to your expectations.  Maybe it is because if you actually hold kids accountable they’ll learn something.  Maybe it is because if you actually teach and not just pass out worksheets kids will learn. 

I hope they both feel vindicated.  I hope they both continue to keep high standards.  I hope they both remember why they chose education as a career. 

I hope someday I’ll see a real live administrator who doesn’t forget what it was like to be in the classroom.


  1. Wow. That is certainly amazing, and I also hope they don’t stop teaching because some idiots are pessimistic.

  2. As a parent that’s daunting to read.

  3. She should have been rehired ..i agree though that you cannot expect perfection from a 1st yr teacher..there will always be a diffrence between the classroom and those tests at the end of the year that ARE CRUNCH TIME tests…she just needs to learn to crack the whip a little more..just a thought..Zman sends

  4. The “best teacher” is a relative thing, isn’t it?

  5. Sometimes success is the best revenge.

  6. Sing it, brother! I’ve worked in both education & the private sector, and while the Peter Principle exists everywhere, the Peter Principal is most annoying! 🙂

  7. As an academic advisor at the college level, I see a constant stream of students who are the product of this kind of political crap – oops – decision making. I just wish I could give those “new” teachers a big hug and encourage them not to give up.

  8. BTW, don’t forget it’s Sunday, and you know what THAT means–S4 is underway today!

  9. Wow. The numbers are telling. Proof of the power of high expectations!!

  10. That is an inspiring story to a 3rd year teacher who has kids failing at a high rate. Maybe I am doing something right by holding them to higher expectations!

    I was blog wandering and found you. I have really enjoyed your stories so far and can’t wait to read more.

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