Teacher education programs are slowly getting on board with arts integration and training teachers in multidisciplinary, differentiated instruction. How can we get those teachers into public schools when the newest teachers are the first to be laid off, while some of the worst teachers are locked in place due to union seniority?
Educational practice is beginning to catch up with nearly century-old educational theory. The ideas that educators like John Dewey, Maria Montessori, and Lev Vigotsky pioneered are beginning to take hold. The core practice of guiding students as they learn to take responsibility for their own learning and construct their own understanding has begun to spread through teacher preparation courses across the country.
But then those freshly (if woefully under-) prepared young teachers and their students suffer because the best plan public education could come up with to deal with payroll budget cuts was to keep the teachers with the most seniority and let go the ones with the least. This means that the teachers who are best prepared to help their students enter into a 21st-century workforce — requiring people to be more creative, communicative, team-oriented, and self-confident than the old industrial age companies ever did — are the ones least likely to survive economic downturns.
And, conversely, some of the worst of the old-guard, factory education teachers have the equivalent of a lifetime, Supreme Court appointment to their jobs. Some of those folks are intensely dedicated to their students, even if they are incapable of providing a good learning environment for them. Others are just punching the clock, collecting the paycheck, and grousing about having to do anything “extra.” All of them are just wasting space, money, time, and worst of all, the potential of so many children to do so much better than the bare minimum they ask.
I am all for unions and collective bargaining. But when any organization begins taking extreme positions that benefit few and harm many, I have to say, “enough.” We have to allow for merit hiring and firing of teachers, and that means we had better figure out darn fast how to fairly and publicly evaluate just what that merit is.