Dude, Let Students Help Make Those Teacher Cuts

nea and jedidiahRemember the nineties? Remember Project Star? This program, and others like it, were put in place to cut class sizes and hire more educators to better educate California students. Now, it seems that the more education-oriented people of the nineties who put Project Star and others like it in place are long gone. Maybe they never existed.

Last year, our school – Torrance High – let go 21 teachers out of a total staff of about 130 teachers and administrative staff. At the end of this year, we’re told our school will drop from 111 teachers and administrators to 66 for next school year. Several of our favorite teachers – in math, science, and English – have told us privately that they will be among the cuts.

Because our school makes these cuts strictly on seniority, it’s always the newer teachers who go, the ones who connect so much better with us students. Although we like and respect our older, more experienced teachers, these younger ones are more flexible in their teaching plans and are closer to us in age. They understand us so much better. So we’re terribly sad to see their teaching careers end, at least for now.

Isn’t it just great that today’s students will be left with a massive debt and without the proper mathematical skills to solve tomorrow’s problems? You of the older generation, don’t you think you’re being a little selfish? You on the Left will say it’s the Right’s fault and the Right will say it’s the Left’s fault. But you would both be wrong—and pointing fingers won’t fix anything anyway. With the massive war expenses headed by the Right and the ever-expanding social programs of the Left, you are giving us difficult challenges and inadequate tools to fix them.

As you throw all of this money at unnecessary things, you also take our voices away. You are setting us up to fail. First, you’re giving us impossible problems to solve—the war, the debt, and so forth. Then you tie our hands by taking away the tools that would enable us to solve those problems, namely our best and most favorite teachers. And finally you give us no say in the cuts. Dude! Really?

We’re not saying that students should have the right to fire teachers, but when there are mandatory layoffs, students should help in the decision-making. As high school students, we have direct insight into this situation.

Last year, our high school lost so many teachers that one of us did not even have an English teacher for over a month. Next school year, to accommodate these drastic staff cuts, the school plans to take class sizes from an average of 30 all the way to 43. Many of our classrooms are cut in half by dividers with a class taught on each side of the divider. Now, with so many fewer teachers, they will have to take down those dividers to accommodate the larger number of students in each class.

We would much rather that teacher layoffs not be made solely on seniority. We would much rather have teachers who have earned the student body’s respect and who make campus life and our educations better. Better yet, we would like you to find a way to keep these teachers, both for us and for the kids who will follow us.

Give us a voice.

Nea Friberg-Price and Jedidiah Von Dielingen

Nea and Jed are finishing their junior year at Torrance High.


  1. Lauren Steiner says

    My comment is not on the content of the article. I just want to thank Dick and Sharon for reaching out to young people and enlisting their persepctive in this important debate. And I want to commend Nia and Jed for putting themselves out there. Those who commented may have issues with your facts. But the fact that you care enough to even want to be involved in these issues that so directly affect you puts you head and shoulders above most of the apathetic youth I see out there. Keep it up!

  2. Ginny Atherton says

    Actually, seniority has less to do with age and experience than with date of hire (contract) with a particular district. It will be true that there will be many young teachers who are relatively recent hires. Also consider this: there are quite a few teachers who have been recruited from industry or who have entered teaching after other careers. These are experienced, older and recent hires all at the same time! There are also teachers who changed districts…often due to interesting new opportunities that attracted them. Again, they will be low in seniority, but long on experience. Many older teachers will agree that their experience has enhanced their teaching “chops.” Those young teachers who are popular and relate to the students will also improve with experience. We need academic communities with many ages, just as we appreciate many of the other flavors (ethnic, gender identity)we experience in public education.

    As difficult as the seniority process is, it is at least free from retailatory opportunism (from administrators, colleagues or students).

  3. Lydia G Sanchez Bracamonte says

    I do agree on the idea that Students need to become more involved in the multifaceted aspects of their school, including the disciplinary process. I feel that these two well intentioned students are uninformed on the difficult process of discharging, (pink-slipping) teachers.

    Education should and is never a popularity contest. And while it may seem logical that a younger teacher can “connect with students” We must examine what type of connection is actually being made and if there is a growth in learning and understanding of the role that each subject plays in the bigger picture of how students will act and interact in the world that they are being prepared to face.

