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Change would bring higher degree of professionalism, respect to teaching

April 25, 2011 posted by Michael Loeb

Michael Loeb, a third-year educator, teaches middle school students with special needs in the Throgs Neck neighborhood of the Bronx, NY.

"Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." That's how Nobel Prize for Literature winner George Bernard Shaw saw it over 100 years ago when he wrote these now infamous words. Educators know first-hand that Shaw was wrong. But we have to do more to change lingering misperceptions. Considering the enormous role education plays in shaping the lives of our kids, it is essential we elevate the status of teachers in our society.

President Obama told us during his State of the Union that one of the biggest impacts on a child's lifetime success comes from teachers. The president reminded us, "In South Korea, teachers are known as nation builders. Here in America, it's time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect."

I agree, and I believe changing some of the archaic rules that hamstring our profession would be a good start. In particular, ending last in, first out would help foster respect that's missing for teachers. LIFO, as it's called, is the policy that states that during difficult economic times teacher layoffs must be determined by seniority -- not quality.

Studies show that President Obama is correct: the most influential factor in a child's school education is his or her teacher. However, in most states and districts, seniority trumps effectiveness. That is not valuing the important work we do.

Layoffs are awful. They would devastate students at the school where I teach. My friends, who also happen to be my colleagues, would lose their jobs and opportunities to do work they love. But making matters worse is how we go about layoffs when they do occur. What successful organization or business would make painful layoff decisions without taking the effectiveness of its employees into account?

I often hear that public education is not the private sector -- we don't sell derivatives, counsel, or medical treatments. I couldn't agree more. The future of our children is unequivocally more important. How will we attract new, talented, relentless teachers if potential educators know they may be out of a job in a year or two regardless of how they do? Are we really going to convince graduates or career changers to become educators and not bankers, lawyers, doctors, or anything else with LIFO in place?

Ending this bad public policy is not a silver bullet. We still need a comprehensive teacher evaluation system, more strong school leadership, better pay, training and support for teachers, and more collaboration between teachers and parents. But ending LIFO would be a substantive and symbolic shift toward acknowledging the need to keep our best teachers in the classroom. In my three years, I have seen teachers who have changed kids' lives. We cannot afford to lose a single one of these amazing educators.

If education doesn't work out for a teacher, he or she will have to find a new job. But if education doesn't work out for kids, they will have likely lost something much more valuable -- their only opportunity to reach their potential. For many of my students, this means a lost opportunity to break out of a cycle of poverty. In the richest, most innovative, and most patriotic nation we can -- and must -- do better for our kids.

Educators are able to change kids' lives. We need our laws to reflect the reality that teachers are, in fact, those who can.

The views presented on our guest blogs are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of StudentsFirst. We thank all of our guest bloggers for their thoughtful perspectives.

Topics: Measuring Student Achievement, Teacher Quality, Save Great Teachers, Special Education, Teachers