Do You Know a Great 'Surplussed' Teacher?
I’m not saying Juliet Good is the best teacher I ever saw, but she is way above average. So why did Richard Montgomery High School, a splendid institution in a wealthy Maryland suburban school system, tell her they no longer had room for her?
Of course with budgets tight, schools are nudging lots of teachers out the door. One of the favorite words for this, the one Good’s supervisers used with her, is “surplussed,” as in “the district reduced the number of teachers allowed at that school and so she had to be surplussed.” (My dictionary says this isn’t a verb, but perhaps that will change soon.)
I know Good. I have spoken to her class -- a unique program called Rocket Corps for high school students interested in teaching. She is very energetic and imaginative. She invented the program in 2001. It not only brought in expert speakers but gave students significant classroom experience at the school, as tutors and sometimes presenting to full classes. But many other fine teachers are being let go, even in school systems as well funded as Montgomery County's. It didn’t strike me as news.
Then the e-mails and letters started pouring in, from Good’s students, their parents, her colleagues, her alumni, a lot of e-mails and letters. They were addressed to her and her supporters, and people campaigning for her reinstatement sent copies to me.
“I cannot tell you how much more passionate about teaching I am after your program,” said a student, Ariana Brown. Britni Cunningham said, “I have found RC to be the most rewarding experience of my high school years.” Ashley Brannan said: “One thing about the Rocket Corps program that I liked the most was the fact that you always told us the honest truth about things. You weren’t afraid to tell us the truth, even if it wasn’t good. We were able to talk about real, important things in education and in the world that we were all affected by. I also liked the fact that you realized teachers have flaws, and some teachers are not meant for the job.”
Richard Montgomery alumni were similarly enthusiastic about Good, and astonished she was being let go. “After gaining the experience of being in front of a class, and seeing how I helped students succeed, my perspective on teaching completely changed,” said Tanya Besiryan. “I am now working to become an elementary school teacher.” Kate Ligon, now a teacher in Montgomery County, said her choice of a career in education was strongly influenced by the Rocket Corps program, including the class’s “lunchtime discussions on various education topics: uniforms, single-sex education, the relationship between socio-economic status and achievement.” Another alum, Richard Brewlaw, said: “Ms. Good has created a culture within Richard Montgomery High School to pass down the same time and effort that she does to her students to anyone who needs and wants help.”
It occurred to me, after reading the few dozen of these letters and e-mails, that there must be other Juliet Goods out there, great teachers caught in the economic vise. I suspect most of them are going to land on their feet. They are resourceful people who adjust well to change, just as they find different ways to teach different kinds of students. But instead of shrugging our shoulders and saying, "That’s the way it goes," why not do something to recognize their work? If you have not told them yet what you feel about what they have done, please send them a note, with a copy to me at email@example.com. If you have told them, then send me an e-mail that I may quote in an upcoming column about the teachers we "surplus," and the great loss they represent.
There is much more to say about Good. Her former principal noted that Rocket Corps tripled the number of students participating under her leadership. Mark Simon, a national school reform leader and former head of the Montgomery County Education Association (the county’s teacher union), said: "The mistake that school systems often make is to assume that teachers are interchangeable and that programs can be successful regardless of who teaches in them. I find that this is rarely the case; that removing the visionary leader not only disrespects the ideas and the energy that key individuals bring that are the source of success, but that removing the visionaries takes the life blood out of the programs.”
Montgomery County is not losing Good entirely. She is taking a job at an elementary school as an academic intervention teacher. She told me it means a 30 percent pay cut, but she added: “I am actually looking forward to giving it my best shot.”
I suspect you know teachers in similar situations with similar attitudes. Tell me about them. We can’t save their jobs, but we can celebrate their work.
Washington Post editors
| June 26, 2009; 3:00 AM ET
Tags: teacher layoffs
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