Education vs. Economics
What's wrong with this picture?
Ah, June.... the beginning of summer, the promise of longer days and brighter nights, the laughter of students counting down to the last day of school, the moaning of teachers....
What’s that? “Why would the teachers be moaning?” you ask. Usually, the teachers are right up there with their students, gleefully marking off the days. Not this year, though. At least not if you’re a teacher in my neck of the woods.
We’ve all read about the budget crisis facing many school districts throughout the nation. Many districts have been forced for economic reasons to lay off teachers and cut programs.
In Pennsylvania, the already-existing crisis was compounded, however, by our governor’s drastic cuts in funding to education. The announcement of these cuts came on the heels of a nifty local contract settlement that was quite generous to our local teachers.
A few weeks ago, an urban school district in a city a few miles away laid off over two hundred teachers and cut from the curriculum all foreign languages (except Spanish) and many related arts (physical education, art, music, etc.) classes. A few days go, our local district furloughed fifty teachers low on the seniority totem pole and transferred a host of others, almost all of them in the “older” age bracket, in an unprecedented juggling of staff with blatantly clear implications. Many of the moves were made by scouring teaching certificates for multiple certifications; this resulted in placing professionals who had been teaching for 25+ years into subjects areas in which they had absolutely no experience. It would seem that the Powers That Be in the Jungles of Education are hoping to bring the younger (and more budget-friendly) furloughed teachers back by forcing the older staff members into retirement. From the conversations I’ve had with some of the transferees, that dream (or nightmare, depending on your perespective) is not going to come true. No one wants to wants to begin his or her retirement with the feeling of having been pushed off a cliff.
"Tentative" Teacher Assignments: A Bizarre Test of Endurance?
The ultimate losers in this appalling game that has nothing to do with education and everything to do with economics are, ironically, those who should be the priority: the students. Imagine the scenarios that will result if these “tentative assignments” indeed become finalized (“final assignments” are expected to come in July, after principals start negotiating with one another in the ongoing staffing (game?) saga):
. A teacher who has taught elementary grades for more than thirty years is slated for transfer to a middle school to serve as a special education teacher.
. A woman who has taught middle school science for 27+ years has been assigned to teach high school biology.
. Someone who taught high school Spanish at the beginning of her career but has been teaching high school English for the past 25+ years will be teaching middle school Spanish.
. A woman who taught Earth and Space Science to eighth graders for many years, then taught in the middle school gifted program, and for the past ten years has been involved with various Technology duties (she has two Masters Degrees in Technology) has been transferred to the high school to teach biology.
. Someone who has taught middle school English for 25+ years has been scheduled to teach a double block at the high school and the remainder of the day at the middle school
. A woman who has been teaching kindergarten for years has been assigned five classes of gifted students.... at five different schools
The list goes on. I’m sure the administration would offer justifications for these bizarre tactics, the main one being that moving teachers with multiple certifications (garnered many years ago and never used) would save jobs for those who are certified in only one area. (This makes no sense, though, in the case of the kindergarten teacher who has been assigned five classes of gifted; teaching the gifted in Pennsylvania does not require a designated area of certification, so just about any teacher could have been given that position.)
Exposing the Myths
“Teachers have no right to complain about being trasferred,” you might say. “They’re lucky they have a job.” My husband, who enjoys playing devil’s advocate, voiced this position after overhearing me discuss the situation with a friend. (Incidentally, my husband was “outsourced” some years ago from the company by which he had been employed for 29 years. Foreshadowing the current economic crisis by a few years, the company declared bankruptcy and was ultimately dissolved.) As I explained to him, teacher contracts, at least in our district, clearly state that monitary reasons can never be used to lay off instructors (!!!), and that layoffs for any reason must be calculated by 1)seniority and 2) matching areas of certification with available positions. However, as long as those two criteria are met, the contract only guarantees a job, not a preferred subject area or school. This is why our district took the bizarre turn it has chosen to rock the proverbial boat of the “entrenched” older teachers.
Of course, if the district wanted to get rid of teachers in order to save jobs, they could have started a long time ago doing what they have neglected to do, and that is get rid of the incompetent teachers. There has been a myth that has been circulating forever, it seems, that once a teacher has tenure, he/she cannot be fired. (Another version of the myth blames teachers’ unions.) That is not true. A teacher can indeed lose his/her job if administrators would simply follow the legal avenue known as due process. That, however, seldom (if ever) occurs. Why? Probably because of a combination of these two factors: 1) the threat of counter-lawsuits and 2) the effort involved to initiate and follow through on the process. What it seems to come down to is this: it’s easier to try and force many good teachers to retire than to get rid of those, young and old, who should never have been in the profession in the first place.
Who Should Be On First....
The bottom line, which appears only as a post script in many school districts, is this: in the Erudite Environs of Education, the “clients” are the students.... not the teachers, nor the administrators, not even the taxpayers. Keeping that in mind, is placing teachers in academic areas for which they are unprepared (a certification which has remained unused for 25+ years puts the term “teaching certificate” in the lexicon of an oxymoron) in the best interests of fhe students? Would you want someone who has taught traditional second through fourth grade classes for over thirty years to be your child’s middle school special education teacher? On the other end of the spectrum, would you be pleased to find out that your fourth grader's Gifted Seminar teacher was an experienced kindergarten instructor?