This happens in school districts all over the country and is one of the things that contributes to my love/hate relationship with seniority. Not only does seniority determine who keeps their job and who loses it, but in many cases, it also determines what courses you get to teach. The courses with the better students are awarded to the teachers with more seniority. The teachers on the bottom of the totem pole are left to spend years teaching lower level Spanish courses with harder to manage students. Is this what is best for students? Is this what is best for our language programs? Is this even what is best for teachers? I say "NO" to all three.
1. This is NOT what is best for students
Not always, but many times, a greater number of years of experience means that a teacher has had more time to grow, learn from mistakes, and understand how things "work" in a classroom. So why is it then that the teachers with the LEAST experience are often thrown in with the students that need the most classroom management? Teachers get a bad reputation, especially in their later years, for "coasting", yet this practice is basically screaming "Yes, I want to coast. I have been here longer than everyone else and I deserve to not have to deal with discipline, learning disabilities, or any of the other challenges that come with teaching THOSE students". The problem is, it is THOSE students that need the more experienced teachers. I have known many teachers who retired from teaching working harder their last year than they did any other year - this isn't about that. This is about putting experienced teachers in the place where they are needed most. You don't hire a new pilot and ask him or her to fly a Boeing 747 the first day on the job. You ease them in at first with an aircraft that requires less skill and less technical knowledge to allow them to improve in those areas before you let them near that 747. We do the opposite.
2. This is NOT what is best for our language programs
A major problem with letting the most senior teacher sit on those upper level "eggs" is that you are denying the other teachers the chance to see the big picture. Teachers who are stuck teaching Spanish 1 & 2 for a decade never get to see where it goes from there. They never have a true understanding of where students are headed which makes it harder to prepare them for where they are going. It's like working on an assembly line and never knowing what your factory actually makes. You don't see the deficiencies that arise in the later years of language that you could be front loading in Spanish I. You are not a bad teacher, you're just ignorant, and it's not your fault. Sure, you can look at the next textbook, you can read the standards and the curriculum, but we all learn best by doing. In time, we also forget. At the other end of the spectrum, that teacher who has spent the last 15 years teaching the high flyers forgets what it is like to work with kids whose strengths may not be as academically oriented. They start to blame those other teachers for students not being prepared instead of having shared responsibility and ownership of the program. A better practice would be to rotate teachers throughout the different courses so that everyone has experience teaching all levels of the language. This would make for more informed conversations about curriculum and articulation as well.
3. This is NOT what is best for teachers
Everyone has heard of that teacher that dusts off the same file folders full of worksheets each year and is still making copies of dittos run on a machine that went extinct before the end of the 20th century. The fact is, doing the same thing for too long hurts the professional growth and development of any teacher. Unless you happen to be one of those individuals that continually challenges yourself (I know there are many of you out there), the temptation is just to run the same game year after year. When it comes to language, being stuck in lower level classes for too long can even erode your language skills. Not being a native speaker, I can say that my second language skills were strongest when my teaching skills were the weakest - right out of college. In college, I spent all day speaking Spanish with native speakers. We discussed literature, current events, vacations, and anything else you could imagine. After about 5 years of teaching colors and numbers, I found that I struggled a bit more to hold conversations with my colleagues. I was so used to speaking in a simplified way that my students could understand that some of the more advanced vocabulary I once possessed had been shoved a little further back in my brain dictionary. I considered spending a summer in Mexico, but a house and a family to follow kept me rooted in the States.
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