Sunshine Coast High School Students Rally To Keep Beloved Teacher

I’m going to go further in clarifying the nature of this post, as this is a timely and sensitive issue, and misunderstandings can happen during unfortunate times. 

My purpose in this post was to recognize a group of kids speaking up strongly for something that they believe in. I’ve said I’m proud of them for that, and I am. As politicians that’s what we say we want from people, and I commend all groups that do so, even when I don’t agree with their message. Many people have asked me advice on getting the attention of politicians, and I’ve answered them honestly.

I’m not passing any judgement on this process, though. I’ve said “there’s always room for improvement” but I like to think that that is my approach to all things.

This is public education and people are allowed to ask questions, and even scrutinize the system. Hopefully it is done in a constructive manner.

Students at Elphinstone Secondary School are hopping mad about a favourite teacher being “bumped” from his position. There are currently 506 members in the Facebook group “We Want Mr. Topping Back At Elphinstone!”

Group description:

“Mr. Topping is one of those teachers that goes above and beyond the call of duty for the kids and has the respect of parents and students alike. Let’s show him our thanks and encouragement. Support one of our favourite teachers!”

In a nutshell, laid off teachers can “bump” other teachers based on seniority, if they have the qualifications.

I think it’s great the students are questioning the move of an obviously dedicated and respected teacher, even if their wrath is directed at the Board of Education. A group of passionate people speaking up, in an organized fashion, gets people thinking. Maybe Facebook will be the saviour of Democracy! Who woulda thunk it? I apologise for all the things I’ve said about you, Facebook.

Is this the best method of placing teachers? There are a lot of factors involved, but I say there’s always room for improvement. If you’re critical of the current system, what do you suggest?

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17 Comments

Filed under Sunshine Coast Board of Education, Sunshine Coast News and Politics

17 responses to “Sunshine Coast High School Students Rally To Keep Beloved Teacher

  1. TZ

    This incident of bumping Mr. Topping, is just a side effect of how the entire school board is being run…

    “This comment has been edited–no personal attacks!” JS

  2. Silas

    One thing to consider is that the process for teacher placement isn’t a unilateral decision, it is a negotiation. Any improvement would have to balance a number of different interests, including those of the teachers themselves. That is just the way a negotiation works, and in accordance with the collective agreement, labour law, etc.

    • Jason Scott

      OK, thanks Robert Shapiro.

      Please translate…

      • Silas

        I’m saying that although there are many things a board can have a lot of decision-making influence over if it wants to, this isn’t one of them. It’s a negotiation between the board and the union.

        So “solutions” that meet only the interests of one side are essentially useless. Recognition of seniority is a very important priority for the teachers’ union, so it can’t be disregarded. Considering this reality, I find the improvements you hope for to be elusive…

        But maybe they’re out there. I expect that teachers themselves are in the best position to propose “improvements” that would have a shot of being accepted in the next round of negotiations.

        • Jason Scott

          Thanks for the input, Silas.

          But what are the “one sided solutions” you’re talking about?

          I said there’s room for improvement, as there almost certainly is, as there is in most things. I think we need to be always on the look out for better ways to do things, but I haven’t made any proposals.

          It’s the Board’s responsibility to constantly ask, ” Is_____in the best interests of students?” It’s our raison d’etre.

          You seem to be arguing about whether or not changes can be made. As a Board we need to start with should changes be made, and go from there.

          This is all philosophical debate, of course. I really don’t have the answers on this one, yet.

          • Silas

            True enough: You have influence over the interests we take to the bargaining table. Changes can definitely be made to the values and priorities the bargaining team brings forward on the board’s (best interests of students) behalf. When you come up with your answers you can inform the bargaining team next go-round.

  3. Anonymous

    Parents – have more kids!

  4. Kyra

    It’s unfortunate that so many students seem to be under the impression that this indicates that the system of seniority is a faulty one…no matter what the system, without the funding someone somewhere will not have work come next year. The issue isn’t the system, the issue is the fact that more and more students are being squished into smaller spaces to make up for the lack of money being put towards public education. If there’s less than that amount, then all of a sudden enrollment isn’t “high” enough to justify keeping those teachers. It’s too bad that the minimum enrollment requirements are STILL too high for truly effective learning. Thanks, Campbell.

