Monday, January 5, 2009

Fixing the Schools, in Five Easy Steps! Step Four--Attracting and Keeping the Best Teachers


I always hate news stories and editorials that proclaim that we must start hiring the best teachers, as if the ones we have now are chopped liver. I'd estimate that of all the teachers I've ever worked with, I would be satisfied with about 80% of them teaching my own child. Another 10% I'd be ambivalent about, and the final 10% I wouldn't want near my flesh and blood. I think that's actually a fine ratio.

Still, there's always room for improvement. The obvious answer is to pay more; there is fierce competition for teacher vacancies on Long Island, with hundreds of candidates applying for each job. In NYC, recruitment has always been a chore, with low pay and poor conditions being the major hurdles. We've had recruitment drives in foreign countries, including Spain, Japan, and for all I know, Borneo.

More pay, however, won't solve the problem all by itself. Surrounding districts would merely jack up their own pay scales and start skimming off the top again. So, what to do? Start with accomplishing steps one, two, and three of this series, to wit, eliminating senseless educational gimmicks, enforcing discipline, and reducing class size. All those steps would make teaching in NYC a lot more attractive.

Nevertheless, these steps alone may not be enough. So, as part of my never-ending drive to replace Joel Klein as school's chancellor, I came up with a few more ideas that would attract teachers in droves:

  • Keep Tenure. Tenure is one of the best things about teaching. Even in down economies, teachers are generally safe. Furthermore, tenure makes teachers think about the possibility of teaching as a career, not the pit stop that such farces as Teaching Fellows and Teach for America are turning the profession into. The bogus argument that tenure keeps bad teachers in place is absurd. Admins have three years to fire anyone not up to snuff. I could go to a strange school and tell you who all the good teachers are in three days. Any admin who can't figure that out in three years should be fired himself.
  • Give teachers autonomy. Let us pick our own texts, and teach in our own way, as long as we are getting the job done. Simply put, treat us as professionals. More on this in Step 5.
  • Make schools safer. No one likes parking in the morning and saying a little prayer that their car will still be there at 3PM. And speaking of cars....
  • Give teachers parking. It sounds like a small thing, but making the block surrounding a school a "Teacher's Only" zone would instantly make many schools more attractive places to work. Michael Bloomberg, who gets driven to the subway in his chauffeured SUV each morning, decided to reduce the number of teacher parking placards from 63,000 to 11,000. If he really wants to attract and retain teachers, he would increase the number of actual spots from 10,000 to 80,000.
  • Restore seniority rights. If you want to keep people around, reward them for it. Simple.
That's what I came up with. Any other suggestions out there? What other measures can we take to attract and retain the best teachers?

4 comments:

Pissed Off said...

I don't think the city is interested in keeping quality teachers. They want cheap ones. And, that is why there might be a buyout--get rid of all us old times.

They are already doing this in DC. While $20,000 isn't much, that, added to my pension will force me into retirement in June.

Mrs. H said...

Just found your blog through Pissed Off Teacher.

I am loving your Fixing the Schools Series. You are right on track. Everything you have said about NYC would apply to my rural West Texas High School. I find it interesting that we all deal with the same issues whether it is big city or small town.

I don't live in NYC and never will, but I'd vote for you for chancellor if I could!

Keep the great blogs coming!

Mr. Talk said...

PO'ed, I can see how that amount of money would make you want to retire if you already have the years. I wonder, though, how many teachers are really in your situation. It can't be that many. I know if I had the years in I'd be gone already. It's hard to find anyone with more than 10 years in anymore, let alone retirement eligible. I agree with your assessment that the city has no interest in veteran teachers, which just shows how clueless they really are.

Mrs. H--thanks for the kind words. I wish we could vote for chancellor; if we could Joel Klein would have been sent packing long ago.

Anonymous said...

Tenure is of primary importance because it protects teachers from the ill winds of politics. Here in NYC, our union traded away our rights for salary increases and most of our teachers are not even aware of it. The most vocal teachers have been eliminated, leaving only the lemmings.

The lemmings function under a reign of terror and are forced to contribute to the facade of smoke and mirrors or else.

The losers are the children. They have lost the teachers who would ordinarily speak out on their behalf and expose corruption or educational fraud.

We need total union reform before we can get any real educational reform.