Monday, November 4, 2013

That Damn Tenure

We've all heard it. "People in other jobs don't have tenure. Why should teachers be any different?"

There are three parts to my answer.

The first part you can already write yourself. Tenure is not "a guaranteed job for life." It is not a get-out-of-anything-free card for every bad teacher out there. It is a promise of due process. It is a promise that I won't be fired because I gave the wrong kid a bad grade, benched the wrong kid in a sport, refused to go out with a board member, reported an administrator for a contract violation, dug in my heels over a professional matter, or belong to the wrong political party.

Behind every bad teacher who didn't get fired, there is an administrator not doing his job. Tenure should not protect the worst examples of people passing themselves off as teachers, and the rest of us don't want it to. Seriously. You know who suffers worst from an incompetent in a teacher's job-- okay, second worst, behind the students-- the people who have to work with him. We will be happy to see Mr. McBubblebrain out the door. We just want to see it happen by the book.

But everyone already knows that argument, and it won't get us past "Other people work without that kind of protection, so why should teachers?"

Well, first, you must remember that teachers don't have to be teachers. I think lots of folks forget that, perhaps because we identify ourselves as teachers, and so they assume we can't do something else. But we can. Teachers don't have to be teachers. Schools do have to work to recruit and retain (just like businesses). "We will pay you mediocre wages, we will give you little autonomy, and we will treat you like a child," make a bad start for recruiting. Throwing in, "AND we will give you no job security at all" does not make for a winning pitch.

This is one of the stupidest things that management overlooks. You can't get the best for free, but you can get them by adding things that don't cost you a cent. A promise of due process is dirt cheap.

And second, the formula cited above is a disservice not just to teachers, but to everybody else. It assumes that those other people are getting no more than they deserve.

So I submit that the whole statement is backwards. Here's what we should be asking:

"Teachers work with the assurance they will not be fired for foolish and arbitrary reasons, so why shouldn't everybody else?"


  1. Well thought out argument, yet there will be those that want "some sort" of measurement or evaluation for teachers...they do not realize the vast population of individual students that have different priorities - that may or may not include even paying attention in class. The only real way to evaluate teachers fairly is to have a cadre of experienced classroom teachers within district that sit in on different classes and "help each other out"- sharing strategies and ideas- lesson plans and activities that worked for them.

  2. I love the idea of having experienced classroom teachers sit in on different classes and "help each other out" as the previous poster recommends. As a teacher, I have to ask ...when would that be? I am with my class at all times--teaching--except for a 35 minute planning period. I use the bathroom then, write and respond to email, set up for the next round of activities, etc. I know that must sound silly; but it's true. I am packed all day long. I read about Asian countries having their teachers only teach a few classes per day and then the rest of the time is spent collaboratively developing and refining specific academic lessons. Interesting, but so different from what we do now.