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Experienced teachers are definitely worth hiring

I am a really good science teacher. I say this not to be arrogant, but to make an important point. I have taught for a long time. I am fun and creative in the classroom, and I work hard. I believe in kids. Students like me a lot and hope to get into my classes. I work well with colleagues and periodically provide professional development for them. I have written biology curriculum and Common Benchmarks, and sit on a number of school committees. I spend several weeks each summer learning something new to help me better my practice. My lower-level students find success in my classes, and my AP environmental students’ scores are above the national average. My TEVAL (teacher evaluation) scores are also above average. I have a folder full of recommendations that make me blush. And yet I cannot be hired in any of the local schools. So what’s the problem?

I moved back to this area seven years ago after more than two decades away because my mother was sick; we have since built a house and settled back in. 

At the time, the only schools needing science teachers were about an hour south of where I live. The district pays well, and I took the job despite the drive. I love the school and the kids, but do not love the time in the car or the added environmental impact of my long commute. I have since applied for four more local positions. The response has been the same every time: “You are our top candidate. We would love to have you at our school. You would fit right in. BUT our board of education will not allow us to hire you. You have too much experience.”

Really?

My years of experience — the very things that make me a good teacher — place me in a higher salary range, and therefore school boards are reluctant to hire me. But a system that can’t hire and retain the best teaching talent does a deep disservice to our children.

If it’s all about the kids, how can we justify giving them less than the best teachers? We argue about TEVALs and Common Core and how we can cut more money from the budget instead of having conversations about how we might inspire passion and curiosity, create real-world connections and develop critical thinking skills in our children, challenging them to make a difference. That is all about the teaching. In a time when our future is so tied to the quality of the thinkers that we bring up today, we cannot “afford” second best.

But it seems that we can’t afford a highly qualified teacher with great references and a lot of experience, either. I tell my students every year — sometimes more than once — that I teach biology and environmental science because I want them to have the education they will need to move our country and world to a safer and more sustainable place. When I am in my rocking chair, I want to know I prepared them as well as I possibly could. 

The adage is old but it remains relevant — children are the leaders of tomorrow, and they deserve the best education we can give them today.

And yet policies that consistently hire inexperienced or less qualified teachers work in direct opposition to this goal. While it is true that there are many excellent young teachers, the point remains that we systematically pass over experience in favor of low-budget instruction. And that, in the aggregate, is damaging our children and, more broadly, our economy and our future.

What can we do? Vote in support of public education. Understand that good teaching and good education — just like good shoes or good quality tires for your car — costs money. Schools do not “waste” money; they spend it on opportunities for our children. Vote to hire the very best teachers the school can find. Talk to your neighbors and your school board representative. Help build a culture that values education, and that invests in it.

It may not be reasonable to assume I will find a job closer to home during my career. But my grandchildren will be coming into the school systems soon, and I want the very best for them and for every other child who is an integral part of our future.

 

Beth Frost lives in Cornwall Bridge.