I've noticed something strange. Whenever the discussion turns to layoffs, tenured senior teachers seem to want to apologize for having job security. "Sure, there are some bad senior teachers out there," we say, almost whimpering, "but most of us work just as hard as the newbies!"
Well, I'm sick of it. There are lousy doctors, lawyers, accupuncturists, and envelope stuffers out there, but you never hear the good ones making excuses for the bad ones. In other professions, it is assumed that the good ones far outnumber the few rotten apples. In teaching, we constantly apologize for the very few crappy senior teachers despite the fact that most of us with a few streaks of white in our hair are damn good educators. I think it's high time we stopped apologizing for the failures of a few and started demanding recognition for the fine work the vast majority of us do.
The myth of the great teacher persists in our society, but the myth of the do-nothing, feet-on-the-desk, waiting-to-collect-a-pension teacher has become almost as pervasive. They are just myths. There are only a few Mr. Chips out there, and probably just as few Buffalo Chips. The vast majority are neither great nor awful--we are just hard working, dedicated people doing a difficult job to the best of our ability.
The idea that senior teachers should be laid off is gaining traction as well. Yet, you almost never hear new teachers apologize the way senior teachers do. And the real, rarely spoken truth is that senior teachers are almost always better than new teachers. I was a new teacher once, and I was lousy in my first year. I was so bad that I didn't even know how much I sucked. By my third year, I had some idea of what I was doing. It wasn't until about my 8th year or so that I knew I belonged and that I could handle just about anything. Most teachers will tell you just about the same story. It took time for us to become the teachers we are today.
BloomKlein would gladly throw us on the dung heap if they could under the guise of keeping the "best" teachers. In my view, the best teachers in any school are the veterans. Many of the newbies will one day become fine teachers but that day isn't today. This is even acknowledged by the city itself in their Teacher Data Reports, in which new teachers are compared to each other and not to veterans. (Pardon me for using the reports for anything other than spare toilet paper. It shan't happen again).
Layoffs aren't about weeding out the few incompetents. Layoffs, when they truly have to occur, should be about keeping the workforce stable and making sure that those who have dedicated their lives to the profession aren't shafted. Those new to the profession, if they are truly dedicated, will return when the fiscal crisis ends.
In any case, I believe the current threats of layoffs are little more than Mayor4Life employing the Shock Doctrine. He runs arounds in a Chicken Little-esque manner, claiming that the educational sky is falling due to the recession. In the ensuing panic, he hopes to realize the mayoral wet dream of being given the authority to fire high priced teachers and all but end that nasty practice of having to actually pay pensions. I really believe when Bloomberg sees that we will not give in to him and he will have to lay off new teachers, he will suddenly find a way to avert most, if not all, the layoffs. Witness Washington D.C., where Michelle Rhee miraculously found a 34 million dollar suplus AFTER she managed to lay off 266 teachers. This layoff threat is just a Rhee-play on a grander scale.
Before someone demands an apology for anything I've said here, let me head them off at the pass. The answer is no. I'm not sorry for wanting to keep and protect my job. I'm not sorry for having learned my profession through years of hard fought experience. I'm not sorry for sticking up for the "last in, first out" method of layoffs, because I believe that to be a lynchpin of unionism that newbies will appreciate themselves one day.
The only thing I'm sorry for is that we all have to work under a mayor and chancellor who think that educational policy means wielding an axe and a machete.