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I was put on a performance improvement plan. Surviving a PIP not only let me keep my job but made me a better employee.

Lexi Weber   

I was put on a performance improvement plan. Surviving a PIP not only let me keep my job but made me a better employee.
  • I thought my career as a teacher was over when I was put on an Performance Improvement Plan.
  • Receiving support and constructive feedback made me a better teacher.

After completing my first year of teaching 8th-grade English at a private school, I was happy to have survived. Teaching is hard; teaching 105 adolescents is even harder.

Not only are they navigating puberty and the emotional whiplash that comes with it, but they are working with an undeveloped prefrontal cortex, the decision-making part of the brain. They are also distracted by social media, screen time, and seeking the approval of their friends, which makes it more difficult to get and hold their attention long enough to complete an entire unit. But I managed to do it — one lesson at a time — over the course of a very long year. I was proud of myself.

The self-congratulatory buzz didn't last long, though. When I met with the school's principal for my year-end review, I was presented with a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). I assumed it was code for you should just quit.

While I had worked as a teacher's assistant and part-time writing instructor for a few years, this was my first time managing a homeroom and instructing on my own. As I looked over the language of the plan — difficulty with classroom management, needs to establish clear classroom procedures, all students are not engaged in the lesson — I forgot about the lessons that went well, the books the students enjoyed, the tests that demonstrated a true understanding of the material.

Was I a horrible teacher?

The principal assured me that the point of the PIP was to improve my performance

Reluctantly, I agreed to the PIP — not necessarily because I thought all the statements were a true assessment of my ability, but because I knew some areas could use improvement. I wanted to show the school's administration what I was capable of.

In the summer between my first and second year of teaching, I took a few professional development courses, wrote detailed lesson plans, carefully curated a selection of books for outside reading, and mapped out a variety of seating charts.

When I returned that fall, I met the new assistant principal, Mr. White, who would serve as head of discipline — as well as my advisor. He'd make sure I was following my PIP. We set up goals based on the areas that needed the most improvement, which was predominantly classroom management.

Once a week for a few months, I would observe other teachers for one class period. Together, Mr. White and I came up with classroom routines that I began implementing immediately. I remember nervously standing at the front of the classroom and reading aloud the procedures for homeroom. I heard Mr. White's voice in my head amid the groans of students who couldn't believe they had to stay seated until the bell rang.

"By setting clear expectations and consequences, you will create an atmosphere where everyone will feel respected," the voice said. "You will have command of the classroom."

We reviewed my lesson plans and day-to-day procedures. We met weekly. Occasionally, I would find him in the back of my classroom. I'd be reviewing a grammar lesson on parts of speech, and I would look up to see him glancing at the papers on the students' desks or watching the slideshow I was nervously clicking through. There was never a thumbs up, a smile, or a you're-doing-a-good-job nod in my direction. Mr. White had the ultimate poker face.

So, my jaw nearly dropped to the carpeted floor of his office on the day he told me I passed and survived my PIP with flying colors. Beyond just meeting the goals laid out before me, I exceeded them. I had, he told me, become a masterful teacher.

The PIP helped improve my abilities as an employee

What ultimately helped me to improve as a teacher was receiving constructive feedback and meeting specific, achievable goals with the support of the assistant principal. I did become a more effective teacher.

I showed myself what I could do — in and out of the classroom. That was truly the greatest gift of all.

I went on to teach for a few more years before realizing that teaching wasn't for me, but the skills and confidence I gained in that classroom have helped me immensely in other professions.

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