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In Praise of Older, More Experienced Teachers

 

Back in the late 1980s, when I lived in a little town in rural Upstate New York called Spencer, I joined the local library board, eventually ending up through default becoming president of the board. We ran a dinky one-room library with a dedicated part-time librarian. The back of the library was piled with boxes of books that could not be shelved for lack of space. For years, the board had been trying to raise funds to expand the library, which was an adjunct to the local firehouse. After finally raising most of the cash needed through donations, we decided to approach the local Lions Club to ask for a check. Our vice president, Sharon Haefele, feisty co-owner of a little mom-and-pop cable TV operation in town, offered to make the pitch. She asked for $1000 of the proceeds of the next summer’s little annual Lions Club town picnic. The club president, a local businessman, replied, “What do we need a library for anyhow? I haven’t read a book in years!” Haefle’s response was memorable.

“I’m not surprised to hear you say that Tom,” she said, “but I am surprised to hear you say it in public.”

Let’s face it. Among the business and political elite, education, and anything connected to learning, like a library, is not valued. At best it is viewed as a way to train docile workers, and to regiment children into conformity.

In fact when it comes to education, the popular thing today in American politics is trashing experienced teachers.

Politicians like Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin (who never finished college), Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, and myriad members of the House and Senate who were at best B students in high school and in many cases worse, are saying the key to educational “reform” is ending tenure and seniority so that older teachers can be trashed in mid-career to be replaced by supposedly high-performing young replacements.

My English Teacher Sandy Taylor offered a reading list of banned booksMy high school English Teacher Sandy Taylor offered a reading list of banned books

What they’re not saying is that this is really not about performance, or teaching kids, it’s about money. Older teachers are more expensive, because they’ve earned raises over the years. Younger teachers are paid introductory-level poverty wages, and that will help these politicians who are cutting taxes at the federal and state level survive the wrath of citizens who suddenly find that they have to finance their and their neighbors’ kids’ education with local property taxes.

Our town of Upper Dublin, for example, in southeastern Pennsylvania, just learned that the cuts in state aid to local schools will mean the district, with a population of 26,000, has to come up with another whopping $1 million a year to cover teacher salaries. All of that will require a hefty rise in the local property tax, which is already a staggering burden. (State and federal tax cuts for education are not really tax cuts. They are simply tax shifts, from the federal and state to the local level.) Any tax cut at the state level, if there even is one, will be less than this amount.

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