For decades, teacher tenure has been known as a protection given to teachers not only as a means to encourage innovation, but as an incentive for young individuals to enter the teaching profession.
However, tenure has also brought about a problem. As school budgets across the state are being stressed due to lack of funding (both on the county and state levels), district administrators have turned to a policy of involuntary transfer, also known as teacher "excess." Because the county is unable to find the funds to hire new teachers, teachers are shuffled to schools where vacancies must be filled. Teacher excess not only disrupts teachers' lives but affects students and the school environment.
I am graduating this year from Towson High School. During the 2010-2011 school year, 10 percent of teachers at Towson High (and an average of 10 percent across all BCPS high schools) were "excessed" due to budgetary issues. After meeting with Councilwoman Vicki Almond, schools CFO Barbara Burnopp and Area Assistant Superintendent of High Schools Barbara Walker, among others, I was told that the county chose larger class sizes over stretching the budget to keep staff numbers at a level commensurate with burgeoning school populations.
Teacher excess is once again being used as a budgetary tactic by Baltimore County Public Schools. Prior to the 2010-2011 school year, Towson High School employed seven Nationally Board Certified teachers; the county average is fewer than one per school. At the end of this school year, Towson will only have five.
One of the teachers being excessed this year has become a close friend. Being her teacher's assistant, I have seen her teach on a daily basis. While she previously worked at a professional level in the field she now teaches in, she has been given only the lowest level classes to teach. Unfazed, she challenges the students in the class to become independent and take responsibility. For all her hard work, she will be excessed this year, forced to find a new job in the school system. In effect, Baltimore County is telling her that she is not valued and has not done enough.
The method of saving money is unacceptable. Throughout my four years at Towson, I have developed strong bonds with many of my teachers. When teachers are excessed, they are not only ripped from their jobs, they are forced to establish a new network of relationships, both with students and other teachers. Gone are the days when a teacher could proudly say that he or she has been teaching at the same school for 20 or 30 years.
For many students, the schoolhouse is a second home. Baltimore County should not be promoting "homes" in which a large portion of the staff is turned over every year. Students need stability, not class sizes ballooning to accommodate central office salary increases and new, technologically driven pilot programs.
Teacher advocacy must begin at the school level. Students and parents have been kept in the dark on which teachers were to be excessed and the impact on class size. When students left at the end of the year, they did not know if their favorite teacher would be there when they returned. Instead, there was a culture of gossip and rumors among the students. This must change. The school must maintain an open dialogue with both students and parents about budgetary issues and their impact on the school.
Along with local schools, the BCPS central office must pledge to end the practice of teacher excess. New Superintendent Dallas Dance envisions Baltimore County as a leader in education. This begins with the foundation of education: teachers. By pledging to end the practice of teacher excess, he can show his commitment to a stable learning environment that rewards teachers for their hard work.
Yohnny Raich is graduating from Towson High School. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun