Chasing Experienced Teachers From the Classroom

Every public school student deserves access to a highly-qualified, experienced educator. But experience may matter more at lower-performing priority schools, where students often enter classrooms suffering from significant skills gaps and a variety of social issues that interfere with learning. That’s why many educators are so baffled by a federal plan that they say is destined to chase the most experienced teachers out of the schools that need them most.

From Central Falls, RI to Savannah, GA, lower-performing schools across the country have begun announcing plans to fire their teaching staffs in order to qualify for federal School Improvement Grants. To qualify for a School Improvement Grant, schools must select from one of four federally-mandated intervention models, including the so-called “turnaround” model, where the entire teaching staff is fired and no more than half are rehired.

The turnaround model rests on a simple but perhaps badly flawed assumption: That schools will be able to fire teachers who are not making the grade and replace them with more qualified educators. But according to a recent discussion on the NEA Priority Schools Campaign Facebook page, the turnaround model is likely to result in inexperienced educators – including many recent graduates with no teaching experience – replacing experienced teachers.

Many lower-performing priority schools are cash-strapped and prefer to fill their teaching vacancies with newer teachers, who can be paid less and are eager to land their first jobs. A New York Times story just weeks before the start of the school year discussed how principals’ preference for hiring less costly new teachers was interfering with job placements and transfers throughout the New York City school system, resulting in 1,800 teaching vacancies. In fact, many priority schools throughout the country hire a greater percentage of new teachers than veteran teachers, primarily because of cost considerations.

The end result of the turnaround model, many educators warn, is that experienced teachers will likely be replaced with recent graduates. And while new teachers are the future of education and bring enthusiasm to the classroom, replacing an experienced teaching staff with a less experienced staff is hardly a proven reform model.

“I am not sure why it’s always ‘Get rid of experienced teachers and bring in new ones,’” said Tami Bighead, a middle school teacher from Kingman, AZ. “When a school fails year after year, it’s not just staff, but parents, students and the community that need to be held accountable.”

Bighead knows something about teaching in priority schools. She began her career in the Compton section of Los Angeles County, and said her first classroom was in a portable building with no teaching manuals or resources, and that some of the students she was assigned had serious psychological and behavioral problems. She almost quit.

In fact, newer teachers at many priority schools have complained about a lack of support and professional development. Like Bighead, they are sometimes handed some of the most challenging teaching assignments in the school.

The fact that teaching in priority schools can be such a challenge is one of the reasons that veteran teachers must be available as mentors, said Tammy Harvey Fick, an elementary teacher at a Title I school in Prince William County, VA.

“The length of time a person has been in the classroom does not accurately reflect their level of performance,” she said. “On the other side of that coin, however, is the fact that enthusiasm and high energy level does not replace learned experiences from the classroom. New teachers are an asset for any school, but “seasoned” teachers are also necessary for guidance.”

The other question is how willing “seasoned” teachers will be to take jobs in schools that just fired their teaching staffs.

“Why would anyone ever choose to teach in one of these schools if they think there is a 50 percent chance they are going to be fired?” Congressman Mark Souder of Indiana asked during a recent hearing of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The answer is simple, many educators say. They won’t.

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  • CJ

    Our school district just offered a bonus to any educator able to retire who will voluntarily do so this year so they can hire cheaper new teachers. Since our state has already abolished tenure in favor of retention based on teacher evaluations which are subjective and partially based on test scores and has a provision that any teacher with two years of unsatisfactory test scores will lose their teaching license, we are feeling like war has been declared against the older teachers in our district. New testing standards take effect next year and people feel like the district plans to “clean house” since scores are expected to drop sharply the first few years of implementation. It is a situation making older teachers feel very vulnerable and uneasy. We were recently called in to make an online resource bank of all our units and additional resources we use in our classroom so a new teacher could “walk right in and have everything they need”. One teacher joked that they are harvesting all our hard work and knowledge and then will get rid of us for cheaper teachers. He was only half kidding.

  • Sivan

    I completely agree with the article.
    I know first hand how teachers can be harrassed so much that they quit. If the teacher still sticks out because quitting is not an option, and he or she happens to be well liked by students and parents, the system/principal come up with tactics to cut his/her position, have him “transferred” involuntarily, sometimes to multiple schools requiring substantial travel time, then bring the position back and hire a new teacher, not excluding non- certified ones by giving them emergency certification and giving some justification how the school would benefit from this particular person.
    We are not talking to veteran teachers. We are talking to teachers who have about 15 years or so experience and defeinitely cannot retire.
    In the meantime, every school has these “specialists” who gave their own office spaces, interact with very few students, maybe one or two a time,do not have a specific job description and spend their time between meetings in and out of the school and get hefty salaries.

  • LA

    I was recently called into the principal’s office and told that I make a lot of money, and was questioned about my salary step and grade then asked to retire. I was grilled on how long I planned on working and when I would consider retiring. I have had excellent evaluations, and wonder if this will start to change because of my pay grade. I still have another decade or longer to go. I’m feeling the heat already and I’m a mid-career teacher.

  • Gail

    I found the article very interesting. I am also a mid-career teacher. The turn-over in my building has been significant these last two years. I now find that I am among the handful of ‘experienced staff’ in the building. This year I have begun to sense that my experience and years of professional development, as well as my Masters and National Board Certification, count for little. I have always scored high on evaluations, but it seems recently that my principal often defers to the younger teachers and frequently disregards my input and suggestions. It’s frustrating and disheartening.