    • Ryan L

      Sure, lack of funding is an issue, but less students is going to mean less teachers. You can\’t really get around that.

      This issue is about the teachers unions\’ insistence that seniority, over ability or competence, is the main factor in placing teachers.

      • Kyra

        It’s not a great system, I agree, but I think the alternatives have their own issues too. The main one is in deciding how to measure competence…is it how well the students do academically? Is it how well the teacher is liked by their students? Is it some combination, which would no doubt be even harder to measure? And how do you even compare teachers who specialize in different subjects? I think Mr. T would probably be rated quite highly no matter what measuring tape is used, but it’s still a system that undeniably allows the potential for bias.

        • Silas

          These are excellent points. So often, perception is everything, and I have no doubt that even if everyone could possibly agree on some kind of “measurement” system (which is impossible enough!), once any tough decisions were ultimately made the decision-makers would be accused of bias, favouritism, corruption, incompetence, you name it… And I expect the anger and suspicion would be so thick that any district with such a system would fall into disarray. I’m open to being proven wrong if anyone has any examples.

          Here is the debate going on in the US (see post AND comments):
          http://www.joannejacobs.com/2010/04/how-not-to-lay-off-teachers/

        • Ryan L

          Yeah, that\’s the argument, but competence isn\’t that hard to define. Lucky for us, most other professions have been able to do it.

          Would some teachers complain about having their effectiveness measured? Yes. Do some teachers complain now? Yes.

          When did protecting the delicate feelings of teachers become the main mandate of the public education system?

          • Kyra

            Competence is a lot harder to define when you’ve got two different groups with a vested interest in defining it (namely, the students and the school board). I can think of a few teachers I absolutely loved as far as their personalities went, but when I think back on it I’m in some doubt that their teaching methods were all that fantastic when it came to, say, teaching towards provincial material. I can also think of some teachers I’ve absolutely hated over the years, who have still somehow managed to get me through the provincials with flying colours. I’d argue that teaching is a slightly more faceted profession than many others; the role a teacher can play extends over a large range, from educator to counsellor and all the extra things they may choose to take part in (Topping and grad council, for example).

            And no, most other professions HAVEN’T been able to do it. There are plenty of workplaces that are unionized, and also plenty that aren’t that still somehow manage to be infiltrated by completely useless people.

            In addition, as I’ve somewhat stated before, measuring competence isn’t the only issue; part of it is whether those measurements are even followed. And that’s not just a concern for the teachers themselves, that’s a concern for the students learning from them just as much as the current system is. Basically what I’m saying is, even with a “merit based” system there’s no guarantee the best teacher for the students will get the job.

            I’d love to see some citations for your statements…that’s not an attack on them, merely a desire to try and understand where you’re coming from.

  5. Kyra

    …actually, what’s wrong with having a person whose position is cut immediately bump the most junior member? It would avoid the cascade at least….I’m asking in the hopes someone actually has an explanation for why it isn’t done this way.

  6. Silas

    Sure, Kyra. For starters, the “most junior member” would have to be in the cut teacher’s subject area/specialty. If the most junior teacher happens to be teaching senior math and physics, it would make no sense for a grade one teacher, nor even a senior English teacher to bump into that position… So qualifications narrow the field significantly, especially at the secondary level.

    So let’s say we’re talking about a senior English teacher. Maybe the most junior English teacher is teaching a mix of classes, including an English 8, a Writing class, a PE class, etc. And our senior English teacher would prefer an English Lit, a few English 11s, a couple English 12s… The argument from the union would be, why should this senior English teacher have to move all the way down the ladder to take an undesirable schedule (to the teacher) when someone else who hasn’t been teaching in the district as long gets to keep teaching a courseload that the senior teacher would prefer. So this view of “fairness” is that everyone basically has to move down one to make room. It’s a perfectly reasonable argument and perspective but as we’ve all seen, the “cascade” you mention also causes a lot of disruption and pain.

  7. Kyra

    Hm. Thanks for shedding some light on it, Silas. I suppose from a certain perspective that makes sense.

  8. Jason Scott

    We’ve been getting away from the original nature of the post a bit, so I’ve added a few sentences to it, which will hopefully clarify the intent.

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