Young is to old as good is to bad -- not so fast

Elinor Tatum | 4/12/2011, 4:44 p.m.

The "last in, first out" model (LIFO) is in place for a reason. It stops the wholesale firing of the most experienced and expensive teachers for inexpensive new teachers. While this model is not ideal, it is the one that safeguards the most.

The fact is that a bad teacher is a bad teacher, and those are the ones who need to go first. Then layoffs need to be made based on seniority.

We as a collective society need to articulate what qualities and skills make a successful teacher in the classroom. We know that we need experienced teachers like my Aunt Lea to mentor and guide the younger folks. And we know that having a great teacher really can be one of the most memorable experiences in life.

I can remember one of my teachers; Marie Rhone, a Black woman who taught me thirty years ago at Hunter College Elementary School. She just retired a few years ago. She was the ideal, the best of the best. Kids were terrified of her, but they learned, and learned well. It would have been a shame if she had been let go because she was too expensive because she changed lives.

Good teachers come in all shapes, styles, colors and ages. We need our teachers to care and understand the circumstances that our children come from. They must be empathetic and sometimes stern, they must be great communicators who are able to engage our young. We need the best teachers to stay and the worst ones to go. Let's have that be the real determination. And we need to understand that these decisions are not the same as one of the billionaire mayor's corporate restructurings where cheaper is better. Any loss of teachers should be thought of as one of our potentially great societal losses, because any of those we lose could be one of the good or even great ones.