Keep teacher seniority

/ 5 April 2012 / jennifer

Julie Blaha, Star Tribune Commentary, April 5, 2012 –

When a controversy consumes a community, teachers feel the heat. Just ask any of the 2,700 educators in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

Then ask if they think that seniority protections, which are dismissed as obsolete by many lawmakers, didn’t help screen teachers and their students from the scalding debate outside their schoolhouse doors in the past few years.

For two years, I’ve had the privilege of representing educators in Anoka-Hennepin. You’ve seen the headlines and know our struggles over finding ways to ensure that our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students feel safe and welcome in our schools.

Throughout the saga, I saw teacher after teacher stand up for their LGBT students in a community that didn’t always appreciate their advocacy. These brave educators resisted the extremists, and did so under the white-hot glare of media attention.

Teachers were among the first to question ineffective policies in our district. They denounced watered-down staff development when it came to LGBT topics. They improved responses to bullying even before the district offered training.

Many gay teachers opened up about themselves, so that all our students could learn to work in a diverse society and our gay students could have role models.

It’s working. The school board has passed a new, and better, policy for discussing controversial topics in the classroom. Students say the atmosphere in our schools has improved. Teachers feel empowered to decisively stamp out bullying in all its forms.

I am terribly proud of my colleagues. I would do anything to help them continue this important work for our students.

I wish more of our legislators felt the same. Instead of finding ways for teachers to be stronger advocates for their students, they are focused on taking away the few protections a courageous teacher has.

Seniority and due process aren’t what motivate teachers to take action — their students’ needs do — but those protections help educators do that work better.

Speaking truth to power is stressful enough; adding the threat of layoffs magnifies it tenfold. Seniority protections help teachers focus on the work at hand, instead of worrying about their livelihoods.

I encourage Gov. Mark Dayton to stand up for teachers and veto the anti-seniority bill.


Julie Blaha is president of Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota.