Last In, First Out has been in place for quite a long time. On the surface, the policy is fair. If implemented consistently, it is a cut and dry policy in which the most recently hired teacher is the first one to lose her/his job in times of downsizing. It does not consider who is affected.
However, is the best way to determine which teacher is cut from a district to base it on who was last hired?
The ease of application of Last In, First Out has allowed a difficult conversation to be avoided—the discussion of how to evaluate teachers. Rather than simply looking at hire date, why not have a conversation about the quality of teachers, not the longevity of teachers’ time in a classroom?
The solution is complex and goes beyond a one-size fits all approach. However, there are various points that should be considered.
If promoting the best educational experience for students is the answer, Last In, First Out needs to be reconsidered.
First, what do communities, including parents and educational unions, value in their educators? Ultimately, the answer should drive the discussion. If protecting teachers with “tenure” is the response, Last In, First Out is the way to go. If promoting the best educational experience for students is the answer, Last In, First Out needs to be reconsidered.
Experience cannot be manufactured. In-class practice is invaluable, but it is not the end all, be all for teachers. Novice teachers often arrive with a set of tools that veteran teachers may not have. However, one set of tools is not better than another; they are simply different.
Another component of the discussion that must be in place is an objective vetted method of evaluating teachers. This part must include a variety of parameters that are measurable and that is developed with all vested parties participating.
What is the answer? Every community has to determine this on its own in proactive conversations before staff cuts are made.
Districts should have those conversations with all stakeholders—administrators, district officials, parents, students and teachers—and arrive at an objective way to determine the reduction in force procedure.
Some things to keep in mind during those conversations:
What is most valuable when looking at staffing schools? Can a local rubric be developed to determine which teachers are most effective and create a positive learning environment for students? Veteran status should play a role during those conversations, but to utilize that as the only factor when determining the staffing does our students a disservice. Effectiveness with students is paramount when we look at the protection of teachers when we must lose educators.
One of the criticisms of education and the teaching profession is the lack of accountability and the inability to remove ineffective teachers once they earn tenure. Tenure is a dirty word to some education critics.
I feel there is a place for tenure. It offers protection from vindictive administrators and allows teachers to have some job security. It places the impetus on administrators to document struggling teachers and their challenges and to be present in classrooms of teachers who are having a difficult time.
Tenure should provide educators with a chance to hone their craft without losing their livelihood. Other professions, such as lawyers and doctors, have performance reviews and professional institutions that support and advise them throughout their careers. Education should be the same, a profession that supports people in the field and helps those struggling.
This position may not be popular with some of my colleagues in the education community. Some feel that experience trumps all else when it comes to the role of unions or tenure programs. However, that is not the case everywhere, nor should it be.
Education policy is a complex one, and the discussions surrounding Last In, First Out must involve all stakeholders and include appropriate teacher evaluation and the role of tenure.
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Douglas Hodum is a science teacher and the science department head at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, Maine. He is a Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow and current president of the Maine Science Teachers’ Association (MSTA). TakePart.com