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Experience makes teachers better —--we're worth the cost

Publication Date: 2011-03-30

Edward Johnson teaches at West Elementary School in Sycamore, Illinois. This is from the Chicago Sun-Times, March 27, 2011.

When I have a leaky pipe in my home, I call my plumber. I wouldnât dream of telling him how to do his job, nor would I be able to do what he does. I could say the same thing about all my friends and relatives who have occupations and careers that differ from mine.

That is why I am both amazed and angered over the fact that everyone these days seems to think they know my job better than I do.

I have been a public school teacher in Illinois for the last 36 years, but now everyone from Bill Gates to Rahm Emanuel, from state and federal politicians to the pundits on cable news stations, seems to think they know how to teach.

Having $40 billion or $50 billion does not mean you know how to engage, entertain, inspire, motivate and educate a classroom of 25 10- and 11-year-olds for 6½ hours each day. Have any of these people even set foot in a classroom in the last 20 or 30 years, other than for the occasional photo-op?

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wouldnât last a week in my classroom. I couldnât do his job, either. Nor would I. I love what I do, and I have gotten pretty good at it over the years, thanks in part to the fact that I have tenure.

You see, tenure doesnât just protect those bad teachers we always hear about; it also protects a multitude of good teachers. It protects them against the ire of the local bank president whose son got a D on his report card and whose brother-in-law is on the school board.

It protects them against budget cuts when it would be very easy to get rid of the more expensive and experienced staff members. It gives them time to acquire the knowledge and wisdom they need to become master teachers.

I didnât have that wisdom when I started. Oh, I had a lot of that energy and enthusiasm that all young teachers have fresh out of college. But I didnât understand children then as I do now.

Why does it seem that we value experience in other careers, but not in teaching? Doesnât experience always make you better?

If you need open-heart surgery, do you want that energetic first-year practitioner or someone with experience and a solid track record?

The last time I checked the Constitution, you couldn't even run for president unless you were at least 35. Didnât those Founding Fathers realize how much energy a 22-year-old has?

My plumber will advise me as to which faucet or water heater is better. Better usually means more expensive.

I am proud to be a public school teacher, but sometimes the public is not aware that we play by a different set of rules than do private and charter schools.

We have to live with Springfield mandates. Public schools take in all students, which allows private and charter schools to do what they do, picking and choosing their students. They would not exist without public schools. Public schools do what the private and charter schools wonât do, or canât do.

When I announced that I wanted to be a teacher in 1972, everyone told me it was a very noble profession, but I wouldn't be able to support myself or a family. Now, there are those who think I make too much money.

When I think of all the students I have taught; the countless classes and workshops I have attended; the out-of-pocket dollars I have spent on supplies that were not provided; the 30 summers I worked to help make ends meet, and the fact that I have become a better teacher with each passing year, I feel like I am worth it.

Just like my plumber, Ray, who was one of my students.

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