This past week in Commonwealth Magazine, Boston Teacher Caroline Corcoran wrote, “I would spend the spring and summer months worrying about the future of my job, since I was a provisional teacher, and therefore could lose my job to a more senior teacher…”
Being a provisional teacher is a right of passage in the Boston Public School Teaching community. “Provisional Status” has served both the district and the teachers in our system well. It provides both the novice teacher, the school, and district the opportunity to assess the potential for continuing the employment relationship. It is an opportunity for the provisional teacher to determine whether the job requirements, and stress of teaching in an urban public school, meet his or her expectations. During the provisional period, the principal has the opportunity to encourage the provisional teacher to continue in our system, or to look for a teaching position in another district that would be a better fit. It is an opportunity for the provisional teacher to experience 2 or 3 different school communities.
It is unfortunate that Caroline Corcoran trivializes the importance of provisional status and seniority; it indicates to me that she doesn’t have a historical perspective, doesn’t see the big picture and, as a teacher who has worked in only one BPS school, she doesn’t understand what is happening in the Boston Public School District.
In 2011, the BPS closed and consolidated 18 schools because of budget constraints. These school-closing displaced thousands of students from their schools and left hundreds of experienced teachers, who have had transformative effects on student learning at those schools, without a teaching job. These BPS Teachers have spent years and thousands of dollars to get their teaching credentials. BPS has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in research based professional development to hone the skills of these experienced teachers and, given the population of children in poverty that we teach, BPS cannot afford to lose them!
Seniority is important because there is a difference between “expert” and “novice” skill sets, and that is why seniority is something that needs to be protected in the Boston Public Schools. Effective teachers don’t become suddenly ineffective once they reached a certain age or have a certain number of years in the profession. Some of the best educators are seasoned educators who maintained their excellent teaching skills year after year. These fine experienced teachers need the protection afforded them by seniority, so they can do their jobs without worrying whether they are the administrators’ pets or that the district can hire a younger novice teacher cheaper, because that’s what this is really about. How is that in the best interest of the children?
Ms. Corcoran doesn’t understand that, in BPS, a school’s “culture” can change overnight because principals “serve at the will of the superintendent.” Principals are moved around the system constantly as part of BPS Strategic Planning.That began happening with the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 when principals lost the protection of collective bargaining agreements and tenure (p207). Now the superintendent can, and does, “move and remove” principals at any time! The Boston Teachers working in the BPS 43 “autonomous schools” are in the same willow world, and every year there is a chance they will lose their community! After all their hard uncompensated work, will they still be “the right fit” for their school the following September. The provision in our MUTUAL BPS/BTU contract to “fall back” to an open teaching position in the District keeps these “autonomous” schools from becoming barren of teachers.
Since Teacher expertise has been marginalized, a principal, even a superintendent, who feels threatened by experienced teachers with a historical knowledge of a school and the district, can decide they want a whole new staff of “younger, better, innovative, creative, talented, high-quality”…and cheaper novice teachers at a school! To name just a few schools, of the many BPS school communities that have fallen victim to this, you only have to look at what happened the dedicated “amazing experienced teachers” at the Clap, Emerson, and The English High School! Rumor has it that last Thursday, 100% of the “amazing experienced teachers” of the Paul A. Dever Elementary School and John P. Holland Elementary School were told they would soon join the parade!
I understand the grit it takes to succeed in a district that has been decimated by charter schools, and under-performing, under-resourced schools designated Horace Mann charter or “turnaround” after being set-up by the Districts Office of Strategic Planning with populations of students known to fail MCAS. Intellectually, I understand that it is the way the District supplements the school budget, and I understand an under-performing school qualifies for more Federal, State, and Foundation grants. Ethics matter, I will never understand or accept the Districts manipulation of children and staff this way, it is unethical. Using the “stipend provision” which was negotiated in good faith between the BPS and BTU, to skirt the seniority process is unethical. It is not in the best interest of children.
Seniority protects teachers from being unfairly fired because of a principal’s personal biases or the political interest of District administration. It protects teachers who have been outspoken on our Decision Making School Site Councils about improprieties or substandard conditions. Seniority is our way of assuring that the BPS is free from cronyism, which once ruled the City of Boston and its school system.
Teaching experience matters, many studies show that student achievement is positively and significantly associated with each year a teacher has been in the profession. Experienced teachers have dedicated their careers and lives to Boston’s Children and, just because their schools were closed or subjected to “turnaround,” should this mean that they lose their jobs in our District? Of course not! The “seniority process” is the fair way to assure that we don’t lose the most experienced teachers. Ms. Corcoran needs to rethink her position.