Lower tax revenues and increasing student enrollment is forcing some tough decisions about all kinds of expenditures in my school district lately, including teachers. Our superintendent, Jeff Eakins, has said repeatedly that the priority is “putting students first” and ensuring “we have our very best teachers in front of our students. I agree and I’m with him so far. Tough times require tough decisions, but the needs of students should always come first.
Then, In a video posted last week on YouTube, Superintendent Eakins spoke about putting the “all-stars” on the field as part of the plan to right-size the organization. The “all-stars” are the approximately 650 “non-classroom based instructional staff” specifically, “district resource teachers, school resource teachers, academic and success coaches, and academic intervention specialists” identified here by Marlene Sokol of the Tampa Bay Times. The “putting them back in the game” means to eliminate some of these positions and move those teachers from their specialized roles back into the classroom.
“There is no coach, at all, that would keep their All-Stars on the sideline.” Jeff Eakins
Wait! What? With all due respect Mr. Eakins, your analogy is so very, very wrong.
“All-stars” is a divisive term. It is used in sports to identify players that are the best of the best in their position. To designate this group of teachers as “all-stars” minimizes or ignores the amazing work that traditional classroom teachers are doing every day.
There are a limited number of spots on the all-star team. A small number of players are invited to the All-Star game, just as there has been a limited number of resource and coaching roles available to this point. With fourteen thousand classroom teachers and only 650 positions it would be hard to argue that every all-star in Hillsborough County has been identified and transitioned into those roles.
Many all-stars choose not to participate. Injuries, schedule conflicts, and desire to play keep some all-stars from participating in the big game. The same is true of classroom teachers. There are innumerable reasons why teachers don’t apply for non-classroom jobs including family obligations, their desire to stay at their current school site, and the love of working with students daily.
Resource teachers and coaches are not “all-stars,” they are special teams players. Special teams players are not usually interchangeable. They train for and perform a specialized job on the field. The resource teachers and coaches do similar specialized with work with students, teachers, and administrators. The assumption that they would easily transition back to a generalized classroom role remains to be seen.
I have talked and worked with several resource teachers and coaches. They took on those roles because they felt that had more to give to students. They craved leadership roles and new challenges, things that are hard to find in a traditional classroom position. And that may be the biggest issue here: the subtext of “all-stars.” The assumption that all-stars are designated by their transition from the traditional classroom exposes and exacerbates a larger problem in education: the lack of a career ladder. In too many schools, in order to move up you have to move out of a classroom.
Without a doubt, my district has to get their spending under control. They need to make the tough decisions, to be good stewards of public funds. Positions will likely be eliminated and teachers will be reassigned. Those effect of those transitions, either by loss or gain, will be felt by more than just those 650 teachers. It is my hope that during the process we don’t lose sight of the people.