Should years of experience matter in teacher layoffs?

Michelle Rhee criticized last-in-first-out approaches to teacher layoffs while speaking to the Legislature earlier this month. (AJC Photo)

Michelle Rhee criticized last-in-first-out approaches to teacher layoffs while speaking to the Legislature earlier this month. (AJC Photo)

I would love to get the reaction of teachers to this Wall Street Journal article on the drawbacks of basing teacher layoffs on seniority, a practice that Michelle Rhee criticized during her recent whirlwind tour of Atlanta earlier this month.

I was puzzled by one of Rhee’s arguments against the “last-in-first-out” approach to teacher layoffs. She said the seniority system hurts high poverty schools as they typically have the newest teachers. So, those schools can see major staff turnover when layoffs are required and the newest teachers are marched out the front door.

But one of the standing criticisms of school systems is that they assign the least experienced teachers to the highest poverty schools. (It is a point often made by the Education Trust.)

In those policy debates, inexperienced teachers are cast as impediments to turning around failing schools, not a plus. I have attended many conferences where experts call for a concerted effort to staff the poorest schools with the most experienced teachers.

So which is it?

Are young teachers a boon for poverty schools and thus their departure represents a setback to the schools, as Rhee explained it. Or, are inexperienced teachers a liability for failing schools, as many policymakers insist?

How many new teachers are as talented and effective as the young Teach for America teacher featured in the Wall Street Journal article below?

My understanding of the research on effective teaching is that generally you don’t want a first-year teacher for your child. You want a teacher with at least three years in the classroom. (That has been borne out by my personal experience with my four children. First-year teachers face struggles with classroom management. But my children have never had a Teach for America teacher, who may arrive in the classroom with better management skills.)

Here is part of the Wall Street Journal story:

This is Stany Leblanc’s second year as a New York City teacher. It may also be his last.

When Mr. Leblanc’s sixth-grade students arrived in September for their first day of school in the South Bronx, they were on average two years behind in writing skills and more than a year behind in reading.

To inspire his poor, black and Hispanic charges to read, Mr. Leblanc has found books that are relevant to many of their lives. Students whose homes are too chaotic for studying find in his classroom a quiet place to work long before school in the mornings and well after the school day is done. He pushes students to write essays every week and groups them into teams named after colleges, so they remember every day what they are working toward.

Five months later, his sixth-graders are reading and writing at the sixth-grade level. “I’ve already caught them up and now I’m moving them beyond,” he said.

More than 4,650 teachers are expected to be laid off at the end of this school year, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s preliminary budget. State law requires that teachers hired last are the first ones to be laid off, regardless of their effectiveness. That would make Mr. Leblanc, who began teaching in 2009 and earns $45,000 a year, vulnerable to being among the first to go among a citywide teaching corps of nearly 80,000.

His school is vulnerable, too. More than 200 new schools have been created in New York City in recent years to replace large, dysfunctional schools where too many children were failing. These new schools tend to have teachers with less experience.

The location of Mr. Leblanc’s school in a poor neighborhood is a factor as well. Schools in poor districts tend to have newer teachers, as teachers with greater seniority tend not to want to work there. The Department of Education has said low-income communities will be among the hardest hit by teacher layoffs, places where children can least afford to lose their teachers.

“It’s going to be devastating to the culture” of the school, said Mr. Leblanc’s boss, Patrick Awosogba, the principal and founder of Science & Technology Academy: A Mott Hall School. Dr. Awosogba carefully picked each of his 25 teachers, building a team of educators who work well together and often pitch in at each other’s classrooms to offer help and advice.

Out of 25 teachers, 21 are new to the New York City system, having started at his school in 2009 or 2010. That puts them at risk of being laid off. His teachers are from Brown University, Harvard, Yale and West Point, among others. Many stay so late after school, either working with children or setting up lesson plans, that Dr. Awosogba frequently pops in to their rooms in the early evenings to say: “That’s enough for today. Go home.”

Dr. Awosogba calls himself pro-union. As a representative of the United Federation of Teachers for six years when he was a social studies teacher, he says he ardently believes that the teachers union can work with the administration to make things better. But he said he fears what a seniority-only layoff system will do to his school.

