At tonight’s South Brunswick Board of Ed meeting I noticed a trend in hiring practices that I didn’t like.
As always happens in mid-to-late August, school boards all over New Jersey make a slew of new hires. These hires are typically listed in the meeting agenda with name, degree, salary step and, of course, specific position.
Upon looking at South Brunswick’s most recent list of hires, I could not help but notice a disturbing pattern, and one that I think may hint at a deeper institutional problem at work. Most of the hires, and in fact an overwhelming majority of them, were teachers with no professional teaching experience or graduate degrees. They were straight out of college, as green as green gets. Newbies. Educational Guppies.
Please do not misunderstand me. Schools have a responsibility as professional institutions to mentor new teachers, to create a context and community in which they can grow and thrive. All professional institutions do this, from hospitals to law practices to architectural firms. Experienced professionals, rich in capability and uniquely able to impart institutional traditions, memories and practices, foster younger ones in a process as old as the guilds of the Middle Ages.
And though the list I saw this evening is not necessarily representative of all of the hires for the upcoming school year, I think I’m not being overreactive in suspecting that the Board is intentionally hiring way too many inexperienced teachers. In a money-saving effort, it is placing them in front of students (like my son, a South Brunswick resident) in a terrifying, white-knuckle learning-by-doing process.
Here’s one example. South Brunswick High School’s main building is a beautiful, modern piece of architecture. It sits on a pleasant green campus. It has a student body that (usually) behaves, with a responsive parent/guardian population to push them along. From the prospective of any potential social studies teacher, it would be a dream job. A plumb. A prime place to land. And while I do not know specifically how may resumes the Board received for the latest open social studies position (typically it could be as high as 20), I do know that the Board’s representatives at the high school level, in their infinite wisdom, welcomed an inexperienced, new teacher on board. No advanced degree. No prior professional teaching (at least, none that the board credited on its salary guide). Still, the job was offered and the hire was approved.
And the beat went on. In English. In Physical Education. An entire cadre of brand-spanking new untried educators.
It makes me wonder. If our district had this many open positions – and this was only from a single meeting in mid-August, where are all the older, more experienced educators? South Brunswick seems to be the kind of district that a hardworking teacher might want to have a long, distinguished career in. Yet what I’m reading indicates that either the district is undergoing some massive, hidden retirement wave, or more experienced teachers are being fired, or pressured to quit. I can’t prove this, of course, especially because the law requires a lot of secrecy when it comes to personnel issues. But this isn’t a side issue. My son, and all of our town’s children, really don’t spend every day interacting and learning from supervisors, vice principals, principals, assistant superintendents, child study team members or superintendents. Their primary interface with the adult world is in the form of our teachers. Teachers mentor them, care for them, inspire them and educate them.
I need to look into this more, because hiring, firing and retention practices have a huge influence on every relationship, every lesson, every moment that goes on inside a school. It creates an atmosphere; sometimes of creativity, sometimes – as in the case of Newark’s Public Schools – of terror. The most beautiful buildings, the fastest web access, the best computers – none of these factors compare to a student’s need for an experienced, confident, highly qualified teacher in every classroom.
Again, I’ll continue to monitor, and blog on this important issue. I need to get more statistics on this, of course, but my initial suspicions are strong. Any comments and suggestions are welcome.