Hartford Public High School is failing, one of the lowest-performing schools in the country. Consequently, we are under redesign. Teachers are not fired. Nevertheless, all teachers, tenured or not, must apply for a new assignment. Therefore, we are, in a sense, terminated — all of us, equally.
I've always felt the veteran teachers of my inner-city high school were saints, untouchables — anomalies. The mere fact that they stayed so long intrigues me. After four years of sweat and toil, working in a challenging system, I'll admit defeat due to utter exhaustion — and yet these old-timers just keep on truckin'.
I recall my first year well. I was a floater in four different classrooms. I was honored to work alongside a few experienced teachers — 20-plusers. They were dedicated, organized, wise. They gave me insights that you can't buy from graduate school. In a month, these teachers will have to reapply for their jobs or get on the "To Be Placed" list. My heart breaks for these legends, these committed teachers who made these kids their lives. They should be protected, allowed seniority, the right to an assignment at an academy of their choice. Instead, they are treated like nontenured teachers, like me.
There is nothing like the experienced teacher. I proctored the Connecticut Academic Performance Test with one of these so-called dispensable legends. His classroom is like a pair of worn-in shoes — filled with years of history and teaching. Before his students took the CAPT, he reminded them not to take the test for the school, not for anyone but for themselves. He wanted to take the pressure off them. "Do your best," he said, "And that's all you can do." The kids were serious and worked extremely hard. He complimented them repeatedly for their cooperation.
Some outsiders agree that we are a failing school and so it's time to get a fresh start. One parent even told me that she felt teachers need to be accountable, and "if they're not doing their job, well ..."
Others might refer to the old-timers as dinosaurs taking up space. But there is nothing like an experienced teacher. I know that now. I've witnessed, firsthand, the artful master. Too often experience is underestimated.
How many of these old-timers will attend the mock interviews, the resume or portfolio training? Some of this training is given by teachers with one-quarter the experience. I try to imagine our most honorables in such a demeaning capacity and I'm enraged.
It's a travesty. We need to remember the legends and pay them homage. If they're good, let's reward them by decreasing their teaching load, giving them a choice of assignments. By telling them they must apply for a job, they are considered no better than me — a novice, a new teacher, nontenured.
I pale next to these legends. I'm the first to admit it. I will step aside for the old-timers. They've earned their right. I've only just begun. No amount of teacher training or professional development can ever replace the educational masters, the veteran teachers — the legends. We should applaud them for their sacrifice and perseverance. They are the true masters in my profession.
Elizabeth Brown of Avon is an English teacher at Hartford Public High School.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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