Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Issue of Tenure for Teachers

The Los Angeles Superior Court has ruled that tenure for teachers is unconstitutional (in the State of California), reasoning that California’s constitution guarantees “a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education.” The judge states that poor teachers end up teaching in schools in low-income neighborhoods.

I will agree with the judge that the problem of low-performing teachers concentrating into poorer schools is real (to a certain extent), and is very unfortunate. But here is where we digress: the issue has little to do with tenure. It has everything to do with “good” teachers being better able to dictate and settle into the more desirable positions at higher-performing schools. I think it’s obvious eliminating tenure will do nothing to fix this problem. This verdict is also demeaning to the great teachers who made a conscious choice to teach at low-performing schools to help those children.

When it comes to those who actually are in the business of delivering Public Education, I have observed that too few decision-makers outside of a school building care the first iota about the quality of Education. Most only care about providing Education at the lowest possible cost, and with the least amount of work possible. Most will make small exceptions to that rule-of-thumb to avoid either (a.) losing their jobs, or (b.) a public outcry so strong that they lose their jobs. Never forget this when trying to determine why politicians, DOEs and Districts make certain decisions.

This is not because teachers are morally superior, nor is it because administrators are evil and lazy; neither are true. It’s simply because teachers have the intrinsic motivation of actually looking these children in the eye every day.

With that in mind, yes, people say eliminating tenure is about firing bad teachers. This is a lie. Eliminating tenure for teachers is about firing experienced teachers at the top of the pay scale. Without tenure, experienced teachers will be fired at will without regard to their quality because inexperienced teachers are cheaper. Mark my words.

Many potential quality teachers already avoid Public Education because the salary is so much lower than is available elsewhere. If salaries are low, amends must be made somewhere. In Education, these “amends” are wrapped up into Tenure.

Tenure is a promise that if teachers endure a $30,000/year with a Master’s degree for 5-10 years, they will eventually make a decent salary with good job security. This Los Angeles ruling, SB736 in Florida, and the tide of political opinion is taking that away. [Aside: I blame Waiting for Superman, one of the worst influences on Education in the past quarter-century.

We have been told to be worried about bad teachers. Of course, bad teachers exist, and we should try to minimize their impact. But I see much less hand-wringing about bad administrators, bad superintendents, bad politicians, and bad judges, when they constantly make sweeping, harmful policy decisions that are sometimes ill-informed, and less often (but still too often) even malicious.

Teachers often are the only ones in the system fighting for your children. The only way we as teachers can shield your children from bad policy without fearing for our jobs, is tenure.

In short: Tenure protects teachers’ livelihoods when we stand up to corrupt or incompetent administration. Some of you hate the new standards? An experienced teacher with tenure can ignore the bad parts as long (as they’re acting in the children’s best interest) without fear of losing their jobs.

Without teacher tenure, most of us can’t afford risking our jobs. Without teacher tenure, your kids children have no protection from the whims of politicians who have no training or experience in Education. Without teacher tenure, teachers lose their ability to stand up to corruption and incompetence. Teachers have always been Education’s last line of defense from politicians harming children; many have a vested interest in taking that power away.

I love teaching, but if I leave it, a large part of it will be because rulings like this ensure I will not be allowed to make a living as a teacher when I am old. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

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