If Dr. Awosogba loses a significant number of teachers through layoffs, he will be allowed to hire other, more experienced teachers already teaching throughout the system or from the absent teacher reserve pool—a group of teachers who have not previously found permanent positions in schools. In some cases, teachers who have been laid off may be called back, also on a seniority basis.

The UFT has argued in recent weeks that the mayor is focused on the wrong issue. The UFT president, Michael Mulgrew, has said that with class sizes increasing and after teacher cutbacks through attrition in the past few years, there shouldn’t be any layoffs at all. But if there are, he has said, seniority is the only objective way to ensure that principals don’t unfairly pick off teachers they may dislike.

Mr. Leblanc, who graduated from Stanford University, came to the school last year through Teach for America, an organization that places young teachers in hard-to-staff urban schools. Last year, more than 46,000 college students applied to be TFA teachers nationally, and only 12% were accepted. There are about 250 Teach for America teachers in the New York City system teaching in their first and second years.

Mr. Leblanc stands out even further among those 12%. Recently, he became one of only 34 out of hundreds of TFA recruits to be nominated for a national teacher excellence award. Sarah King, a program director for Teach for America who acts as a coach to Mr. Leblanc and others said she is struck by Mr. Leblanc’s intensity. “He wastes not a single second of instructional time,” she said.

Mr. Leblanc’s gift, said his colleague Kaitlin Hanson, is his ability to connect with boys, particularly ones who are having behavioral issues.

Mr. Leblanc has become the go-to teacher for hard-to-reach cases, helping them learn to communicate better and working with them on apology letters for their outbursts, a process that Mr. Leblanc said can calm the children as well as allowing them an outlet to express their feelings.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog.

67 comments Add your comment

Jackie T.

February 21st, 2011
9:26 am

Well, who would replace the inexperienced teachers at failing schools when they get removed? Probably other inexperienced teachers.

Removing teachers based on their seniority doesn’t make sense economically – inexperienced teachers are often “cheaper” than someone with 30 years of experiences. Moreover, keep removing the inexperienced teachers, in 15 years, we won’t have a solid cadre of mid-career teachers. We need a blance of beginning, mid-career, and senior teachers in a teaching force. It is rather unfortunate that school staffing is often done without a big picture in mind.

Elizabeth

February 21st, 2011
9:34 am

Of course they should be based on seniority! A new teacher may seem to be effective the first two years, but will not always continue to be a good teacher as more is expected. Experience counts whether most people believe it or not. I am a far superior teacher now to what I was my first two years, and I was not bad then. But by the end of my third year, it had all come together. ASIDE FROM THE OBVIOUS ISSUE OF EXPERIENCE AND KNOWLEDGE, THERE IS ALSO THE ISSUE OF FAIRNESS.

Lay-offs MUST be based on seniority; otherwise, a discrimination suit can be filed based on age. Second, how dare a new person believe that he/ she has a right to a job at the expense of an older person who has spent years in the profession? This is clearly discrimination and an unfair hiring practice in business AND education. Just because a teacher is promising after two years does not meen that the person will stand the test of years and time required to continue to be good.Only time and expereince will reveal whether a person can do the job over a period of ten or 20 years.

the prof

February 21st, 2011
9:39 am

@elizabeth….think quite a bit of yourself don’t you?

Dunwoody Mom

February 21st, 2011
9:48 am

The decision on whether to keep teachers based on seniority is uttely ridiculous. The only thing that should matter is whether that teacher is good at his/her job – educating students. Period.the.end.

justbrowsing

February 21st, 2011
9:49 am

Quality counts period. I know principals who preserve favorites- both old and young alike. The question is can we trust such a corrupt system to fairly assess who is and who is not a quality teacher. I am less concerned with age, however, it is not fair to send more expensive teachers to failing schools because of their seniority. That smacks of discrimination in and of itself. Teachers should always have a right to choose which community and school they would like to work in. It would probably be a non issue if they would also reassign quality principals and assistant principals to these schools also. Unfortunately, that is not what always happens. These schools also get some of the worst and least prepared administrators.

