Selective Schools Select Experience
One of my favorite parts of a new school year is meeting new colleagues. I’m always impressed at the variety of experience and talent added to the room when we have our first staff meeting of the year. I happen to work in a high-performing school, in a high-performing district, in a community largely made up of wealthy and well-educated adults. Our district spends much more per pupil than most districts in California, and our teachers are better paid than most in California.
As a result of the quality of the schools and the community, we generally have the opportunity to be selective in hiring. I’d think I was a well-qualified candidate when I first applied, but I interviewed in my district three times in a four-year period before landing my current job.
In a typical year I find out information like a new science teacher has been teaching for several years and has work experience at NASA or Genentech, or a new art teacher has years of experience as both an educator and a studio artist. We’re proud that we’re picking off talent from neighboring districts, and this year, we snagged experienced teachers from Florida and Hawaii. We also typically hire a few alumni from our district, and a few parents from our district – and some of those people fit under both categories. I don’t know if there are studies to prove the value of hiring from within your community and from among your own alumni – but I can tell you that we believe those perspectives matter, that they inform our work and make us smarter.
Why do I bring this up? It’s not to boast. I do truly enjoy working in this environment, but what I’d really like to see is more school districts able to compete with us, and a resulting growth in the talent pool of our profession. We have a major equity problem in this state and in the nation. Schools that can afford to compete and afford to choose are choosing experienced teachers, and making an effort to keep them around. Today we honored dozens of staff members who have served our district for decades.
There are education reformers out there who are trying to sell the idea that experience doesn’t count, that master’s degrees don’t matter. They have studies and data to try to convince the public and the policy makers that less experienced and less qualified teachers can be just as effective. It’s counterintuitive, isn’t it, to suggest that experience and knowledge don’t improve job performance? Is there any other profession facing such an concerted effort to downplay these qualities?
If “research” is showing experience and knowledge don’t matter much, then researchers are asking the wrong questions or relying on the wrong measures. If you can’t prove that experienced and educated professionals, as a group, do a better job than their less experienced and less educated peers, then you have a problem with what you’re asking the teachers or students to do, or how you’re measuring their success.
Of course, when those reformers have the necessary resources, their children are more likely to attend private schools or suburban schools like mine, places where you’ll never see a TFA corps member (though we might grab a TFA alum now and then). So, you can delve into the vapors of agenda-driven studies and cherry-picked statistics, or you can just watch what people do when they have options. Look at the wisdom of a crowd that has options. When we have choices, we choose experience.
This year my school will have eighteen new teachers; seventeen of them have prior teaching experience.