Decades before he became the 2005-2006 New York State Teacher of the Year and was heralded as one of the nation’s leading educators, Stephen Bongiovi almost became something far less glamorous – fired.
The retired English teacher from Long Island was reviewing his personnel files as part of the teacher of the year application process when he received a shock – after his first year of teaching, at least one administrator recommended that he not be retained.
“Someone must have stood up for me,” Bongiovi said, because he was invited back and was allowed to continue what became a stellar career.
But at a time when education “reformers” are criticizing seniority-based layoff policies that prioritize teacher experience, or are advocating for alternative certification programs that may provide only a couple months of teacher preparation, Bongiovi’s story is a powerful reminder that great teachers are not made overnight. Experience matters.
In a recent column on seniority-based layoffs, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel argued that teachers are not interchangeable inventory, and that schools that discount experience – or treat it as a liability — do so at their own peril.
That’s a lesson that needs to be heard in places like New York City, where 4,100 experienced teachers may be laid off while the city recruits 500 inexperienced teachers from the New York City Teaching Fellows and Teach for America programs.
“We absolutely need new teachers,” said Bongiovi. “We need their enthusiasm and their capabilities with technology. But that can not outweigh the accumulation of resources and strategies that only comes with years of experience.”
The vital role of teacher experience was a recent topic of discussion on NEA’s Speak Up For Education & Kids Facebook page. Educators from across the country weighed in on how experience helped them hone their crafts, and discussed what they see as an alarmingly hostile attitude some reformers are taking toward teacher experience.