Why Seniority shouldn’t affect teacher cuts

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John Vassiliou

"WA" on the side of Westford Academy

Unnati Bhat, Staff Writer

Recently at Westford Academy, town budget cuts have found their way into the conversations of students and teachers alike.

The term ‘Seniority’ is defined as the amount of time a teacher has been working in Westford Public Schools by the WPS Teachers Contract as, “The length of continuous employment as a professional employee in the Westford Public Schools measured from the first day for which compensation was received as a professional employee, including time spent on paid and unpaid leaves of absence authorized by this Agreement.”

Talk about valuable educators being laid off, such as English teacher, Mike Estabrook, among many others, raise questions as to why teachers who are doing an exemplary job educating, whose students see results in their grades and learning capabilities.

WA Teachers who have been working here for longer have seniority over those with fewer years of employment, but this shouldn’t be a part of what makes a teacher most qualified.

At Westford Academy the petition regarding the likely cutting of freshman English teacher and track coach, Estabrook has nearly 5,000 signatures. The amount of attention this petition garnered shows our community’s priority on influential teachers, such as Estabrook. There are not even five thousand students at our school- yet it is clear: parents, students, and fellow teachers are passionate about why Estabrook should stay at our school.

One may ask, if he’s such a good teacher then why is he being cut? This is because of the role that seniority plays when it comes to which teacher is next to go when the budget gets tight.

I believe that the entire concept of seniority is unfair, not to only the teacher being cut, but the students as well. Students see their favorite teachers, ones who have made a major impact on how they understand a concept and learn, leave their school just because other teachers have been teaching longer than them. Even if the teacher being cut is a better educator than other educators in their subject, their skillset won’t shield them from losing a job they are good at.

Many times a good teacher isn’t one with those extra years of experience, but one that is motivated, passionate and ready to help each student become excited to learn. Though sometimes experience does improve a teacher’s impact on students, other times it doesn’t. Teachers who have taught for long periods of time can be good teachers, but their experience doesn’t necessarily make them a better teacher than a newer educator who is spirited, determined and skilled at their subject.

This is why the entire idea of seniority should be thrown out when it comes to teacher cuts. Cuts should be made based upon how good of a teacher that individual is, not how many years they have been teaching at WA. 

According to the National Council on Teacher Quality ” Teachers in their third year of teaching are generally about as effective as long-tenured teachers”.

Students perform better when they have a teacher who engages them and makes it easy for them to learn, more years of teaching experience doesn’t always lead to this.

“Termination of professional employment in the Westford Public Schools, Discharge or layoff and without recall under Section 5, An unauthorized leave of absence in excess of 10 continuous school days.” according to the Agreement Between Westford School Committee and Westford Education Association Unit A.

Teachers who are fired/laid off and teachers who are absent without previously reporting it for more than ten continuous days can be subject to layoffs. The educators who don’t show up do face consequences, but this doesn’t stop the fact that ineffective teachers can keep their job whereas effective ones will be cut all due to how long they have been working at WA. Teachers should be penalized for not showing up and using ineffective methods of educating instead of having a lack of seniority.

The Agreement Between Westford School Committee and Westford Education Association Unit A Section 7 also states that “Layoffs shall be conducted among professional status teachers within targeted disciplines based on a teachers’ performance and the best interest of the students.”

This is showing our school has the right intentions. We say helping the students is a priority, but we are not doing it the right way with seniority playing such a key role in cuts.

The previous statement is also contradicted in Attachment A as it acknowledges how the position should be given to them, “the most senior employee with recall rights who applied for the position will be given that position if he is ‘qualified'”.

Teachers with the most seniority will be offered the promotion, job, or opportunity first in comparison to teachers with fewer years of seniority. This makes it more difficult for teachers with less seniority to develop a relationship with the school and for WA to see their possibly heavily positive effect on the student’s learning. New teachers enter a job where their position is constantly vulnerable.

Many argue that seniority protects teachers, especially when the union comes into the picture, yet the teacher’s union should aim to protect effective teachers and not the ones who have been teaching longer.

The argument that experience makes a teacher more effective is debatable because the quality of the teacher lies within their skill and passion to teach and help students learn in a way that is comfortable to them.

Ultimately, student surveys for each teacher should be taken more seriously and seniority shouldn’t affect whether or not a great teacher loses their job.

This is one way that seniority can stop protecting ineffective teachers. Another way could be that the teachers who have been working longer will be as constantly monitored as newer teachers, all teachers should be equally held accountable to mistakes.

WA teachers who work hard and are passionate about teaching, and who constantly strive to help students, should stay at our school, disregarding their seniority status.