Tony

February 21st, 2011
9:52 am

When talking about high poverty schools, the use of the “teacher experience” arguments only obfuscates the harsher realities associated with these schools. By making remarks like Rhee (and others) make regarding seniority and layoffs, they are avoiding the true issues related to getting quality teachers into those schools, but moreover they are dangerously avoiding discussion of the truth about the needs of the communities where these schools are located.

Schools in high poverty areas bring a host of social problems that must be addressed if student achievement is to be raised. The passion and energy brought by young teachers can certainly make an impact. The knowledge and wisdom from experienced teachers can have just as much of an impact – probably more.

One important question being avoided by Rhee is this. Why do high poverty schools have such a difficult time keeping the good teachers? Based on what is presented here it sounds like the only problem is the layoff policy based on seniority. It is essential to dig a little deeper. Why do the good teachers leave these challenging schools? First and foremost, I propose it is because they seek better working conditions. That is something most workers seek and teachers are no different. There is no doubt that working in a high poverty school takes a huge toll on the teachers. Burnout is very common. This contributes more to the problem of high turnover than does the layoff policy. Rhee is trying to point everyone in another direction based more on political ideology than on truth.

Teachers frequently begin their careers in schools that are more challenging and later move to schools that are considered better. Teachers are now being faulted for this phenomenon. Do we fault other professionals for moving to find better working conditions? I have seen bankers, lawyers, doctors, real estate agents, and other professionals move to new locations or affiliate with new companies in order to improve their working conditions. Teachers who work in high poverty schools and are able to transfer to better schools are now being blamed for the problems in those schools. Give me a break!

Seniority must be a factor of consideration for layoffs and it should be an important one.

Oh yes, I'm the great pretender......

February 21st, 2011
9:52 am

Folks, cast an eye northward to the great state of Wisconsin. Guess what’s gonna happen if Governor Walker has to fire teachers to balance the state’s budget…….because they’re members of a public employees union (I hate ‘em with a passion), LIFO will be used to determine which teachers are fired. We all know that the ranks of teachers in every state are filled with ineffective teachers, whether they have one year experience or thirty or more years experience. Every principal in every school knows who those ineffective teachers are…..this is my argument against seniority being used; it’s unfair to those really, really good teachers……get rid of the bad apples that are ruining the whole barrel.

Teacher Reader

February 21st, 2011
9:54 am

Layoffs should be based on how good of a teacher one is. I have known very good teachers with 30 years of experience and also very ineffective teachers with 30 years of experience. I have seen many teachers with 30+ years of experience who need to be put out of their misery as they are hurting the children in their classroom year after year.

No teacher should be immune from layoffs. If one thinks that they are safe they can be complacent and not do the best job that they would if they knew that their performance mattered if layoffs were to occur.

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get a clue people

February 21st, 2011
10:03 am

Keep strong teachers. Age and experience DO NOT matter. All industries, other than education, work this way.

PsychMom

February 21st, 2011
10:04 am

I’ve had experience working with many “Teach for America” teachers, and all were fabulous! The energy and enthusiasm they brought to the classroom was palpable. Any issues they had with behavior and classroom management were minor- and they asked for and accepted help. I’ve also worked with other first-year teachers that were fantastic, and some that were not. I don’t think one policy fits all.

Seniority should be taken into account – but only if the senior staff person is doing their job well. Efforts should be made to keep excellent teachers, regardless of how many years they have in the classroom. And efforts should be made to move out those who are ineffective, have lost their motivation, or just are not a “good fit” for the teaching profession.

Hey Teacher

February 21st, 2011
10:06 am

Well said, Tony!

Also, I have worked in systems where excellent teachers have been pushed out or “asked” to retire because they were too expensive to keep because they had 30 years of experience with an EdS. The truth is, without some provisions in place for seniority, this would become all-to-common.

Jborodawg

February 21st, 2011
10:15 am

Tony…great comments. We’re talking layoffs, not general evaluations and retention. When it comes to layoffs, seniority is the only fair way to go. How would you like it if your company laid off you with 15 years experience but kept the youngun just hired a year ago? If you’re good enough to still be with the company after 15 years, then you’d want the layoffs to be done by seniority.

