by Cary L. Tyler
Last hired, first fired.
If one is a relatively new teacher or a student teacher, the prospect of finding (or keeping) a job is as grim as it ever has been in many places in this country.
Take what happened recently to teachers in the Beaverton School District here in Beaverton, Oregon. In the chaos of budget cuts, 204 teachers were laid off and 365 were transferred and significantly affecting the entire district.
After surviving a major layoff while teaching at Gilbert High School in Gilbert, Arizona in 2009 but seeing good teachers sent packing and the emotions that surround a budget cut that affects educators, I can emphasize with what is happening.
What bothers me, however, is the clear belief, especially it seems among many school districts, that tossing all the new teachers is the easiest way and that keeping veterans means that schools are not losing much from cuts.
As a 21-year veteran educator, it could be easy to rest on my experience. However, because I have chosen to take risks and move around in the last ten years, I technically have been a “new teacher” in a couple of settings. This, and my recent educational opportunities, has given me fresh eyes.
Quite frankly, if I had stayed the teacher I was in 2004, I would suck right now.
That’s right. I would be a mediocre educator, yet there might be some who would look at the 2004 Cary Tyler and think he was just fine as a teacher.
No. The changes in education, the best I believe I have seen since I started in 1991, would render that incarnation of Mr. Tyler as operating under archaic instruction.
During my two years at De La Salle North Catholic here in Portland, I worked with several “young” teachers, and quite frankly, they were excellent. Never failing to try new ideas and doing what they could despite the lack of resources, I was impressed with their drive, their love and compassion of education, and their desire to see students succeed even under negative circumstances.
Although there are some of the new crop of teachers who clearly are out of place, many of the youth movement I have run into in Arizona and in Portland not only know the latest and best practices, but actually implement them, especially in technology and in accommodating different learning styles.
I hear from my veteran colleagues all the time of those teachers who absolutely refuse to add to their teaching styles, utilize technology, and are resistant to providing differentiation, using tired adages such as “Well, it worked when I was in school”.
Quite frankly, they did not. Students were just more inclined to either accept the terms of their education, or the world did not need for them to have as much education in order to be functional members of society. Today’s economy, the growing shift in technology that has eliminated more and more traditional positions, and other cultural struggles mean that education needs to be more dynamic.
Yet, while the tools are more available than ever before, we discard the teachers we have trained well for this and keep those who refuse to change and thus give those who want to “hate” on public education ammunition (just read any online commentary on education to see what I am talking about).
As I help my new school integrate technology fully into the curriculum, I am excited to be surrounded by some young teachers who are willing to take a risk, willing to expand their education, and willing to make a difference. I also am excited to be surrounded by veterans who have never believed that their education training ended twenty, ten, or even three years ago.
Right now is the perfect time to start clearing the stagnant forces that are in education. However, the normal response for school boards and high ranking administrators seems to be to just clear out the new hires and give “tenured” instructors a reason to rest on their years. Unfortunately, those teachers who are still the same as they were ten years ago are more of a detriment to students than an eager and well trained new teacher.
I leave with this information I picked up from Dylan Wiliam (his name is spelled correctly) at a conference this summer. Wiliam, a prominent education researcher, gave us this to chew on:
- Students taught by the most effective teacher in that group of 50 teachers learn in six months what those taught by the average teacher learn in a year.
- Students taught by the least effective teacher in that group of 50 teachers will take two years to achieve the same learning (Hanushek & Rivkin, 2006)
Although there is much more to this (I plan to discuss his ideas on professional learning communities and formative assessment during the coming year), it shows that the standard practice of simply letting go teachers can be crippling to a school community, as well as an individual child.
Right now, firing the last hired could just be putting some of our children on the firing line as well.
*Oh, just in case: ≠ means not equal