Search Is on for Nation’s Worst Teachers

Published June 1, 2008

Urinating in a bottle and leaving it in a public school administrator’s office sounds like something a particularly ill-behaved middle-school boy might do.

Unfortunately, it’s just one of the stunts pulled by an unidentified, tenured schoolteacher that earned him a nomination for the Worst Teacher in America contest, sponsored by the Center for Union Facts (CUF). CUF is a nonprofit organization created to “show Americans the truth about today’s teachers unions,” its Web site says.

CUF launched the campaign in March to find the 10 worst teachers nationwide, taking out full-page ads in The New York Times and USA Today, airing commercials on CNN and Fox News, and buying an 80-foot, seven-story billboard in New York City’s Times Square.

“The contest is an effort to jumpstart a conversation about how difficult it is to fire incompetent teachers,” explained CUF Communications Director Sarah Longwell. “We’re not trying to hurt anybody’s feelings, and this is not a witch hunt.”

The contest’s mastermind, CUF Executive Director Rick Berman, created it to highlight two points: Tenure systems make it impossible to fire incompetent teachers, and teacher unions block needed reform, offering nothing to motivate or reward excellent teachers.

Outraged Response

CUF says it launched the campaign on behalf of all teachers, but teacher unions adamantly disagree.

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Edward J. McElroy called it “outrageous” in a March 10 statement, writing that his group has long endorsed greater professionalism for teachers and school staff and arguing local affiliates embrace education reforms that improve teaching and learning.

McElroy called Berman “an ethically challenged attack dog,” “a shameless lobbyist,” and “a coward.”

“Berman has a record of using hidden funders to attack groups that contribute a great deal to society,” McElroy wrote. “Now he is coming after teachers at a time when most Americans support education and want to make improving education a top national priority. Teachers and the public deserve to know which businesses are bankrolling Berman’s despicable tactics, but he is too much of a coward to reveal the source of his funding.”

AFT spokesmen refused to comment beyond that, and other teacher unions did not return phone calls requesting comment.

Reward for Quitting

Meanwhile, CUF regularly updates its Web site with lists of nominees for the Worst Teacher award.

The top 10 will receive $10,000 apiece if they quit their jobs and seek employment in a different field, Longwell said. The winners must give CUF permission to use their names; all other nominees will remain anonymous. Nominations must be verifiable–anything from court records to camera phone recordings.

“In terms of the meanness factor, we’re trying to advocate on behalf of all the teachers, the good ones–and most of them are good–so they can continue to do the excellent work they’re doing,” Longwell said. “Can you imagine how demoralizing it would be to get paid the same amount [as a bad teacher]?”

Hundreds of Nominees

The competition will be stiff. Since the contest was launched, hundreds of teachers have been nominated for incidents ranging from the serious (waving guns at store clerks and having prison records) to the silly (like bottling one’s own urine).

Overall, the nominations have had a sobering effect, Longwell said.

“More than terrifying, [it’s] frequently sad,” Longwell explained. “A lot of it is not about extreme circumstances–though some are with teachers who have been violent or sworn at kids–but a lot of it is teachers who don’t care, teachers who have sort of quit, but who are still on the job.”

Jillian Melchior ([email protected]) writes from Michigan.

For more information …

Nomination form for The Ten Worst Union-Protected Teachers contest, Center for Union Facts: