ON CAMPUS: Teachers more than sum of their years

naustin@modbee.comApril 8, 2013 

— First-in, first-out. The seniority system, for all its even-handedness, considers teachers as interchangeable as factory widgets. Only the credentials matter.

Last week, lead teacher for the Davis High Language Institute got a letter saying she’d be bumped by a more senior teacher with a social studies credential.

But in Lindsey Bird’s job as she explains it, teaching geography just provides framework for teaching English in a groundbreaking program for new immigrants. Other districts around the state visit Modesto to build their own programs.

Bird developed key pieces of the curriculum and serves as Language Institute ambassador. She spends time far beyond her workday helping the immigrant families whose students fill her classes.

Maybe that’s a typical teaching job that every credential holder is ready and willing to fill. Maybe not.

The same issue arose when the Modesto City Schools Board decided to not require teacher in the English portion of the district's Dual Language program be bilingual for second grade and up. Anyone who spoke English could teach English, was the prevailing logic.

But as anyone who's tried to bridge a language gap in their travels can attest, there's a world of difference in people's language elasticity and patience. There's also value in the in-depth understanding of what students are struggling to say.

Fremont Open Plan parents made similar arguments to spare their free-flowing '70s-era program from being lumped in and teachers bumped out. Teachers had a philosophical commitment and a logistical rhythm that needed to be preserved, parents explained in seeking special program status.

All three programs were educational innovations. All three required creativity, devotion and more of their teachers, and then ignored it.

In business, finding the best fit of employee and job goes beyond scanning the résumé. But under California law and district policy, that does not happen in classrooms.

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