COMMENTARY | According to News10/KXTV in Sacramento, Calif., Teacher of the Year Michelle Apperson, who teaches all subjects for sixth grade and is a nine-year veteran of Sutterville Elementary School, is being laid off after the Sacramento City Unified School District suffered $43 million in budget cuts. The district says it has no choice in teacher retention and must follow state law, which bases layoff decisions on seniority. Not surprisingly, parents are upset and outraged.
Tough questions need to be asked. Why are we laying off teachers instead of making cuts elsewhere? Why is seniority often the prime factor in decisions on teacher retention? How much do we truly value education?
I am a high school teacher, though no contender for a Teacher of the Year award. The downsizing of an award-winning educator is a painful wake-up call. As a young teacher, I disagree with basing retention decisions on seniority. Changing the focus on seniority would likely improve public perception of K-12 education and lead to voters arguing more vociferously against educator layoffs. The public wants to see teaching as more dynamic and competitive, less focused on standardized education and boring statistics. And what the public wants they will defend with their votes.
My views on the value of seniority will inevitably change, but on the whole I would rather have increased public support for local school districts and K-12 educators. I hope public outrage over the downsizing of a Teacher of the Year leads to reforms that focus on encouraging and protecting dedicated, hard-working teachers. Such reforms could improve education as teachers, feeling buoyed by increased public support, redouble their efforts. If a teacher feels valued and supported, he or she is likely to put forth that extra effort.
My district has voted to give substantial raises to teachers. As a result, I feel the urge to put in some extra work this summer to ensure excellence this fall. Because I feel supported and appreciated, I want to work harder.