TW

February 21st, 2011
10:24 am

1. Hold the principal accountable.

2. Empower the principal to label a pool of up to 50% of her staff as
“franchise educators” meaning they cannon be chopped.

Dd

February 21st, 2011
10:32 am

Im surprised that seniority is the biggest topic being discussed. Imo the impact this one teacher hS made to “hard to teach” st udents is amazing and confirms that the key to good education is good teachers

Inman Park Boy

February 21st, 2011
10:37 am

As an educator with forty years experience (and still working), I have found that the best teachers are not always the teachers with the most experience, but really terrible teachers are almost always inexperienced. Having said that, a school should have the same employee strategy as any other “business:” keep your highest poerformning employees, and don’t worry about “years of service.” If the AJC had two writers, and one had to go, would it base its layoff decision simply on “years of experience?” Probably not.So, why should schools?

Michael Moore

February 21st, 2011
10:42 am

Ask any teacher about their first year teaching. You remember that one. You also remember how much you didn’t know and the mistakes you made. By my fourth year teaching, I was just getting comfortable and making my own choices and developing my own philosophy as to how kids learn.

NA

February 21st, 2011
10:47 am

I don’t think seniority should matter, however, it does protect good, experienced teachers that are being let go to make room for cheaper, new teachers. The point of the matter is, bad teachers can be dismissed. It is up to the principal to follow through and get rid of those teachers.

justbrowsing

February 21st, 2011
10:56 am

@NA- some excellent teachers are mislabeled as ineffective due to tiffs with administration. That should not happen.

FatBoy

February 21st, 2011
11:00 am

Bad teachers should be fired regardless of seniority.
I work in a mid-western high school with a strong union, yet we had a principal who was successful at firing at least one tenured teacher a year.
The union was there to be sure the teachers in question got a fair hearing. However, almost all of the teachers supported what the principal was doing.
It can be done, you just need dedicated, competent administrators to do their job.

lovemyjob

February 21st, 2011
11:21 am

The problem with looking at teacher performance is…who is judging? The field of education has become so competetive and cut throat that anyone with a job wants to keep it for finacial reasons. I think a good measure would be: How many of you would do this job for free? Keep that group and then add those that have stood the test of time just like a marraige.

Tad Jackson

February 21st, 2011
11:21 am

Michael Moore … thanks for asking! I hope you’ll enjoy my rookie year story here, at http://www.adixiediary.com.

Dr. Christine Jax

February 21st, 2011
11:27 am

Last-in First-out is ridiculous on its face. For one, it has not worked to provide us with the best teachers. While there are amazing teachers out there of all ages and experiences, there is no doubt that our educational system has continued to NOT meet the needs of the majority of poor, minority, and non-English speaking students. Second, our schools of education, led in large part by NCATE (National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Colleges), are ensuring better skills, dispositions, and success of our teachers. If schools of education are putting out better teachers, why would we not want those teachers in our schools? These new teachers are also likely more competent in new technology. Third, there is no defense of seniority as a reason to keep a teacher in the classroom. Retention of teachers should be based on their knowledge, skills, dispostions and the ability to apply all three. If the argument is that seasoned teacher are better teachers, then why would they need to hide behind seniority. If they are good teachers, shouldn’t that be obvious? Teachers will often say that they need protection from politics. No they don’t. All organizations have politics, learning to live in that environment is a skill most of us have to develop. Teachers can too. The number of breaths you have taken is not a reason to be in a classroom, ability is.

Maureen Downey

February 21st, 2011
11:32 am

@Tad, Just read your first day of teaching and last day of the year posts. Now, I am hooked and have to read everything in between.
Maureen

rural education

February 21st, 2011
11:38 am

Some counties have already changed their “Riff” policies and have done away with seniority as a determinant.

Teacher Reader

February 21st, 2011
11:48 am

If principals and other administrators were paid by how well the children under their charge performed than we as a society will have the administrators and principals desiring to keep the good teachers and getting rid of the riff-raff.

