Long-term teaching staff, or “lifers”, have much to offer students, staff and a school’s wider community. Photo: Quentin JonesContemporary schooling is anything but friendly towards long-serving staff. Promotion favours short-termism for the career minded. To climb the slippery pedagogic pole, you can’t stay too long.
The prompt for teachers to look elsewhere is usually that promotion options in their schools are limited. So if teachers are in a hurry to go places, they up stakes and go. This is understandable as the ambitious and status-minded want to be recognised, but what about the teachers who stay in a school not just for five, 10 or 20, but 30 or 40 years?
According to research from Britain published in The Guardian newspaper in May, 43 per cent of British teachers were planning to look for new jobs within the next 12 months. I recently spoke at a ceremony for a fellow staff member who had served our school for 47 years. Not many teachers stay even 10 years in schools. When someone who has remained in a school for, say, 20 years looks for a post elsewhere, the response is usually, “Why didn’t you move earlier?” The implication is clear.
Long-serving staff, or “lifers”, as they are often pejoratively called, are seen as unambitious or worse; just too lazy to move or whose competence renders them unemployable elsewhere.
So what are the advantages to a school of long-termism?
Having a high turnover of staff taking promotions elsewhere can have an impact on a school’s knowledge base – not just in academic terms but in awareness of how a school operates and especially the community in which it belongs.
Knowing a community should not be underestimated. This works in two ways. Teachers become known to families and, by staying on, teachers bring stability to schools. At present I teach the sons of boys I taught, and I work with colleagues I have taught. There are several staff members in my school who have done so.
The value-added component of this is considerable. Apart from the familiarity with families, there is a sense of continuity and experience within the community that is valued by parents and staff. At times of change, particularly when principals and deputy principals move or retire, long-serving staff offer experience and knowledge that incoming principals and teaching staff draw from and use.
Change fatigue is another reason why long-term staff are important to retain. Schools are increasingly subject to whizz-bang ideas imported by the newly promoted. As many would know, these game-breaking initiatives quickly fade and the people who brought them move elsewhere for the next promotion.
Such short-termism is largely responsible for one of the most critical issues facing schools. This is the primary reason for cynicism of experienced teachers towards change. Schools benefit by sure hands when the promoter of dislocating change will be gone in a couple of years.
Creative management in schools needs to embrace long-serving staff and acknowledge what they have to offer. This can include freeing experienced staff from the moribund rigidity of the daily timetable and encouraging them to become in-house staff appraisers and mentors, as well as presenters of professional development at neighbouring schools.
The university sector is also at fault for failing to creatively incorporate long-serving teachers into its education courses. Trainee teachers are often taught by staff inexperienced in the daily running of schools and the demands of the classroom.
Many long-term staff would have their careers extended by greater imaginative incorporation of their experience, both within schools and beyond. I have yet to see a professional development course or a professional development presenter emphasise the value of long-term staff to schools, and how this can be used to the benefit of others.
There is much negativism concerning the present quality of teachers. It is not so much a question of the qualifications of teachers, but more so how to teach. Most long-term staff generally have excellent management strategies and on-the-job knowledge. In this, “lifers” can show real leadership.
Christopher Bantick is a senior literature teacher at a Melbourne boys’ Anglican grammar school.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.