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Teacher Challenge Seniority Valued Over Skill

Elizabeth Rose is the only teacher in the Spokane area to hold a prestigious national teaching credential. But she spent her summer hunting for a classroom.

She took a one-year position last year with the West Valley School District, filling in for a teacher on leave. She knew the chances were slim the job would last any longer.

Rose, who finally found a position at University High School this fall, is a talented teacher, said West Valley High School Principal Cleve Penberthy. “She’ll have no trouble finding a job.”

She moved to North Idaho from California in 1995 when her husband retired from law enforcement.

Rose, 45, received her national teaching certificate from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in a ceremony last fall, accompanied by a White House reception. The testing and learning stretched over three years and “was a phenomenal amount of work,” she said.

Certification usually takes at least 150 hours. Most teachers find the work more rigorous and fulfilling than earning a master’s degree, said a national board spokeswoman. The board hopes such certifications will eventually raise the standard of teaching nationwide.

In her classroom at West Valley High School last spring, Rose glanced from her students to her copy of the Ray Bradbury novel, “Martian Chronicles.”

“Page 72. I have one class copy if someone didn’t bring their book. Any takers?” There are none.

“This is a short one - read along with me. ‘They felt like pilgrims and they did not feel like pilgrims.’

“Huh? What’s he talking about?”

Rose led the sophomores through a discussion. She battled short attention spans with simple directions. She moved softly around the room, breaking up a whispered conversation here, praising an answer there.

After a short quiz, she checked to see how students handled the questions. “Easy? Medium? Hard? Impossible?” Several hands went up on easy. “Good. That means you read this section and took notes.”

Last spring, parent Karen Saba wrote this in a letter to the school: “Ms. Rose has gotten her students interested, motivated and excited about English. This is the first year that (my son) has ever really enjoyed his English class.”

The district didn’t have the money to keep her on this fall after the regular teacher returned.

“It’s the same as any other business,” said Superintendent Dave Smith. “It isn’t a matter of what you’d like to do. It’s a matter of what you have to do.”

Washington law doesn’t allow officials to fire a less qualified teacher in order to keep an experienced teacher with better qualifications.

Rose said she understands the seniority system.

“Sure, you take care of your own first. The problem is, I can’t think of too many professions that call themselves professions that do that.”

She wants to see all states accept veteran teachers’ certification and seniority when those individuals move to new school districts. Currently, few do. Doctors, lawyers and CEOs are given credit in their professions for experience, she said. Teachers who move lose seniority and thousands of dollars of salary.

Rose isn’t bitter about the way the system treats her. “I view it the same way as I view the obstinate kid in a front row seat - as something to work on.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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