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Friday, April 16, 2010

We are in Deep Yogurt

The fate of older teachers in NYC is looking bad if the mayor and chancellor of NYC get their way. They have asked the legislators to rewrite the seniority rules. One of the reasons we have a Union is to protect the employees from the whims, arbitrariness, and unhealthy wrath of the employer. In these current tough economic times, schools are looking to cut budgets and eliminating the older teacher is an easy and quick way to meet the budget crunch times and demands. We all know how disastrous this move would be because it will be abused and bad for the children. I understand the need and desire to save young teachers, but the sacrifice of the older teacher will be more economically damaging. There would be a huge ripple effect. Consider the fact that the older teachers are still functional, they have lots more expenses in their lives with mortgages, college tuition of their own children, and the threat of no pensions or weak pensions to support these newly non working adults. The shortsighted plan of the current NYC administration does not consider the financial burden it will have on the city to perhaps solve an immediate financial dilemma. In the long run will these teachers they save stick with the schools. I have found the attrition rate of young teachers pretty high, especially when a teacher gets pregnant. The percentage of women who return from pregnancy is much smaller than I would have thought. Many young married teachers move to other parts of the country to accommodate a better job for the partner. In my experience teachers of age tend to stay in the city and provide stability for the schools and their students. I hope the legislature does not reverse the seniority rule because it is a bad idea that will be used badly.

Another matter of interest and concern on this topic is the health of our pensions. Researchers have determined that the pension funds are in trouble because of the low market. Many of the older teachers who would be let go, might in fact be the parents of younger citizens who need to rely on their parents for survival. Discarding of the older worker is a bad move because it shows disrespect for the service of the seasoned employee at a cost that is yet to be determined for the long haul. There is an ethical duty to the employee who has provided valued service for many years and now hir job and pension is at stake. More consideration to the older worker should be considered over the position of an untried younger worker.

Discarding the elderly may be premature as we learn more about the middle aged brain. We have seen many brain studies for our teenagers as aides for us in the classroom. I did two blogs on the topic of the Left Brain Right Brian and The Teenage Brain. Barbara Strauch has written The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain which explains the power of the adult brain and how it actually grows over time. This very encouraging book suggests that we aren't done when others suggest it is time for us to retire.

In these harrowing economic times we may need older brains making more rational decisions. We may need to rethink about the ramifications for the future is we prematurely retire older teachers for the fiscal burden it will put on society because of the commitments they have to mortgages and college tuition and to the loss of that experience in the classroom. I'm reminded about this lack of experience when I go to a computer education conference or workshop in NYC run by young adults who are unaware of the history of technology use in our schools in NYC. I'm always amused about how they believe they are introducing something to us that we have known about or are in fact using.

The silver lining in all of this in NYC is the important step to close the notorious "rubber rooms." "Rubber rooms" are the places where teachers taken out of the classroom for any number of disciplinary reason sit and do nothing for the school day while they wait for a decision about their situation and they collect pull pay and maintain benefits. They have always been controversy for the time it takes to resolve each case and the fact that nothing is done during this time by the teacher except read and drink coffee and socialize. Now they will be assigned to do important tasks in school offices. Settling these cases sooner rather than later and having these teachers doing work are cost saving efforts that shows intelligent thinking. It is an important collaborative and compromising effort that should serve as a model for future conversations.

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