In a recent issue of Catalyst Chicago, Chicago Teachers Union member and delegate Larry Vigon raised the issue of seniority in our schools. (“Seniority law should not allow ‘bumping,'” September 2005) He offers a unique perspective—one that can only be explained by having a good working relationship and respect between administrator and staff. It seems that Mr. Vigon has not experienced what many others in the system have. Lucky for him.
In an ideal world, the union would never need a law to protect the seniority rights of members in our schools. Principals would only dismiss those whose calling was not necessarily teaching. Unfortunately, such an ideal world does not exist in CPS. Such a law is necessary because so many administrators are arbitrarily dismissing excellent and superior-rated teachers and ignoring seniority. I have witnessed the abuses firsthand.
As CTU president, I want what is best not only for members, but also for those we teach. Hiring teachers with years of experience—irrespective of where they gained that experience—can only improve schools.
Last spring, we saw what happened to hundreds of teachers who did not have tenure and were dismissed at the click of a button. Principals merely picked and chose those who would leave and those who remain, regardless of their evaluation ratings, qualifications or years of experience.
Those certified teachers, known as probationary appointed teachers or PATs, were terminated without due process, thanks to a faulty clause in the contract negotiated by the previous union leadership. In many instances, seniority was ignored and highly qualified teachers were let go.
Our union cannot afford to allow principals to hire and fire arbitrarily, sending quality teachers packing, sometimes leaving the district, or worse, the profession. Systemwide seniority assures a higher level of experience and stability in the classroom.
Mr. Vigon is right that, “seniority is important and should be preserved at the local level.” He is also right in saying, “losing control over teacher hiring puts everyone at risk.” However, leaving seniority to be determined by the same people who are dismissing untenured teachers without due process and for no good reason does jeopardize everyone. That is not a risk I am willing to take.
Seniority will always be a priority of the CTU and will be a major item for negotiations when contract talks begin again next year. Until then, we will continue to push for changes in Springfield so one day, in an ideal world, teachers can be held to the same standards as other professionals. In other professions, such as the legal and medical professions, those with more experience and seniority are valued and revered. The same should apply to the teaching profession—those with the most experience and seniority should be valued in the classroom.
President, Chicago Teachers Union