Friday, April 16, 2010

Fire First, Ask Questions Later

Personally, I got into teaching strictly for the money.  That 13K I made the first year changed everything.  Having that financial cushion freed me up to spend my time with strictly fun activities, like teaching summer school.  I also got to spend Tuesday and Thursday nights and all day Saturdays teaching college, and Friday and Saturday nights playing fiddle in Pennsylvania and Darkest New Jersey.   I know teachers who dispatch taxis, run kennels, and do all sorts of diverting things with their spare time.   Why should they have all the fun?  That’s why we need this bill to fire all the senior teachers and lay off teachers based on something more than mere seniority.

After all, anyone who reads the New York Post editorial page knows that most teachers get into the business for strictly selfish reasons.  What we do, you see, is cleverly go to four years of college and pretend to be interested in education.  After that, we go another year or three for our master’s degrees.  Most of us spend a year working as student teachers, for no pay, but it’s all worth it if we can weasel our way into this teaching thing.

The idea is this—after four years undergrad, a year or two for the master’s, and the year of student teaching, we spend precisely three years being ideal, letter-perfect teachers.  Then, the moment we get tenure, we drop the pretense and sit at ancient wooden desks, patiently reading the New York Times for another quarter-century or so.  Finally, we retire and die, preferably in Boca.  The allure and attraction of such a fulfilling and romantic life is undeniable.  Anyone can do it, and experience, along with wisdom, is of no value whatsoever.  What sort of crackpot wants such qualities in teachers anyway?

In any case, there are certainly better ways than seniority to determine who stays and who goes.  For example, what about the teacher who spends Wednesday afternoons at the Comfort Inn with an administrator?  That’s a valuable member of the team who not only improves the administrator’s morale, but also, in a classic win-win, helps the administrator to spread good morale through an entire department, if not the entire building.  So what if this teacher’s only been on the job for eighteen weeks? 

Or what about teachers who support the end of seniority-based layoffs, along with all the other reforms and innovations Tweed has introduced?  Sure, it’s possible they’re bucking for supervisory positions, or sainthood, but they’re a vital part of any school team.  After all, if this measure goes through, who will support indispensable follow-up reforms like more work for less pay?   Doubtless that distinction will go to these valuable members of the education community. 

As always, there are Gloomy Guses who will whine, “Gee, what about the senior teachers who’ve hung around through thick and thin?  Don’t most teachers disappear within five years because they can’t handle the job?”  To them, I say stuff and nonsense.  Anyone can be replaced, except Mayor Bloomberg

That we went through decades of teacher shortages means nothing.  That we advertised on buses, subways, that we ran job fairs, that we recruited from foreign countries and alternate universes is also of absolutely no significance.  Good times are never coming back, the recession will be here forever, and it’s smart planning to treat teachers as replaceable widgets.  Who cares if no one wanted the job when it was readily available?  Doubtless we won’t need a single one of them again, ever.

There are those sad sacks who complain, “Gee, are there really as many bad teachers as the tabloids say?  If the people who hired them couldn’t figure out how bad they were, and gave them tenure, how the heck will they know whether or not they’re firing good teachers?”

And what can you say to those people?  In all seriousness, I say this—I’d most certainly have been fired many years ago, not for the quality of my teaching, but rather for talking to the press--if it weren’t for tenure and seniority rights.  It’s our sad duty as educators to speak up.  We are not making widgets, we do more than produce test scores, and we have a duty to protect this profession from arbitrary and capricious demagogues, who care about nothing more than getting two teachers for the price of one, and will use any means necessary to have bargain-basement teachers forever.
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