Stick a Fork in Me I’m Done?

Veteran teacher working with Younger Teacher

By Martin Palamore

In college, I worked in retail. It was one of the ways that I paid for the necessities at the time. I going to school to become a teacher, so I knew that working in retail wasn’t going to be something long term. However, like anything I try to give it my best. One of the most troubling aspects about working in retail was that always prevalent feeling that I could be easily replaced. I didn’t feel important and I didn’t feel valued. I am sure that others had a different experience, but that would be one aspect of working retail that stood out to me.

That feeling should not exist in the teaching profession.

The prevailing wisdom behind the current negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools is that they are negotiating over two things job security and the new REACH evaluation system. Some critics looking from the outside argue that no one should be entitled to job security and an evaluation system must keep teachers accountable. If you don’t meet certain standards then you must be fired. Are teachers not making standards because they don’t want to or they aren’t knowledgeable?

I am not naïve to believe that there aren’t reluctant learners among our teaching force, and they should be held accountable. However, our job requires a number of ever-changing complex skills to be labeled as “effective.”

There is a paradigm shift in our profession. There are a large number of young teachers who have grown up in the “accountability era,” were trained on contemporary pedagogy, and have known how data is used to make many decisions in our profession. Often times, our veteran colleagues are unwillingly ignorant to many of the modern methods and strategies to teaching and instruction. So, should are veteran teachers stand and say, “Stick a fork in me, I’m done?”

Teachers, we MUST grab hold to our ever changing profession before others do it for us. Our veteran teachers have many years of experience that can be harnessed to grow and elevate our profession. We CANNOT allow them to become a disposable widget. Every other profession has found a way to keep their veterans current including: doctors, lawyers, and scientist. They DO NOT throw out their veterans because a fresh new face comes along with something that seems more “hip.”

A member of the Los Angeles Teach Plus Network wrote a blog piece called “Teachers Need a Village,” which discusses how teams of teachers must work together to build the profession and provide on going support. She started a organization called, the Los Angeles Science Teacher Network, which has science teachers – first starting with her school – work together to share lessons and ideas. An innovative idea like this is something that both the CTU and CPS should be championing. The scare tactics and the punitive measures that come as a result of the new evaluation system – coded as “accountability”- does little to train teachers on how to become better.

Additionally, Chicago Public School should work on a new framework for professional development that is tailored to the needs of the teachers and not only provides them with a lesson, but gives them the on-going support that they need to be successful.

However, regardless of all the work we put in we know that our student’s test scores aren’t only a result of a teacher’s effectiveness. This is why the union should continue to fight for a more balanced approach to student data in evaluation. This approach would help all teachers, but support will help our veteran teachers and any who fall behind who wants to give their students what is needed.

I believe that accountability and high standards are way one of many ways to elevate our profession. However, support by our colleagues and management will ensure that we harness the enthusiasm and energy of a rookie teacher in addition to the wisdom and knowledge of a veteran teacher.


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