Sunday, April 18, 2010

Seniority Means Always Having to Say You're Sorry

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.


reality-based educator said...

Well said! I wish the UFT would argue the case so well.

Pissedoffteacher said...

I once had a newbie tell me I should retire to make sure he had a job. I wiped the floor with him.

I've worked long and hard for my job and I intend to keep it until I am ready and not one minute before.

On this note, Mayor Moneybags should have given his job to someone knew, not someone with seniority in the office.

Chaz said...

Great post. We are know that Bloomberg wants to reduce costs and Klein hates teachers. It is called "education on the cheap".

NYC Educator said...

I've been seeing it as shock doctrine too. That's what these folks are good at, and it's incredible this country lets them get away with it.

FidgetyTeach said...

Great points. I found myself nodding the entire time I was reading it. Well said.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post!!

Anonymous said...

I love senior teachers. They were the best teachers in my high school until they were replaced with vastly underqualified twenty-somethings. But you are wrong to complain about the need to justify yourselves as public employees with a responsibility to the taxpayer.

With professionals who are not public employees, there is no compulsory system which requires everyone to pay for the poor performance of these bad apples, who manage to cling to the tree of public largesse through insane tenure practices, powerful unions, and a relative monopolization of elementary, middle, and high school education.

Most senior teachers may in fact be doing a good job, but you should understand why people want to ensure that their children are getting the best education for their buck.

Anonymous said...

Well said! Eloquent even. I hope you convey these thoughts to our State legislators before they wipe out our seniority protecton.

Anonymous said...

Are you sorry for being part of a union that has systematically screwed the same demographic of kids over and over for generations?

Moriah Untamed said...

Unions don't screw kids, anon 11:54. They screw rich people by assuring that workers get fair salaries and benefits. The rich get a little less rich as a result. The only reason that teachers seem to earn a lot of money compared to other people is because we are in a major economic depression. Who caused that depression--the unions, or the banks and corporations?

The kids you are so worried about are going to grow up without unions to protect them, if you and others don't wake up and realize who the real bad guys are.

Anonymous said...

Teachers in my neck of the woods (eastern Long Island) whom work in predominantly white neighborhoods make 80,000 Per yr after 15 yrs service. There are many outstanding teachers and there are many lousy ones and the union protects the bad ones for life, via teacher tenure. If the UFT really cared, they would fire these teachers instead of allowing them to set in a detention room (rubber room) while they collect full pay. If unions really cared about kids, than unions would support charter schools and other real school reform, but they do not. Instead they fight tooth and nail to keep things just as they are so that the teachers get to keep there tenure and holidays and high wages and benefits while the children they claim to love get screwed, because they're regulated to go to a failing school. The UFT, by choice, chooses not to allow school choice for these same underprivileged minority students. Why is that I ask? Why is the UFT so against school choice for parents? Also the only reason those students are not going to be protected by a union when they grow up, is because half of them will become dropouts as a result of attending a failing school. A school that they must attend because there is no other choice. The teachers unions all support this, Why?