Teachers, vacancies, rights and seniority rules


If the hectic holiday season leaves you any time to engross yourself in a fine piece of in-depth education reporting, I recommend “Insert Teacher Here,” a three-part series about teacher placement by Emily Alpert, an education writer for Voice of San Diego.

The series doesn’t oversimplify the problems of the bureaucratic system (and, in fact, includes a short piece about the roots of seniority-based hiring policies) or its solutions.

It touches on the realities of principals having teachers on staff whom they don’t want or had no choice in hiring; on new teachers who get bumped by more veteran teachers as schools close or shrink; principals hiding vacancies, etc. — but also on the  problems caused by attempts to change how teachers are selected, as New York City has done.

The Oakland school district’s initial proposal to teachers sought to change bumping rules, but I’m pretty sure that idea has been pushed to the side, as I haven’t heard anything about it lately.

What are your thoughts on how teachers are selected and/or placed in local schools? Should OUSD and the teachers union make changes to the system? How?

photo from woodleywonderworks’ photostream at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • seenitbefore

    The system is broken…… for everyone.

    Once again…we hear how if Principals could only pick and choose the teachers they wanted…… and yes maybe that would help!

    Stop hiring non-credentialed teachers and recruiting people from outside traditional university teaching programs.

    But on the other hand…. what about the reverse situation? When you have good teachers who work their behinds off…. and then some idiot principal comes in with no experience, changing everything in a power hungry, control freak, “my way or the highway” approach and destroys your school?

    Where’s the recourse for teachers and families? Or do we all just have to leave and watch another school go down in flames.

    It’s heartbreaking and wrong to keep blaming teachers for everything wrong in the educational system while ignoring all that teachers say is necessary to make a difference in student success rates.

  • Nextset

    Seenitallbefore: I’m beginning to think that the public schools are to be supplanted by the Charters. The Charter Schools aren’t bound by the civil service rules the public school districts have to live with. For better or worse it seems to me that the “plan” is to let the Charters grow until they have more teachers and in so doing cripple the teacher unions.

    I wish the Publics would try to out-charter the charters. I suppose they just can’t. Too many legal problems in doing so.

  • Jack

    I’m not trying to place blame, BUT, how are schools in Oakland supposed to make academic gains when we have parents that are more irresponsible and immature than the students they send to school? Yesterday, there was an incident at Roosevelt Middle School where parents came on the campus and were in physical conflicts with STUDENTS!!! They were taken off campus by OPD in handcuffs after an hour long battle in which the entire school was on lock down. What kind of message is this sending to the students? As an employee of the school for over 7 years, I was absolutely embarrassed and felt so bad for the children at the school.

  • Let’s Get Real

    Nextset, you hit the nail on the head. And the biggest losers in this scenario are the students and their families who are fooled into thinking that all charter schools are better than public schools, only to find their charter school closed because it was not up to par a year or so after they enroll.

  • Nextset

    Jack: Here’s the way it is. CA and the USA have been growing the underclass for generations and it is going to get a lot worse before getting any better. If you teach in the public school you are going to be expected to handle the dregs of society – and their kids. It’s up to the school to set up protocols for handling prole families. That means gang kids, hypersexual kids, birth defect kids. You can’t run your school expecting anything from the parents and you are supposed to be ready to handle violent, parolee, sexually abusive parents and their victims. Deal with it.

    Public Schools have handled bad situations before (early 1900’s, great depression, dust bowl migrations, etc) and they can survive this as well. You really can.

    The trick is to deal with all the ups and downs head on and not by pretending the troublemakers are entitled to some kind of deference. Learn who you are dealing with and keep them in their place. Or quit if you can’t handle it.

    Just don’t try to be everybody’s “friend”. You are the teachers, you are not the social equals. Keep the lines firmly drawn.

  • Nextset

    Let’s get Real: I really think the public schools are facing fundamental displacement. I don’t think the Charters are here today gone tomorrow – perhaps once they’ve hollowed out the public school districts the government will come along – like the FDIC with the banks – and merge them into regional schools – or the schools will go onto the internet and we will somehow move away from the romper room concept to a dispersed remote education plan.

    Either way you are going to see the end of integrated education. People will choose who they want to sit with/deal with and avoid mixing class. It does seem to be the trend. Maybe it’s human nature we only temporarily reduced for 50 years or so in the 20th Century. I’m sure that something is happening in USA human relations where like is more exclusively dealing with like (by class, certainly).

    It’s happening in business and certainly in travel and accomodations. Lower class use Metro Wireless, buy Arco Gas and stay at Motel 6. The segmentation seems to reach to every aspect of life from the language and clothes to music and food, the schools attended and the occupations. A Brave New World where Betas are born Betas, live as Betas, and die Betas.

