Seniority law should not allow ‘bumping’

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The Chicago Teachers Union is seeking to amend the State School Code so teacher seniority will be based on the number of years teachers have worked in the district rather than at an individual school. Last spring, a bill proposing to do just that did not get out of committee.

Another one will be reintroduced either in October or January. I believe this is a bad idea. Seniority is a serious concern for all the members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). That’s why the CTU is working closely with the Illinois General Assembly to pass a bill that would address those concerns.

However, this ill-advised bill has the potential to seriously undermine school reform in Chicago, a large district that differs dramatically from other districts in the state with fewer primary and secondary schools.

If passed, this bill would signal a return to the years before school reform, when displaced teachers with more seniority bumped less-experienced teachers at other schools out of their positions, creating instability and undermining teachers and students. Many anxious and frustrated teachers quit the district for private or suburban schools or left the profession entirely. Some prospective teachers ignored Chicago completely since they did not want to be treated unprofessionally.

Eventually, school reform advocates realized that more stability was needed, and for over a decade, one of the pillars of school reform has been principals’ power to hire teachers. Amending the School Code would make a mockery of school reform because it would negate principals’ hiring decisions. It would also destroy morale because displaced teachers would invariably dislodge other teachers, and those affected would be less than enthusiastic. Principals would view the new arrivals as interlopers who were not as qualified to teach particular subjects as those they replaced. This would undoubtedly ruin any cohesiveness that an entrenched faculty can bring to a school and undermine the aspirations of teachers at the bottom of the seniority list.

All teachers are not equal. Principals, department chairs and, in some cases, committees of teachers take special care to interview numerous candidates so that the most qualified teachers are hired. Losing control over teacher hiring puts everyone at risk and invalidates the work of those who seek to retain the best and brightest teaching staff.

Every school is different, too, and it takes time for faculty members to work together as a team. Teachers who have worked at a school for a couple of years have developed friendships with other faculty who can help enhance their professional growth and have gotten to know the children, their parents and members of the community. Ultimately, these kinds of relationships can improve a school.

Dedicated and knowledgeable teachers who are bumped may know more about teaching certain subjects than an incoming veteran who may be technically qualified to teach the core subjects and electives, but not prepared to teach them. Also, bumped teachers may oversee extracurricular activities that incoming veterans would be under no obligation to sponsor.

Seniority is important and should be preserved at the local level. Allowing a flawed seniority law to determine who is given the responsibility of educating children does a disservice to those who have worked hard to make reform a reality.

Larry Vigon

LSC teacher representative, Von Steuben Delegate, Chicago Teachers Union