Echo

February 21st, 2011
11:51 am

More teachers would be fine with keeping teachers based on performance if they could trust that it will be their “performance” in the classroom and not their ability to kiss the principal’s a$$ that will be judged. If you think I’m willing to put my job in the hands of the moron principal at my school you’re nuts. There is a good reason why he was asked to leave his last job and why he will hopefully be asked to leave his current one.

Echo

February 21st, 2011
12:03 pm

As an aside, for those who think teachers should just deal with “politics” because that occurs in every organization…I would point you in the direction of the APS. Politics is one of the main impediments to that system get straightened out. Who the hell would want this job and have to deal with that too?

Tad Jackson

February 21st, 2011
12:04 pm

Thank you, Maureen, for all you’re doing to keep important conversations going. And I hope you’ll enjoy A Dixie Diary. I really do. I know I enjoyed every moment that made my fingers start typing and my teacher’s heart beat for those super special kids. Teach on, everybody!

Gwinnett Parent

February 21st, 2011
12:09 pm

I still remember the teacher that was laid off from my child’s school 2 yrs ago due to seniority. She was a newbie at teaching, but had changed careers. Her well rounded background was great and offered a lot to the classroom. Laying her off was a loss for everyone. On the other hand, I had the opportunity to meet an economics teacher that majored in liberal arts and only had 1 econ. class under her belt. She was grandfathered in and got to keep her job. As far as I know she is still teaching economics today.

Dr. John Trotter

February 21st, 2011
12:28 pm

Tad, I like your stuff. Funny diary. Reminds me of my days as a young teacher. Kids can really be a hoot! (Or, should that be “hoots”?) Grantville? I know it well. The only place in Coweta County where you can buy a legal bottle of bourbon. Otherwise, Line Creek in Peachtree City. Ha!

By the way, how would Michelle Rhee assess your classes? Some situations are simply not “evaluatable,” right?

Jessica Smith

February 21st, 2011
12:32 pm

1 out of 57 doctors lose their license. 1 out of 97 lawyers lose their licence. AND 1 out of 2,500 teachers are fired. The fact is that it is very hard to fire an ineffective teacher once they get tenure and some of these “experienced” teachers although they have been in the school system for many years, haven’t actually been teaching the students and are not effective teachers.

It’s heartbreaking that a new teacher who can come into the district and make an actual difference – show measurable results – would be laid off while other teachers who continue to produce students 2-3 grade levels behind and have been doing so for years are allowed to keep their jobs on the sole concept of seniority.

These school systems are already failing and this whole last-out-first-in theory is preventing the CHANGE that needs to occur in order to provide a solution.

The teachers who are failing to teach need to be laid off and the good ones kept on, how else do you expect to improve the education that these children are receiving?

Tonya C.

February 21st, 2011
12:33 pm

Dr. Christine Jax:

You’re delusional. I’ve worked the majority of my life in corporate America, and after working in the central office of a metro ATL district I was stunned. Politics doesn’t begin to describe the bs that goes on in the school systems of today.

Tonya C.

February 21st, 2011
12:37 pm

Jessica Smith:

Where are you getting these numbers. Do they include those RIF’d? I would counter that I’ve met plenty of incompetent doctors and lawyers who retained their certifications. I don’t love the last in, first out basis of layoffs. But I also have seen the system from the inside and as it stands, there really isn’t anything more fair. If an administrator is worth anything, he or she would take the necessary steps to remove the poorest of teachers before it comes to layoffs.

Tad Jackson

February 21st, 2011
12:40 pm

Hello, Dr. Trotter … and thank you for your kind words and for you thoughtful and hugely informative posts. They are much appreciated.

If Michelle is one of those administrators who actually walk in a teacher’s class while it’s in action and sits down … yes … she’d be edified and she could evaluate instantly. My principal, Lurlene, does that all the time. I’m not offended at all. I want her to! She’ll walk in, sit down, and watch … and the expressions she gives me lift me. The respect I have for her is enormous as well as for her courage!

Anyhow, this is all so simple: good education. Successful education. All teachers and principals and assistant principals have to do is devote their mind and time and affection for the success of students every moment of the day … and even in their free time … in thinking about how to make it even better and nurturing the next day! So simple to me. So very simple.

And thank you, too, parents, for your support and trust. It’s very magical when it all comes together.

Dekalbite

February 21st, 2011
12:52 pm

I think teachers with 5 to 10 years of experience are often the best teachers. They are young enough to physically do the job and have the experience for classroom management issues to be lessened. I have no problems with fairness to teachers. No one owes you a living. On the other hand, with my attitude (and it’s very real), I don’t owe my employees any loyalty. I think teachers just like any other employee should be going after the highest pay and best working conditions. If you think teachers are that different from other professionals, I have ambrodge in Brooklyn to sell you. Since education is about – well – educating students, society needs to evaluate what Is the moat effective and efficient way to do that. That’s obvious to me – direct instruction is how we humans pass on our collective knowledge. Now how to keep enough direct instructors in our classrooms is the real crux of the problem. We just can’t be casting off half our teachers when they reach seniority and keep replacing them with younger and cheaper teachers. We are going to lose a phenomenal number of teachers in the next few years. Teaching is getting more and more stressful and less financially rewarding. Retirement and job security is what keeps many people in then classroom. Take away those rewards and you will have a teacher shortage the like of which we have never seen. Not a good prospect in today’s Knowledge Economy for our nation. This can be overcome, but only of teacher pay takes a huge increase in order to attract highly educated adults into a high stress, low security field. I’m not sure the US has the money to pour into public education if this happens, but our children will still need to be educated. That won’t change. Long term thinking is not our forte. Changes in education need to be realistic with only the sudents in mind.

Dr. Monica Henson

February 21st, 2011
1:58 pm

The practice of paying teachers purely for length of service and accumulation of degrees, absent any evidence of positive impact on student achievement outcomes, is the reason why layoffs in education are seniority-based. I was an alternative certification teacher back in 1985 and eventually achieved National Board Certification and went on to become a school administrator and earn a doctorate in educational leadership. I have served as a summer institute director for The New Teacher Project and can assure you that those teachers receive excellent, practical preparation to go into high-need classrooms and manage them well. They already have the content knowledge in their subject areas, as evidenced by their undergraduate accomplishments. They sign on knowing full well that they will go into poverty-stricken dropout factories. Districts cannot continue to try to fit all the pegs into the round hole of seniority-based salaries and ignore the impact that individual teachers have on student achievement. Thank God for NCLB and the focus on student outcomes, and the ability now to link them directly to individual teachers over time.

Dr. John Trotter

February 21st, 2011
2:17 pm

Tad, is your diary out in book form? If so, I’d like to get it. You have that rare gift of poignant writing. You see the humor in the little things of life which makes life so refreshing! It’s the little things…like I am very excited to buy a Lance newspaper (one of the many dailies which are full of the news of the world of futebol here in Brazil). I will read it while I enjoy immensely my peixe (fish), feigao negro (black beans), arroz (rice), and salada (you can guess this, right?). I want to read about Flamengo’s big win over Botafogo yesterday. Big rivalry. I am a Mengo fan all the way! To see these torcidas (fans) go nuts (even while watching the game at the mall or at the sidewalk cafes) is simply fun. Same thing with teaching kids. I taught Georgia History too. We had a blast at Jonesboro Jr. High in the old days. Many of my former Georgia History students are now well over 40 years of age and are my friends on Facebook! They still regale at some of our antics (or, my antics). Ha! I even had one of my former students to remind me how I had the whole class to break out in this cheer…”Bip Bop Bam, Devin brought some Yams!” when he arrived at homeroom late but we were in a tight race to win the canned food drive, and he remembered to bring a can. (By the way, I think that we won all of the contests. I made “Showboat Pork N Beans” the Cadillac of canned foods, and I had mothers tell me that they had to drive all over the county looking for Showboat Pork N Beans! Of course, back then, I called it Cheatin’ for Charity because I bribed kids from other homerooms when I was on Hall Duty. I paid a nickel for each canned good but I gave a dime for Showboat Pork N Beans! This was in the early ’80s.)

