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Teaching: Where Hard Work — and Success — Can Get You Fired?

Teaching: Where Hard Work — and Success — Can Get You Fired?

Imagine a teacher who spends her Saturdays preparing her students for state tests, runs her school’s science department, has 72% of her inner-city students passing state science exams (compared to her school district at-large which had 32% passing) and is slated to lose her job in the fall.

Something there just doesn’t sound right.  Unfortunately that is the case for Samantha Sherwood, a Teach for America Corps member who teaches 8th grade science at Mott Hall V in the South Bronx.

Mott Hall V is in a tough neighborhood — I know, because I work at a neighboring school in the South Bronx.  The district demands determined, bright, and motivated teachers, given all the challenges their students face outside of the classroom.

Virtually all of Mott Hall V’s students are black or Hispanic; 87 percent are poor enough to qualify for the free lunch program. Nearly 1 in 5 do not speak English at home, and about the same number require special education services.

Despite these challenges, Ms. Sherwood (and a cohort of other talented teachers) has seen success at Mott Hall V.  This should be rewarded and cherished.  Instead she is one of the 4,100 teachers faced with the possibility of losing her job under the budget Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg unveiled on Friday.

A New York Times article on Tuesday highlighted Ms. Sherwood’s story to show the detrimental effects of the New York state law which dictates that the last teachers hired must be the first let go.  According to the Times, “Under this law, many of those who will be laid off if the budget is approved by the City Council are young idealists like Ms. Sherwood, whom the mayor and like-minded reformers had rallied to some of the city’s most challenging classrooms.”

In fact, a model the city prepared in February dictates that all but a few hundred of those slated for layoff will have taught fewer than five years.  Teachers who come to the city through special programs like Teach for America or the New York City Teaching Fellows are equally susceptible to layoffs.

Teaching is an extremely difficult and honorable profession.  Having spent some time in the classroom teaching an afterschool program at my school in the Bronx, I know that my Duke education does not provide the skills I need to succeed.  Those skills are acquired from sheer experience (and a teaching degree).  Tenured teachers often get a bad rap from education reformers who think that just because they are settled in their jobs, they aren’t motivated or successful.  This is hardly true.  However, I do believe that all teachers should be judged on performance, not just time on the job.

Ms. Sherwood says she has “gotten nothing but satisfactory reviews” from her school’s administration.  She has certainly demonstrated effectiveness in the classroom.  She works weekends, started the school’s first newspaper and has one-third of her school’s eighth graders taking the science Regents exam, a requirement only in the ninth grade.  In class, she is innovative, pushing her students to take ownership of the material.  Consequently her students are involved and interested in their assignments.  For example, a group turned a presentation on how the planets influence the seasons into a newscast; another made it a music video.

“Any step up they can take, any leg up we can give them, it’s worth the extra effort,” Sherwood told the Times. “Their peers in the public schools in Chappaqua are getting all of those opportunities, and there’s no reason my kids in the Bronx shouldn’t.”

A dedicated teacher like Ms. Sherwood should not be facing a layoff, no matter how many years he or she has spent on the job.  It is widely accepted that one key to education reform is to have a good teacher in every classroom.  How will this happen with this “First in, first out” rule?  Further, these layoffs set the tone for the future of the teaching profession.  Why would a smart, go-getting young person want to enter into a career and a system where their hard work, dedication, passion and performance get them (and their potential students) nowhere?  

What do you think — and what should be done about this?  Please comment here; maybe we can find a way to pass your comments on.

Related Stories:

Chicago Lays of 1,200 Teachers

GOP v Tenured Teachers

Groundbreaking Teachers’ Agreement for Los Angeles

 

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Photo credit: Flickr Travelin' John


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12:45AM PDT on May 19, 2011

stop cuting budget

7:04AM PDT on May 18, 2011

This is about Idaho's superintendent of schools.. a fat bully with an AA from on online school (got his degree in 90 days) in weights and measures:
Tom Luna once again demonstrates that students don’t come first in his agenda. His own political status comes first.”

As has been reported, on Friday, state Superintendent Luna sent a memo to all Idaho district school superintendents and school board members warning them that allowing anyone to gather petition signatures anywhere on school property, at any time, may be “punishable by a letter of reprimand, the placing of conditions on the educator’s certificate or the suspension or revocation of the educator’s certificate. Those whose certificates are suspended or revoked can no longer be employed by an Idaho public school.”

“His message to all Idaho school employees was clear: Mess with Tom Luna and he will see that you are no longer able to work in education in the state of Idaho,” Lanza said. “Tony Soprano would be proud of Tom Luna.

6:45AM PDT on May 18, 2011

So when are we sheep going to stand up? Idaho is the worst, most of the teachers here won't even help themselves in a recall and referendum that screws them, but they are just too busy to deal with it so let others do it.. or are told by their LDS bishops to not get involved.. democracy at its sheepiest.

