With Dr. Bruce Hartung
Q: Schools are terminating long-standing teachers as a way to balance their budgets. In addition, teachers are being encouraged to obtain master’s degrees, although teachers with advanced degrees risk being too high on the pay scale.
It’s much cheaper for a school to terminate an older, more experienced teacher and hire a new graduate or someone else with little experience. Older, more experienced teachers are even being let go with no unemployment compensation and no health insurance.
What is the Synod doing to help teachers who have dedicated many years to Lutheran education and now find themselves unemployed?
[The writer’s spouse is one such terminated teacher. The writer then addresses that reality in the paragraph that follows.]
The reason given for that termination was a reduction in force, but the school will need to hire new teachers to fill in the gaps. I could see someone being terminated if (the teacher) did something against God’s will or was not effective in the classroom, but to terminate and leave someone out in the cold so a school can more easily balance the budget seems very ruthless and unChristian to me … . (The teacher was) loved by students and parents … . Students had high scores on achievement tests … .
We also need to address the plight of teachers in Lutheran schools that are closing. They, too, are left with no unemployment and no health insurance.
A: This is one of several communications I have received over the last several months concerning economic issues in our churches and schools.
The next column in October will take up a topic addressed in letters concerning economic conditions of pastors.
So, if readers wish to contribute some thoughts about this column regarding teachers or the next about pastors and economic conditions, please do so.
In the March, April and May 2009 “Pressure Points” columns, I responded to a series of concerns stimulated by the deteriorating economic environment. For those columns, go to the following links, respectively: www.lcms.org/ ?14844, www.lcms.org/?14931 and www.lcms.org/?15136.
That economic reality remains, although we hear that a recovery has begun — slow as it may be.
In the May 2009 column I recommended reading an article, and I will reference it again. To access it, go to www.ccie.com, type “Mature Teachers Matter” in the “Search” box, click on “Search,” and you will get a list of articles including the one by Patricia Berl with that title. Click on the title to order it. While checking to see if this article was still available (at a $3 cost), another one on that list caught my eye – “Do Unto Teachers As You Would have Teachers Do Unto Children,” by Cynthia Beal. These are promising titles.
The Synod itself has no formal way to address such questions in ways that actually mandate a different behavior on the part of our congregations and schools.
One resource person, however, is Bill Cochran, director of School Ministry on the Synod staff. Another contact person is your district education executive. And a third is Dr. Jonathan Laabs, president of the Lutheran Education Association.
It seems to me that one of the best things the Synod can do is to raise the flag of questioning the practice you describe. So, consider this a flag-raising.
I see this as a question of the nature of our investment in the education of our children. If we are looking to the future, we will make the quality education of our children a significant priority, and that includes resources and personnel that will prime their learning the most. To me, this means that we hire and retain our best teachers. Experienced teachers are not always our best, of course. But when they are, to look at only a cheaper way to have a body in a classroom strikes me as shortsighted, even though it might have some fiscal justification. If we are dealing with the value of investment in our children, I have a hard time thinking the fiscal justification finally should carry the day.
One further recommendation to schools in a serious financial crunch, suggested last year by an educator: consider reducing hours rather than laying off individuals, so that people continue to receive a salary and health benefits. Then work toward a longer-term solution to the finances.
Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted Aug. 26, 2010