There are many reasons to value experienced teachers, or employees more generally. Especially in the field of education, experience matters. However, more and more we hear the call to clear the field for the younger generation of employees. We should be careful to consider the sources. If you haven't already you should be sure to read Diane Ravitch's best seller, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. It explains so much of what is really behind the corporate reform movement in education. As a father of three, I know that if I had a choice to place my child (especially the one who struggles with attention) in the class of an experienced teacher vs. a young and green teacher, it's a no brainer. I'll take the experienced one almost every time.
Experienced teachers have better classroom management skills. Teaching does not exist without classroom management. The latter permits the former. Anyone who has ever taught an hour in a classroom would affirm this.
While there are certainly some veteran teachers who should consider a career change. The very same could be said for many more younger teachers. The unfortunate fact is that we are under some severe brain drain in the profession. The young ones leave, not just their school or district, but the field of education entirely within the first five years. We burn 'em out too fast. Many, not all, of those that are able to survive the grind struggle to keep fresh in a field that offers little to no upward mobility, other than jumping into administration, gaining an associate professorship, or private tutoring. The workloads have become entirely unrealistic, the work environments entirely too political, the students and parents have become entirely too savvy and manipulative of the system, private interests entirely too interested in finding a way to suck profit out of the system, and the public too is entirely too convinced that public schools are broken. Truth be told, this is not a child's playground. This system chews 'em up and spits 'em out. Unless you've got some experience, you will likely find too many pitfalls to succeed.
In order to figure out how to survive this landscape, younger teachers need mentors. In districts where they are making radical changes, the experience is walking out the door and the younger teachers will suffer in decreased mentoring. Education innovation and success depends on the ability of the professionals to collaborate. That holds true for collaboration between mentee and mentor. Data shows that younger teachers who have mentoring programs are more successful and stay in the profession longer.
Education depends upon being able to pull in the community into the schools. The experienced teachers are the ones who have vital community connections to parents, families and local businesses. Those connections are key to making the school a success and the community benefits as a result.
The institutional knowledge of not just their school, but also the district and community are important. Traditions and history must be maintained as part of any successful organization. Some of that is only held in the memories of experienced teachers. If they aren't around to contribute, we risk wasting valuable time, energy and money on ideas and methods that have at one time already been tried and failed. Oftentimes, that won't stop a young administrator with a fragile ego.
Last, the experienced teachers are usually the most vocal. They know the players, they know the system, they've seen what works and what is smoke and mirrors, they know what benefits kids and what is a waste of time. They are, by design, protected from retaliation, so don't feel terribly threatened by bully adminstrators. This, their higher salaries, and the ability to threaten the egos of some adminstrators because of their knowledge, and oftentimes their popularity make them easy targets of criticism from the educrats and corporate reform insiders.
Enthusiasm does not a teacher make. Energy is important, but perky doesn't cut it. Young teachers should not be held up as a sole solution for improvement because they possess enthusiasm. In fact, many are timid creatures trying to find their feet, get along within a new system, are learning how to deal with parents for the first time and are less likely to take risks and innovate in the classroom. They are much more likely to go along with whatever is handed to them without even questioning it. Ideal for administrators, but not kids. Because of the somewhat more firm ground they stand on regarding their jobs, the experienced teachers are actually more inclined to take risks in the classroom where appropriate. That is when they feel they can deviate from the tried and true methods and strategies developed over time.
There are many very good education blogs that have come along in recent years that should be put on your list of must reads. Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier write letters to each other in Bridging Differences. Anthony Cody's Living in Dialogue is excellent in providing first hand information and analysis. Not to be missed is The Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss with the Washington Post.