10:35PM PDT on May 16, 2011

Stupidity as usual. What is obvious and logical to most is ignored by those in power. Politicians aren't only greedy liars,they're stupid,too-and they seem to be intent on making America's children as dumb and ignorant as they are.

11:58AM PDT on May 16, 2011

( this is continued from my previous post)Why any teacher would vote for Rick Perry is an absolute mystery!! He wants Texas to be the next New Orleans and my friend has no idea what that will mean. Not only to her as a professional but to her small children who will have to go to school in that kind of a system. And, according to my niece who worked there as a substitute teacher, it's really, really bad. People like my friend don't want to listen or see what is really happening. Because of this teachers like me will also be out of a job. The only thing that will save the education system is if teachers, parents and students wake up, pay attention and demand things change for the better! Before its too late!!
The powers that be want to make it a money game! And we the people are gonna pay..... dearly!!
Oh, and my 76 year old mother was recently pushed out of her job. She teaches French, Spanish and Theater. Really? The school board expects to replace her with someone more knowledgeable and with that much experience?? Good luck!!!!

11:54AM PDT on May 16, 2011

In Texas, where I live, I talk to teacher after teacher who mindlessly vote for any and all of the republican candidates offered up to them. Because, they consider themselves republicans, I guess. When I press them as to why they vote the way they do or why the voted for who they voted for, they can't answer definitively. They often indicate that it has to do with moral reasons and some just do out of habit. But as a teacher myself it mystifies me!
I have a friend who is a republican. She claims she looks into the candidates she votes for. However, any time I have a political discussion with her she has little or no information on the candidates, their voting record or if they are backed by lobbyists or corporations. She tells me things like, "politics just don't interest me." Which begs the question, "Then how do you know who you are really voting for?"
I have warned her and others like her, that the conservatives in Texas and across the US want to privatize education, which would put her, a single mother of two, essentially out of a job. But she just doesn't seem to get it. I know for a fact she voted for Rick Perry, she didn't come out and admit it but she dropped hints.
Why any teacher would vote for that creature is an absolute mystery!! He wants Texas to be the next New Orleans and my friend has no idea what that will mean. Not only to her as a professional but to her small children who will have to go to school in that kind of a system. And, according to my nie

11:49AM PDT on May 16, 2011

In Texas, where I live, I talk to teacher after teacher who mindlessly vote for any and all of the republican candidates offered up to them. Because, they consider themselves republicans, I guess. When I press them as to why they vote the way they do or why the voted for who they voted for, they can't answer definitively. They often indicate that it has to do with moral reasons and some just do out of habit. But as a teacher myself it mystifies me!
I have a friend who is a republican. She claims she looks into the candidates she votes for. However, any time I have a political discussion with her she has little or no information on the candidates, their voting record or if they are backed by lobbyists or corporations. She tells me things like, "politics just don't interest me." Which begs the question, "Then how do you know who you are really voting for?"
I have warned her and others like her, that the conservatives in Texas and across the US want to privatize education, which would put her, a single mother of two, essentially out of a job. But she just doesn't seem to get it. I know for a fact she voted for Rick Perry, she didn't come out and admit it but she dropped hints.
Why any teacher would vote for that creature is an absolute mystery!! He wants Texas to be the next New Orleans and my friend has no idea what that will mean. Not only to her as a professional but to her small children who will have to go to school in that kind of a system. And, according to my nie

10:45AM PDT on May 16, 2011

teachers need all our support,sympathy and good wishes!

With parents who can sue them for a yes or a no...school boards who complain to them...because they are scared of parents...AND LAWERS....I do not envie them at all...

GOOD LUCK TO ALL TEACHERS!

9:44AM PDT on May 16, 2011

Teachers and schools are only as good as the people who run them, the elected school boards, state governors, state superintendents and legislators who decide some curriculum and level of funding and federal elected officials who establish policies such as no child left behind. As a teacher, I am not optimistic, since people's votes, are based upon 30 second attack ads, paid for by people that probably never went to public school. If schools had the same level of funding as some political campaigns and the freedom to promote students in any way possible to achieve success, we would all be educated.

9:10AM PDT on May 16, 2011

Teaching is the most important thing next to the sitter. It's sad to say that people do not take these things seriously. All teachers should be over qualified for their jobs. They should have a Psychiatry degree in their background to better understand the children. I do not trust my children to any of these schools. I have seen first hand the damage that my sons teacher has done. We are still trying to heal the scars from 2nd grade. People should HOME SCHOOL if one parent can and the other goes to work. These schools are turning into prisons. My child is NOT a prisoner and I refuse to pay people like my son's teacher a salary because the state has to carry them working or not. Did you know that there are teachers every year that get paid for bad behavior? They keep paying them even if they are not at work. I found out just recently. I don't know how they figured out this layoff stuff but it is time for a change. Time for people who actually care for our children. Never will we again trust the unified school district with our precious children.

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