City must keep experienced teachers working

Have you noticed the keepgreatteachers.org commercials on television that call for the end of the seniority system method of dismissing teachers — last one in, first one out — during financial crises?

This program happens to be a project of the Reform Education Now organization headed by former city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein along with a board of directors consisting of prominent business leaders. Who is paying the millions of dollars to produce and air these commercials and what is their true motivation? Do they ultimately want to replace our public school system with a system of charter schools headed by special interests? Why are they being funded by billionaire foundations headed by people like Eli Broad and Bill Gates? Why is the focus of attacks on experienced teachers?

Senior teachers are often the best teachers in a school. It takes years to develop skills, see how children learn and know what works best. It is a shame that any teacher has to be laid off, but the present attack on experienced teachers is happening because they are the highest-paid staff members in a school. Getting rid of them, even if they are excellent, is financially expedient in the minds of these business people. Teacher unions have also become a target. They are painted as the bad guys when in fact they protect the rights of teachers.

I taught for 33 years in a public school system and have witnessed many talented, outstanding teachers who have been targeted by administration because of personality differences or petty disagreements. Teachers need protection from unwarranted attacks and the union is there to defend them.

Yes, there are clunkers among senior staff members, but it is the responsibility of administration to work with those not working up to par. If all else fails, poor teachers can be brought up on charges even if they have tenure and dismissed for due cause.

Many in the public do not realize that a teacher’s day does not end when students go home. There is extra help to give, lessons and tests to prepare, papers to grade and parents to call, among other things. The job can be exhausting as well as rewarding. In a classroom, there are so many details to deal with on a daily basis. You have to differentiate instruction for students at different levels and learning styles, deal with children with learning and emotional problems, find ways of motivating children to learn and always encourage students and treat them with respect, patience and kindness. There are parents to deal with and administrators to satisfy. Experienced teachers for the most part are master teachers who have learned the ropes and know their stuff.

These days, test scores are of paramount importance. They determine so many things, including if a school remains open or closes. There is so much pressure on teachers, students and administrators. I believe that we have lost sight of what education should really be about in this zeal to constantly prepare for tests. What happened to a well-rounded education that encompasses all subjects, including music and the arts? We should not be training robots to perform well on tests where results are often skewed to make politicians look good. We should be preparing and nurturing children with a multitude of skills that they need for the future to be productive and well-adjusted citizens.

I cannot understand why our mayor and many other elected officials feel that a business person without any educational experience or background should head the New York City school system. Klein and Cathie Black have never taught in a public school. What do they know about the way children learn or the teaching styles of different educators? It is an insult and the height of arrogance to think that a person with no educational background can run a school system involving more than 1 million students and more than 100,000 staff members.

Yes, we need someone with business acumen and perhaps that should be a high-ranking position such as assistant chancellor, but the leader of our educational system must be an educator and an advocate for all of our children. This leader must work with all teachers and other staff members and support them in this most important profession of educating our children.

Henry Euler


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