Monday, June 23, 2014

An American Tragedy: The Humiliation and Displacement of Veteran Teachers

Every day, i get an email or Facebook message from a teacher somewhere in the United States who has been driven our of their job by a school administrator after more than 20 years of loyal service to the profession, often with great distinction. These teachers have worked in all kinds of schools; have taught a wide variety of subjects, have sometimes been coaches, librarians and school counselors. The one thing they seem to have in common is that they loved their jobs, had developed their own effective methods of teaching, and were at the high end of the salary scale.

The number of people we are talking about here is very large- probably tens of thousands of teachers pushed out, maybe more than that. Each one of these forced departures is an individual tragedy- a life deprived of meaning and purpose, often in the context of a very public personal humiliation in front of the entire school community, sometimes plunging the individual into depression and their families into hardship

 But it is also a collective tragedy. At a time when the average teaching career is less than five years, when young people pour in and out of the profession at a staggering rate, the forcing out of skilled and veteran teachers deprives schools of mentoring, of continuity, and also of resistance to methods of administration and pedagogy which are poorly thought through fads rather than carefully researched strategies.

And perhaps the latter reason, along with purely budgetary concerns, is why these teachers have been targeted. In the last ten years, our public schools have been deluged with initiatives which have transformed the way teaching is conducted and teachers are evaluated- ranging from VAM ( rating of teachers on the basis of test driven measures of student achievement), to the Common Core Standards, to high orchestrated methods of conducting teacher observations ( Danielson and Marzano protocols being the best known) accompanied by an unremitting wave of standardized tests.  Young teachers are shell shocked by all of these policies because they have known nothing else and desperately try to conform, often leaving the profession in frustration when they can't adapt. Veteran teachers, who have seen education fads come and go, speak out and call for skepticism.  This is threatening to the new managerial ethos in education which relies more on intimidation than cooperation and is determined to script teachers rather than inspire them

As a result, the brightest and most talented veteran teachers in each school, the natural leaders recognized among their colleagues, their students and their students families, are the ones targeted for being removed from their position, a process made easier by the new evaluation systems created to weaken teacher tenure and allegedly get rid of bad teachers.

But what has happened has turned the alleged intention of such policies on their head- leading to  the systematic elimination of the best  and most experienced teachers.

This has left young teachers unprotected. It has also left students without their most effective advocates

Someone needs to call out everyone responsible for this tragedy from the US Department of Education, to the Halls of Congress, to State Legislatures  and individual schools

That might as well be me

Enough is enough.

Time to use our best veteran teachers to help keep great young teachers in the profession- not to humiliate them, shame them and turn their example into a warning to young teachers to avoid speaking out, and above all avoid loving your profession so much that you fight for it'