Jun 27, 2011

How LIFO And Other School Practices Affected One [Selfish] Teacher

Tom Greene is an honors graduate from Appalachian State University and North Carolina Teaching Fellow. Tom taught government and economics at Chapel Hill High School for the last four years and was named ‘Best New Teacher of the Year’ after his first year. He earned a full scholarship to study in Turkey with other American educators and worked to close the achievement gap with his work in the classroom and on the CHHS Equity Team. Recently, Tom was named one of the most effective educators for minority students at CHHS and participated in research on closing the achievement gap. This fall, he will attend the University of Connecticut School of Law in hopes to use his law degree to advance education reform in the United States.

The past four years were the best of my life. Each day I woke to the awesome challenge and responsibility of educating the next generation of American citizens and empowering them to become engaged in our democratic process.

I challenged my students to envision and work for a better world that is more equitable and fair than today’s. I held my students to the highest expectations, sharing in the accountability of their learning. Ironically, the very place I taught the American principles of fairness and accountability was governed by a system that was neither fair nor accountable.

For example: after my first year in the classroom I faced being laid off under the policy "last in, first out" (LIFO) due to our state's budget crunch. I faced termination despite having been selected by my principal as the "Best New Teacher of the Year" and seeing impressive academic gains among all my students. The rules were set to blindly lay off the least senior member of the teaching staff. It didn't matter that I had a successful first year helping kids reach their full potential. In the end, my job was saved because the budget cuts required that only one teacher be fired. Sadly, another effective colleague hired a few days after me received the pink slip.

The next year, I faced termination once again due to another round of state budget cuts. Here we go again, I thought. My job insecurity was based solely on my lack of seniority, even though I produced tangible student growth by all measures. Thankfully enrollment went up, ultimately saving my job. My experience with LIFO, gives me the perspective of seeing the damage these unfair policies have on kids and educators. After dealing with LIFO for two years, I became extremely frustrated and discouraged. Questions were constantly on my mind, like: Why did I have to go through the anxiety of losing my job even though I came in early, left late, and produced results? Instead of feeling supported and encouraged to keep helping kids, I felt the opposite.

Kids in particular lose out when school districts push out effective teachers. Teacher quality is essential to student learning. During my teaching career I was named an effective teacher for minority students, closing the achievement gap in my classroom each year. The persistent achievement gap between white students and minorities is one our nation's biggest challenges. My success in closing this gap should have been a factor considered when budget cuts necessitated staff reductions.

LIFO is only one of many damaging policies, others like giving salary increases to teachers based on seniority and teacher evaluations that do not consider student academic gains run counter to the mission of educating kids. Under the current rules we are pushing out some of our most talented educators, or keeping them from even considering teaching as a profession. This will only serve to weaken America's competitiveness in a global economy.

With these experiences behind me, I jumped at the opportunity to work for StudentsFirst this summer. The organization is working to elevate the teaching profession, change unfair policies, and make sure kids' needs are considered first and foremost in our schools today.

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