Tad, keep having fun! That’s what it’s all about. The kids will never forget you! I had an big First Team All State (AAAA) offensive tackle who signed with Purdue asked me several years after he had graduated from the eighth grade: “Coach, you remember when I was Sheriff of Johnson County?” He was still proud of the fact that in my Georgia History class he had become Sheriff of Johnson County! I love this! The overall U. S. Senator of my Georgia History classes received an appointment to West Point and is now a Colonel in the U. S. Army. Both of these outstanding Americans are my friends on Facebook. But, I can assure you that neither ever wanted to be sent to Tattnall County. They knew that this was the home of the Reidsville State Prison. This also was a long table at the end of my classroom. I had a warden and everything. The first girl who was ever sent to Tattnall went to the Counselor and tried to get out of my class. It was such a stigma. A good stigma. And this girl liked me, but could not handle the peer pressure of being sent Tattnall County. Ha! I think that she too is my friend on Facebook.

We had fun, and we learned Georgia History! By the way, Norreese Haynes grew up in Carver Homes in Atlanta before his father moved the family to a shell of a Jim Walter Home on the edge of the woods (at the end of Arnold Street) behind J. W. Arnold Elementary School in Jonesboro. I had heard the stories about Norreese — how Mr. Wilson had broken his paddle on Norreese at J. W. Arnold — when he came to my Minorities Class (the study of different minorities in America) as a Seventh Grader. It was an exploratory class. Remember these? This particular class was not organized by counties like my Georgia History classes but by churches. I had pastors, monsignors, etc. I made Norreese the Bishop of the Class. He had more ecclesiastical power than anyone else in the class. He took it seriously too. I sat him right beside my desk, a place of honor! He was a damn good bishop! I like to think that I recognized his leadership abilities even back then! He was a rascal but a good-hearted rascal. Today, he runs the day-to-day operations at MACE, and he’s a real trooper. He laughs and smiles quite a bit, but don’t ever get Bishop Haynes on your case, principals. He’s like an old English Bulldog. He’ll clench that jaw and won’t let go! He tells me, “It’s the ghetto in me.” He says that when he attended Slater Elementary School in Atlanta that he had to carry a baseball bat to school and a baseball bat from school every day. His father had warned him that he better not return home with a jacket or a pair of shoes missing. He had to learn to fight early. So many of our kids are going through the same turmoil today. That’s one of the reasons that Mr. Haynes says that “order is the first law of the Universe.” He asserts that kids cannot learn in chaos, and I whole-heartedly agree. © MACE, February 21, 2011.

jarvis

February 21st, 2011
3:17 pm

I agree that the layoffs should be merit-based, but first theyneed to come up with a better way of assessing teachers.

The one-day classroom observation doesn’t seem like a great way to do it to me. Too much room for error in basing a whole year’s performance on one “surprise” visit from the principal. For the record, my wife is a teacher and she been hinted to before that her observation was coming soon.

Dragonlady

February 21st, 2011
3:19 pm

Tad,
Great writing! I enjoyed reading your stuff and will go back whenever I need a lift.

Tad Jackson

February 21st, 2011
3:25 pm

Dragonlady … thank you so much. I know you’ll have a great time as you get to know the gang even more! Evan that dang Lurlene!!

And Dr. Trotter … hello … and thanks for your stories, too. No … A Dixie Diary is available in cyberspace only at this point, but thanks for asking, and I’ll keep on typin’!

Tychus Findlay

February 21st, 2011
3:40 pm

Tenure needs to be re-visited because every once in a while, our school system needs a metaphorical enema to purge teachers that have overstayed their usefulness and welcome.

Just because a teacher managed to not get fired after X number of years does not necessarily mean there’s not a better candidate to fill their position.

PsychMom

February 21st, 2011
4:15 pm

Tad – I’ve bookmarked your blog. I love what I’ve read thus far. You are the teacher that every parent wants their child to have. I train school staff on working with children with learning and psychological disorders. I may use some excerpts from your blog, if you don’t mind.