    This is not the way CA operated in the Mid 20th Century even though there were some aspects of segregation especially in private lives. The public lives required our population to see and deal with everybody (and to behave to the same standard).

    But now you can’t tell anyone what to do because they have all their freedoms – even as 10th graders. So people never learn how to move through social strata.

    Back to the thread. All this Freedom (and free government handouts) has led to an economic crunch that has our municipalities and schools laying off staff. Civil Service seniority will go on until the bankruptcy filings. And that’s the way it is.

  • walton barnaby

    NextSet–take a break–your posts are excessive.

    Weak principals and weak teachers are the problem. We need a way to get rid of ineffective educators at both of these levels and we need ways to retain talent…like better pay and less bureaucracy. With this bad economy, a lot of talent out there would jump at the low wages in OUSD.

    Charters are going to blow districts out of the water unless districts break the unions and start operating like efficient organizations.

  • Alice Spearman

    For once, Nexset is right! I just wished he would come to board bmeetinbgb banbdb bvboicbe bhis opinion, right or wrong. I need some help!

  • Alice Spearman

    Sorry for the mistakes, my keyboard stuck. For once, Nexste is right. I just wish he would come to board and voice his opinions, right or wrong. I need some help!

  • wannabe teacher

    I have a teaching credential from a regular teaching program but will lose it soon because I cannot get hired. I desperately want to work for the OUSD but simply can’t compete with Teach for America, Project Pipeline, Oakland Teachers Corp etc. I have tons of experience working in schools but not as the regular teacher and have tried talking to everyone but they wont’ even give me the time of day. So they are turning away qualified teachers because they can get a TFA more cheaply. I am going to start applying to the charters because I think they might actually care about the quality of their teachers.

  • Gordon Danning


    My school has had plenty of TFA teachers over the years, and although they haven’t always stayed that long, they have indeed been high quality – well above average, probably. So it hardly seems fair to accuse the district of not caring about the quality of their teachers.

  • Sarah

    FYI to Wannabe Teacher – any first-year teacher costs OUSD the same salary and benefits, no matter if he/she is traditional, TFA, OTF, etc.

    @Nextset: Your posts are often racially/socioeconomically insensitive at best. At worst, they are offensive and degrading to the students and families OUSD serves (not to mention the teachers!). Please consider the implications of your writings before you post.

    On the subject of the original post:
    I work in one of OUSD’s traditional schools, but operate under the view that any school that is providing high-quality educational opportunities to all groups of children should be allowed to continue, regardless of their status as public or charter. The bottom line is that our policies must support what is best for kids, not adults.

    And on that note, our principals desperately need the ability to choose their staffs. Our school has seen negative/flat growth over the past 5 years, much of which is due to a cohort of incredibly ineffective teachers that have no place in our school. The person in front of each classroom matters more than anything else, and if we can’t choose those teachers, how will we ever make gains?

  • oaklandteacher

    I came through Oakland Teaching Fellows, a non-traditional path, along with 70 other teachers this year. I think that before calling myself and many others “not qualified”, please come and observe many of the great things that we are accomplishing in OUSD. I teach for achievement and know that many of my colleagues do too.

  • JR

    Excellent point, principals DO need more autonomy because they are in charge at the school(at ground zero), and their job is on the line and dependent on many others(teachers) doing their jobs right! Therefore they should be able to choose(within reason) their own staff irregardless of tenure. Some teachers have been at it too long(short tempered & ill willed)and some are just not teaching material.I want to stress very heavily that in my experience(PTA and extensive involvement with different districts)the overwhelming majority of teachers are wonderful and very hard-working and dedicated professionals. Make no mistake about that.

  • OUSD Teacher

    wannabe teacher,

    I got a job with OUSD using Oakland Teacher corps– to enroll in this program you have to have a traditional credential from a regular teaching program– I found it fairly easy to get a job after my credential program. granted that was 3 years ago, but I often hear of vacancies– maybe you need to do a little more research…

  • TheTruthHurts

    We are not blaming the teachers, we are blaming the system. A system that rewards tenure over performance. A system that doesn’t allow changes to occur quickly when things are not working. A system that doesn’t provide support while simultaneously demanding results. I don’t blame other teachers for poor teachers any more than I blame myself for my lazy co-worker. The system is broken.

    Who is to blame? I don’t care. Fix it!!

    My child should not suffer because a teacher has passed their prime but has enough seniority to be in my school. My child should not suffer because the principal is a dictator and demotivates staff when they need support for truly difficult jobs. My child doesn’t deserve to have all the research we’ve done on neighborhoods, schools, etc. go down the drain because seniority poisons the teaching pool at the site.

