Firing and Keeping Teachers: Seniority or What?

I recently read an article on seniority in teaching by Peter Greene. According to him, current “reformsters,” as he called them, were doing everything in their power to erode the current system. These reformsters claim that the current system of seniority crowds out young, aspiring teachers in favor of older, established teachers who have been at the school or in the school system for many years. Peter Greene is at the top of this seniority system in his school, whereas his wife is at the bottom of the “food chain,” so to speak. His wife is one of the best substitute teachers in the district, and teachers are constantly asking her to fill in for them. She interacts with her students, and tremendous growth is seen. However, in order to give her a job, a teacher’s gotta get fired.

Greene mentions one strategy that he didn’t agree with; what he calls “Just Fire The Worst”

This system would be based on teacher ratings, with the teachers with the worst ratings getting fired. However, these ratings would, of course, be based on student performance on high-stakes tests, which no teacher would ever trust their job over, let’s be honest.

At the same time, firing the bottom 5% teachers only serves to perpetuate lazy managing of teachers. All administrators would have to do is refuse to help teachers improve. This is a terrible strategy, I mean, are you kidding me? What’s gonna happen when those old, supposedly better teachers retire? Who’s going to take their place?

In the same vein, it would make teachers begin to compete against each other for jobs. Teachers wouldn’t share their teaching ideas with each other, and classrooms would soon become isolated from each other. After all, if you have a great idea, you would keep it to yourself, and the teacher across the hall could never benefit from your ideas, and vice versa.

However, let’s look at the other side of the equation. The most expensive teachers (which many times would be the best), would be fired first, and this would discourage teachers from staying too long or climbing the ladder too high.

My dad used to work at a seminary, and he once told me about the seniority-based firing. Older professors, many of whom had worked for the seminary a long time and had cemented their reputations as great professors, were being forced around the age of 65 to retire. This really angered many of the professors who were nearing that age, as they saw it as a doomsday nearing. Now none of them had any incentive to stay, they would just leave for a seminary that recognized their ability to still teach and research, and thus reach hundreds of other scholars with their work.

Therein lies the problem. How to we incentivize and encourage improvement among the lower performing teachers while at the same time keeping the quality teachers who have been teaching for years? It seems like a lose-lose situation.

John Greene says it best in the closing paragraph of his post:

Look, nobody has to tell me that the way this is working sucks. Sucks with a giant suckness that could out-suck the suck of the biggest darkest suckingest black hole in the universe. But as much as this sucks, every alternative proposed by reformsters sucks even more. Pennsylvania schools should be properly funded. My wife should be in a classroom for the rest of her life, and all present and future students deserve to have a teacher of her caliber and dedication. That’s the world we ought to be living in; destroying seniority gets us further away from that world, not closer.


Green’s blog:

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One Response to Firing and Keeping Teachers: Seniority or What?

  1. cerouse2015 says:

    This is a great post. I never really looked at both sides to the seniority argument before. I was fortunate enough to go to a school where all of the teachers loved to teach and constantly interacted with the other teachers to provide students with a well-rounded education. But, I have no idea if any of my teachers had tenure or seniority based firing. I wish there was a clear solution to this problem, but I cannot see one.


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