Veteran Teachers: One Key to Real Education Reform

Cheating is rampant. Both standardized testing and the children we have cheated out of quality education are wasting talents on anemic curriculum and forced test prep. Teaching standards effectively is a sound strategy for improving education schools.

Many commentators are stunned by the uncovering of widespread cheating on standardized testing in D.C. and Atlanta, and rightfully so. But how many more children have we cheated out of their American birthright to a quality education by wasting the most valuable learning resource of all: great veteran teachers.

Across the country, we have tens of thousands of good, dedicated teachers whose talents and energies are being underused and wasted on anemic curriculum and forced test preparation. Countless others have been pushed out or have left the profession in frustration. But others are continuing to fight the good fight, some risk being fired for insubordination for refusing to go along with test prep mandate madness, and actually daring to teach students what they need to learn.

When it comes to teaching, experience matters. No matter how good the preparation a new teacher may have had (and that’s  still a subject of debate in many quarters), no matter how zealous the new recruit, no one comes into teaching a craftmaster. Teaching, like all professions, requires continuous growth and improvement by those who practice it.

Experienced, high-quality teachers are extremely valuable to a school because they provide the stability and local knowledge-base upon which innovation and consistent excellence can develop. Increasingly, research on student performance points to the benefits for students of having their teachers working together in teams. As my co-authors and I suggested in TEACHING 2030:

Consider how a team of six to eight teachers of varying expertise and experience (and with different career intentions) might work with 150 – 175 students over a number of years. Among the team might be several highly accomplished teachers who will supervise and work with a selection of novice teachers and be supported by teaching assistants….[etc.]…

At the core of these teams, the best teachers—those who have demonstrated the highest level of effectiveness working with students, and have rightfully earned the trust and respect of peers, students, and parents. These highly accomplished veteran teachers are especially critical to schools in high-needs urban and rural communities, what we too-frequently refer to as “failing” schools. Current policies such as “turnaround” plans that require mass removal of teachers only serve to further destabilize such schools.  

These same teachers also often tend to be mavericks, innovators, outspoken advocates, or quietly effective loners. Some politicans and reformers have made much noise about the need to end LIFO policies and collective bargaining protections, ostensibly to remove ineffective teachers. But eliminating those protections also makes it easier to fire good and great veteran teachers who are more likely to be thorns in the side of insecure or AYP-panicked administrators.

A more effective and efficient strategy for improving the quality of education in all our schools would be to unshackle the human potential wilting in so many of them by implementing “opportunities to teach effectively” standards:

  1. Principals who cultivate and embrace teacher leadership
  2. Time and tools for teachers to learn from each other
  3. Specialized preparation and resources for the highest needs schools and subjects
  4. An absolute zero tolerance policy for out-of-field teaching assignments
  5. Teaching loads that are in sync with the diversity and mobility of students taught
  6. Opportunties to try out new ideas and take risks (TEACHING 2030, 191).
Related categories: ,