Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Conestoga High School Grad Offers Personal Experience of Seniority in T/E School District

The following comment was received from a Conestoga High School graduate in response to ‘Last In, First Out’ discussion on teacher seniority. Some people would automatically assume that the more experienced teachers make the ‘better’ teachers. I don’t know if his/her personal experience is typical . . . but it certainly offers another viewpoint. Comments?

CHS Grad, on February 22, 2010 at 6:53 AM

Seniority is also what allowed my history teachers throughout my years at Conestoga to be completely inept teachers, and the reason why I didn’t learn one thing about history during my years at high school. Not sure if I should name names here, but specifically I had a history teacher in 11th grade that literally did not do anything but show film strips, to which no one ever paid attention. The class was a joke, and the teacher didn’t care at all. He would have us grade each other’s tests, and then we would line up and enter our own grades into his grade book. Of course everyone gave themselves passing grades. Maybe he was a great teacher when he was younger, he seemed like a nice guy and everything, but he was milking the system that had absolutely no accountability.

Another teacher I had at Valley Forge would literally fall asleep in the middle of class in the middle of his sentences. I don’t think he even really graded our tests because people would just write nonsense in their fill in the blank tests and most of the time it would be graded as correct.

In my view, seniority represents a division between generations, where older workers hold onto their positions with a death-grip as they begin to slow down, milking the system for all its worth. All the while, young, motivated teachers are left out on the sidelines. THAT is the foundation of unions in this country.

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  1. CHS Grad’s stated experience is consistent with mine as a student and parent within the district. In fact, I am pretty sure I had the same ‘sleeping’ VF teacher. Not the norm, but not an outlier either.

    Make no mistake, there some fantastically dedicated and talented teachers within the district. Problem is that the best (and worst) can be found within EVERY seniority level.

    A seniority based furlough system, coupled with the lack of performance measures within the pay matrix, will always be doomed to significantly underperform a performance based system without the arbitrary seniority protections. It is as simple as that.

    1. As a former TE student and parent, I agree with the other observations. There are excellent teachers that have been in the District for many years – also more than a few that frankly just “mail it in” for their $90k+/year. Many of the District’s young teachers are very bright and enthusiastic (and less expensive). With the significant improvements in teacher compensation and the lifestyle, as discussed on this board, more young people see teaching as an attractive job. Especially at the high school, they seem to have hired several teachers from Penn, Swarthmore, etc., although retention has been a bit of an issue (they may teach for a few years, then move to another District or career).

      While it’s not likely to change anytime soon, my conclusion is that the tenure system robs the District of its ability to manage the teachers in a way that provides the students (and the taxpayers) with the highest quality education.

  2. Aren’t we describing almost any unionized or seniority-controlled workplace? But here’s the awkward part — when a school district determines it’s time to move someone out, it takes extraordinary effort to do it. There was a recent storm over a 3rd grade teacher at one of the elementary schools — someone there was clearcut information about — and that teacher took advantage of every possible entitlement to protect his position (as anyone would). Parents were incensed that they were not informed, but his entitlements include more protections than we can imagine. A teacher is entitlted to a job and a good reputation — to deprive her of either is constitutionally protected. So it’s kind of a catch 22 — you have to be willing to endure what it takes to dismiss a teacher, or you have to endure the teacher. Seniority is contractual, but it’s backed up by the state legislature and the school code. If you have time to kill, you can read all about it at this site provided by Bucknell

    1. The Union and School Board protected Walt Thompson, the 3rd grade teacher. I feel bad that the parents of these 3rd grade students of Thompson had no idea what was going on. I live next door to a teacher who filled me in — it was scary stuff. I know that the Union is there to protect the teachers but there should be some kind of line in the sand. The Walt Thompson case has really troubled me!

      1. John
        On what basis do you judge the District’s efforts as a “poor” job? I used to volunteer for a non-profit that helped parents seeking additional services from area schools (including Radnor, UM, LM , GV, WC and TE) I stopped because the kinds of services parents were starting to request were in many cases simply unreasnable. The FAPE standard can be litigated forever, because SDO’Connor said parents are the primary arbiter of “A”. It’s a public school — completely funded by taxes — and yet parents sue the districts for failure to “DIAGNOSE” a problem. And courts look very differently in this community than in a small town. People have needs — kids have needs — but it’s really a bit knee jerk (you aren’t governed by impulses, are you?) to suggest that any district “papers” the parents. The parents have ONE child — the school district has thousands. And there is some serious hubris here for you to have earlier said you told a “professional educator” that you had the equivalent of a doctorate, when the “intellectual firepower” you are challenging actually have doctorates (and presumable the solicitors are at least as educated in the matter as you are).
        Settle down John. You have a big meeting tonight. You need to let things play out :)

      2. Unbelievable …….

        What was the end result with Walt Thompson?

        That child’s parents exercised amazing restraint.

        1. That’s the hard part of the story. The end was that it took the District until just recently to produce adequate evidence to terminate him. If you watched the school district meeting, some parents were crazed that there were 40+ classroom observations — and they were worried about their kids. Here’s what I would suggest a good parent do: Instead of getting anxious about “strangers” in your child’s classroom, explain to your child that the people that work in the school are there to protect them. Sometimes there are people you don’t recognize, but when you are in your classroom, YOU ARE SAFE and if an adult has a question for you, you can answer it. Instead, parents were upset they were not told what was going on. Mr. Thompson was entitled to incredible levels of protection — many districts would have left him in place and simply put an aide in the classroom — but he is entitled to his job and his reputation, so working to deal with the situation without depriving him of either of those under the US constitution is hard.

      3. Oh, I feel so, so sorry for your poor children, John Petersen. I saw you get put in your place by the T/E board on youtube, and it was painfully clear what a damaged little man you are. Talk about intellectual firepower! Hah! Stay strong, kids!

  3. Whatever story you heard, I can almost promise you the School Board did not protect anyone — that is one situation where they are completely off the radar as a hearing with the board is one of the appeal options. If you google the school code, you can read a lot about the process. It’s unbearable — and the local union usually has to be part of helping to move the teacher out because the appeals process is lengthy and expensive.

  4. Regarding Walt Thompson, the School Board was not protecting him. They are NOT even allowed to know what the problem is as they could be called upon at a hearing to judge his case.

    The truly troubling thing is the union rules that protect jobs. Thompson was able to claim a right to privacy, so the administration wasn’t allowed to tell parents why there were monitors, what he was being investigated for or even that he was on a performance improvement plan. Yet Thompson was able to call EVERY parent in that class to give his side of the story. It is nearly impossible to get rid of a teacher that isn’t performing, and union rules don’t even permit communication to parents.

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