Putting Education Reform To The Test

Classroom Contemplations: Overlooking The Value Of Veteran Teachers

Jeremy Glazer argues veteran teachers have value that extends beyond year-to-year test results.

Laura Appleyard / Flickr

Jeremy Glazer argues veteran teachers have value that extends beyond year-to-year test results.

Editor’s note: Names of teachers and students have been changed.

A student went home to complain to her mom about Mattie Williams, her social studies teacher. The mother went straight out to the school for a conference.

To the mother’s surprise, she found herself sitting face-to-face with her own former teacher from a generation before at the same high school (Williams had since taken on a married last name).

Whatever she was now called, Williams remained a teacher who demanded respect.

“The mom told me that she went home and told her daughter: ‘You’d better do everything that teacher tells you to do,’” Williams told me, laughing.

Teachers not only “add value” to individuals students, they add value to schools as well — especially when they remain a strong teacher in the same school for decades.

When people talk about a teacher being “an institution,” they are usually imagining someone like Mattie Williams who taught for 40 years in the same school.

“I stayed for more than just teaching,” she told me.

And she did a lot more than “just teach” over the years. She bought groceries, clothes, deodorant and toiletries for students and their families; she got kids out of jail; she paid for funerals; she helped kids with pocket money for college.

Her job was a lifestyle choice for her, and often extended well beyond the school hours for which she was paid.

“My husband knew that when a child called me at 3 a.m., he was to wake me up.”

This wasn’t just social work.  Ms. Williams recognized that the population she was working with had a variety of needs and she knew that if she was going to have any success with them academically, she was going to have to consider these other needs as well.

She realized that a simple focus on what was in the social studies textbooks or in any particular set of standards was only a piece of what she needed to impart to be a successful teacher.

This philosophy continues to be reflected in her relationship with the school, even after her retirement.

As a history teacher, she understands the importance of the variety of uses of history, to expand student knowledge of the larger world and help build understanding of their own, everyday world.  Now, she works with the school archives — named after her — to help students learn about successful alumni from the school.

“Children need to know that people who came before them are doing well,” Williams told me.  She feels this helps them value themselves and believe in their own future, academic and otherwise.

Williams continues to play an important role in the past, present, and future of the school and the community.  The value she continues to add in not just about her performance in the classroom on the required curriculum, but is also a result of her own history with the school and her own experience with generations of students.

Every school cannot have a Mattie Williams, a strong teacher who stays for 40 years.  But we must figure out a way to help encourage this kind of consistency as much as we can.

Unfortunately, we are moving in the opposite direction.

State law requires school districts to treat Ms. Williams as if she has arrived each year as a new teacher with a clean slate. Her worth measured largely by a single year’s student performance.

Those policies do not reinforce the worth of long-term teachers.  They ignore their lasting value.

In any system we design to evaluate the pedagogical performance of Ms. Williams, it is incumbent on us to figure out a way to reward and encourage her consistency as well.  This consistency, in the long run, may be just as important to the school as any particular year’s classroom performance.


  • Burnt out

    Wonderful article. Teachers like Mattie Williams are less likely to appear in our ‘must-show-immediate-results, single test determines all’- modern system. And common core won’t prove anything unless all students across the nation take the same test, and the pressure, burn out and disenchantment with teaching as a force for good in a community will further erode…

  • nugeme

    The war on teachers by politicians ( of BOTH parties) must end.

  • I had this discussion with some colleagues. Our school put in a new performance pay system based on a rubric of teacher knowledge and skills (not test scores). We felt that some of the scoring should be weighted toward seniority.

    The reason we thought the weighting was justified is that those teachers are the keeper of school history over decades. While it might not show up in their classrooms, it shows up in wise counsel to new teachers and words to consider during meetings.

    Great idea for a post!
    Janet | expateducator.com

  • melody

    Teachers like Ms. Williams are the unsung heroes of our time. In this field, unfortunately, she is among the endangered species as well. Technology savvy crowds are more appreciated by current administrators than the experience, the devotion, the expertise, the experience and love of a teacher like Ms. Williams.

  • Jo Davis

    What a great article and very true.Veteran teachers are not given the value and respect they have earned. They should not be viewed as the “old teachers” that administrators need to get rid of because they cost too much. Instead the teachers should be seen as an invaluable asset to the school and community. They have earned the respect of their former students and past and present colleagues – why not the administrative staff? Your past performance through the many years (20-40 ) years should have some impact on your evaluation.A truly good teacher does not suddenly “turn bad” based on some capricious form of evaluation .A really dedicated teacher will impact a student’s life and have a positive influence on their learning experience even when they ( the teacher) has been given obstacles to achieve that outcome. When teaching is your PASSION – that’s the only outcome -success with your students.

  • looneyteachr

    I am one of those teachers – spent 23 years at one school – I knew every kid in the school and most of their parents – made a huge difference! check out http://looneyteachr.com

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