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Bruno: How Seniority Sends Teachers Into Charters

D1325will-work-for-money-postersThis summer my family will be relocating from the Bay Area to Southern California. This means that a fair amount of my free time these days is occupied by looking for work in the Los Angeles area.

Since my preferred placement is middle school science in a public school with generally under-served demographics, I'm pretty confident that I'll eventually find a job for the 2012-2013 school year, but I haven't landed one yet. 

It's not for lack of trying. I've contacted 20 or so schools over the last couple of months inquiring about potential openings. The only formal applications I've been able to submit, however, have been to charter schools.

Why charter schools?  Read on for all the gory details.

Well, it's partly because they're the only ones hiring. 

The responses - when I get them - from traditional district schools are consistent: they will probably need to hire science teachers for next year, but won't be able to offer me a job until well into the summer. That's when the deadline for teachers to announce their departures has passed - my district gives us until the end of June - and it also gives time for other teachers in the district to take the job openings if they want them per the usual seniority arrangements. Only after all that has happened can principals at non-charter schools begin offering jobs to out-of-district applicants like me.

It's been said often enough that these delays are frustrating for administrators; some have even gone so far as to express that frustration to me. What's most salient for me at the moment, however, is how frustrating the situation is as an applicant.  I know the jobs exist, I just can't get to them. I'm actually in the privileged situation of not being under too much financial pressure to find a new job, but even still as time goes on my search has gradually expanded beyond traditional district schools to those aforementioned charters and has even begun including education-related work outside of the classroom.

In other words, every day I'm waiting for more teaching jobs to open up it becomes just that much more likely that I won't be taking one at all.

For all the talk about maintaining the integrity of the teaching profession, it's really striking how little autonomy in this process is granted to me or the school administrators who would consider hiring me. I realize that seniority-based teacher placement has some virtues.

Frankly, however, I will say that the process of looking for work as a teacher at charter schools has felt considerably more professional to me than looking for work at district schools. I think this is in large part because with charter schools they and I have the ability to evaluate each other on the merits, rather than having to scramble at the last minute just to match a vacant classroom with an increasingly desperate applicant.

I may not be a better teacher than one who gets the job on the basis of seniority. Nor would I necessarily take a job at a school just because they offered me the opportunity to apply early. Still, I think it's important to acknowledge that while seniority requirements create real benefits for some teachers, as I'm learning first hand, they also impose real costs on others. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

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Interesting post. I'm looking for a teaching job, as well, but in a RTW state (and not for a secondary science job--candidates for those are like gold around here). Some of the same seniority conditions may apply (don't know enough about the in and outs of those in my state), but a lot of what I'm hearing is budget woes, as in principals can't hire (even hire back their own people--most new and relatively new hires are on one year contracts and have been for years) until they get their (increasingly shrinking) budgets. Is it possible that budget difficulties/limitations may also be playing a role in your case?

There definitely seem to be some budget issues in a couple of places that are closing down schools, but as you said, secondary science teachers are generally rare enough that it doesn't matter anyway. (My current district doesn't even issue pink slips to them when downsizing because they're so rare and quit so frequently anyway). The only principal who mentioned them to me said exactly that: "Well, budgets are tight, but that probably won't affect our science hiring."

Budget difficulties are almost universally a factor, as is personal interest, in some cases. A nearby school here in northern VT just saw a reshuffling of finances to benefit the administration. My favorite part was when the principal acted shocked and hurt when the school board looked into it.

But I digress. Budget seems to often be the sole factor driving education recently, perhaps as a result of the recession. If we are really on an upturn, hopefully things will get better.

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