    Teachers make the difference. At least that’s what teachers say. I agree with them. Well, if you make the difference for good – guess what? You make the difference for bad too. A great teacher can overcome amazing obstacles and a poor one can fail even after immense support. That is not to disparage the individual – just their career choice at the time. They’re surely great at something else. These are not easy jobs.

    Until this situation changes, charters will continue to be an attractive alternative for parents who want to do more than drop their kids off and pick them back up. Not that charters are better. We know that can be hard to assess. It just provides comfort that the school has the same flexibility I would want as a parent in deciding who interacts with my child.

    What parent wants to hear, “I’m sorry, we know this teacher is not effective. We’re trying just like his last three schools. Hopefully, we’ll have better luck.” We all know, that teacher will be back next year or if you’re lucky, shipped off to another school to annoy them. At some point it gets ridiculous.

  • TheTruthHurts

    BTW Katy, do they pay you well enough to do this kind of research/reporting? I’m still getting through it, but that series looks pretty good. Good info from all sides.

  • Caroline

    I have a teacher friend who is badly troubled by a problem co-worker in a nearby classroom, and the real-life situation is SO different from the stereotype of the tenured deadwood veteran portrayed by TheTruthHurts that I have to call it out.

    TheTruthHurts’ comment:

    “My child should not suffer because a teacher has passed their prime but has enough seniority to be in my school.”

    The situation in real life (small, low-income Bay Area district, neither OUSD nor SFUSD): Teacher hired with one previous year’s experience in the classroom. He is a midlife career-changer from a respected professional field. The school administrators have chosen to group all the lower-performing students in one class and have given it to him. He constantly belittles the students telling them students they’re not capable of doing the work. He gave almost the entire class F’s. This caused parents (who are low-income and otherwise unempowered and disengaged) to come en masse to a school board meeting, but the district superintendent read them a portion of the Brown Act involving confidentiality of employee evaluations to intimidate them into silence. (The superintendent was misleading them, of course.)

    This is a situation where the class (5th grade) has two teachers in different subject areas. My friend, the teacher in the nearby classroom watching the situation with dismay, says the second teacher gets good and challenging work out of these same kids, the ones who are told that they’re hopelessly stupid by the newbie teacher with the professional background and advanced degrees. All their colleagues are distressed about this problem teacher, but they are powerless.

    My friend says that the reason the problem teacher was hired is that in his one previous year teaching, in a different district, his class’s test scores rose.

  • Caroline

    Sorry about my illiterate-looking sentence — an incomplete edit (“He constantly belittles the students telling them students they’re not capable of doing the work.”)

  • Nextset

    Sarah, I’m glad you noticed – I’m not politically correct. I call it as I see it. I have little interest in being “sensitive” to people who need to change or else. Those that do are part of the problem.

    Caroline: You have an interesting problem with that problem teacher. This is an example of the Educrats running around thinking that whenever the scores go up it is because the teacher sprinkles some kind of magic dust on the kids. So they don’t open their eyes and see crazy when it’s in front of them. I’ve been mentioning this in passing as long as I’ve been blogging here, but I do have to phrase this very carefully because the management of the blog has feelings.

    The test scores are a typically reflection of the kids not the teacher. The test scores will move quickly in response to a demographic change in the class. This is more measurable as you are dealing with larger numbers of people. In a smaller group it can be dramatic if certain demographic changes occur.

    So the fact that this problem teacher had a good year previously may have a lot to do with who he was “teaching” and who the previous group was they are being measured against. If we are talking about score increases within a year by a class, you look at what the baseline increase you would have expected if any average teacher were there. Maybe he’s a “good” teacher, or maybe he drew a productive demographic.

    I am not aware of a productive, “good” teacher telling students that they are unable to do “the work”. You don’t try to teach pigs to fly. You teach and make assignments that you have a reasonable expectation your students can produce. Otherwise you are hurting the kids and wasting your time.

    Problem teacher is in a new school and maybe missing his favorite subjects and is losing it. He needs to go if he can’t cope. A good teacher who likes their subject can size up his students and get something done. And usually “something” is more than the students thought they could do. So what I expect to see is teacher telling the kids he wouldn’t be working them if he didn’t know they were capable. Or changing the assignments to survey level.

    When a teacher has decided that the (colored?) folks are not smart enough you will see watered down assignments and false praise. My parents were always watching like a hawk for that. What you describe here is not that, it’s something else. He’s probably scared of his job. And he’s trying to hide that with this behavior. Maybe you and the other teachers need to have it out with him – tell him he’s screwing up and he’d better change his line fast before he has the place in an uproar further and unifies everybody against him. And if he can’t produce better than this he should leave before he’s thrown out.