    There are many things to be considered and I assure you that strict seniority is not the only factor. Labor organizations along with the Elected Teacher representation agonize over these issues each and every year as does an administration that has a strong belief and dedication to the mission of educating our future leaders in what ever area in interest you may have.

    I applaud you for taking the risk and writing this article and asking for opinions. I suggest that you review Present Education Code, talk to Union Representatives that have been elected and are serving in your school District and at the local level your school.
    Then plan to enter the new year prepared to present a plan to your school board, you Student body and the community at large about how the community as a whole, students in particular will begin to participate in School board meetings, representing your class, including a student advocate for students facing disciplinary issues. And don’t forget to include asking for a seat with administration and the Unions to observe negotiations on the topics of Teachers, Critical staff support and FUNDING issues which assure that the things you need are available like books, supplies, extra circular, PE etc, etc, etc. . . . ..

    Here in my home town we have developed in the schools students that are from the High School and Jr Hi who attend meeting of the District School Board meetings, I have worked to propose a plan in which students would learn about the various areas of the laws and Codes in order to help other students understand their rights and responsibilities in the school, defend (advocate for students, prepare a defense for unjust suspensions, and the all important decision making process that goes into funding and administering programs Parent involvement, Teacher/parent/student councils.

    • Jedidiah VonDielingen says

      Dear Lynda,

      I am sorry If we came off as if the only reason we would like to keep some of our teachers is because of “popularity reasons.” But this is not true, there are many teachers there that were hired in a time when we could afford such an amount of teachers and there teacher ethic was not so strongly called into question. But now when we are dwindling down to 66 Teachers, Administration, and Staff it is most important that we keep what good teachers we have. There are teachers that have seniority and yet score lower upon observation of their teaching. You have to remember that my parents are paying for them and if they pay for a good education they should be able to get me an excellent education. Not pay for someone who may or may not be and adequate educator. It is someone unfair to myself, students, and my entire high school career of Math Educators; that they are not employed based on Teaching Ethic.

      Sorry if we did not clarify our intentions well enough.

      Sincerely, Jedidiah VonDielingen.

      P.S. I replied only to your excellent comment because it was the most respectful, and least demeaning. Thank-You.

      • says

        Excellent work, Jed. Excellent response. I understand that you just want students to have a voice, not to do away with seniority altogether. Sharon and I agree that students’ observations should be factored into these decisions. — Dick & Sharon

  4. says

    Nea Friberg-Price and Jedidiah Von Dielingen,
    On the face of it your thoughts would have some validity. However, you do not seem to understand that the concept of seniority and workers rights were won by many generations to overcome the capricious acts of bosses and administrators who before there were standards did whatever they wanted. Further, while the cost of the two wars that we are involved with are doing damage to the US budget it is not true that social programs are escalating out of proportion to the population. The problem is that the tax changes beginning with Reagan have allowed the rich to push the tax burden on to the poor and middle income workers and that leaves a large percentage of the wealth of the country untaxed. FYI I retired after working in education for almost thirty years in community colleges and I would dare you to find a student of any age who said I was out of touch with them — educators stay current. Second, my son is a high school and middle school teacher so my family has some interest and experience in these issues and I don’t take your comments lightly. Oh, my grand daughter, 20, is a student activist and is involved in community affairs.
    I wonder if you have thought about the fact that if you feel badly about your young teachers being out you also ought to consider that it is much more difficult for older workers, including educators, to find jobs when they are pushed out. It is cheaper to hire the young so the old are left alone and lonely that is why we have programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
    What I would suggest is that you organize young, energetic, smart people like yourselves into a mass movement to force the state to fund education adequately by taxing those with money: the wealthy and the corporations. You will find that many of the educators, young and old will work along side you to win better education!
    A concluding thought — When instead of organizing people allow themselves to become divided through their own action or through following divisive propaganda such as old people are selfish etc, then defeat is certain. Divide and conquer is a real strategy that has been used very effectively by the right in this country for the past 30+ years and look where we are at: young set against old, “citizens” against immigrants, and so on. I wish you well in your work and I might add I always enjoyed working with students like yourselves. Another FYI: I was a student activist in high school, college, grad school and then a community organizer active in the human rights movements and peace movement from 1955 to today and tomorrow.

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