Equitas

February 21st, 2011
4:34 pm

It is interesting that many state legislatures and
the United States House of Representatives/Senate
use seniority to assign committee assignments
dealing with making laws, but when it is utilized
in education it is all of a sudden a questionable
practice.

Equitas

February 21st, 2011
4:46 pm

A temporary reduction in salary scale ranges would also
save teaching jobs. There are other options besides
discarding seniority,but some policy makers see it
as an opportunity to gain more control in the area
of education.

Jim F

February 21st, 2011
5:29 pm

See “Waiting for Superman.” Layoffs should be based on ability – teachers with several years can stay if they’re doing a good job, but they should have to compete for their jobs against younger, hungrier teachers. If they are all they think they are (@ Elizabeth) they should prevail easily over the newer teachers. If they are the burned-out 20 year teachers showing DVD’s everyday, they can hit the road and be replaced by two young motivated teachers for the same price. We allow market forces and competition to govern the marketplace so we get the best product available… yet with our kids the only criteria to teach them is who’s been here the longest time.

Edukator

February 21st, 2011
5:39 pm

When Cobb had to lay off 600 teachers, most with less than 3 years, parents and students were really upset. They have rehired a lot of them, but they were science teachers who had opened relationships with Tech, and other really good young teachers. I can tell you, it doesnt matter how good a teacher you are, theyre going to count the years you have in, and thats that. There are plenty of teachers out there who have taught 20 years, but actually theyve taught 1 year 20 times. Some of the best trained, motivated, and well educated teachers out there are young, at least young to the profession.

catlady

February 21st, 2011
5:46 pm

NOT considering years of experience seems counter-intuitive to me. Would I want a spinal surgeon fresh out of med school (no matter how talented), or someone who has done the procedure 1000 times (successfully) on many types of patients with many levels of impairment? Do I want an attorney fresh out of law school for my death penalty-level case, or do I want someone who has defended (successfully) many? You see, teachers are professionals to. We have to wield an educational scalpel or argue our students’ cases before the “supreme court” every day!

As far as my own children went, would I prefer a well-seasoned teacher, who has pretty much seen everything, or a beginning teacher who has all the “book learning” but has never dealt with real students on their own? Why are we so quick to think highly experienced teachers have lost their fire and are ready for the junk heap?

I believe it is part of our general lack of respect for teachers. Yes, I have seen some older teachers who needed to be out of the classroom. I have seen far more beginning teachers, who MIGHT become good teachers in 5-10 years, if they stick it out, and many who don’t have “it” at all and will be out in less than 5.

How many would not want a seasoned auto mechanic working on their car? I sure would–he has learned all the tricks and has the experience to warn me of what to be watching for. Aren’t teachers every bit as important as auto mechanics?

Perhaps it bothers me more because I am one of those experienced teachers. I can deal with parents pretty well. I serve as mentor to my younger colleagues. I have parents and students who WANT to be in my class. Somewhere, they have heard I can really help struggling students! I don’t know about that, but I do know that I am a more effective teacher for most students, with nearly 40 years in the classroom than I was with 15 or 20 years (and I thought I knew it all then!)

Equitas, last year I suffered a loss of about $2000, this year $5000, and next year (assuming I am employed) it looks closer to $7000. If I teach long enough, I might be back to the $6900 I made the first year I taught!

Tad Jackson

February 21st, 2011
5:55 pm

PsychMom … hello … and I’m deeply flattered. If something I’ve written will help, then please go right ahead! Thanks again for you kind words. Much appreciated.

M.E.

February 21st, 2011
6:05 pm

Life is not fair people. You would not want it to be. Teachers like everyone else should keep their jobs based on performance only. To many slack teachers NOT getting the job done holding on to the parachurtes for dear life. In the real world, if you don’t perform you get th eopportunity to look for someplace else to work. Great teachers will not be worried by this. They know their great and their performance shows it. It’s the old trimers coasting that are complaining on this blog. Quit complaini9ng and do your job well and you have nothing to worry about. I would bet that the so great teachers aren’t even reading this, they’re busy preparing to teach their students. The slackers should get on board or get out!