Editors note: The debate over teacher tenure lit up social media this week, and generated several petitions, after Time released its Nov. 3 cover. The magazine began publishing a series of opinion pieces in response to the article. The following Hechinger Report opinion piece on tenure comes from a longtime teacher
I get it. When a worker consistently fails to measure up to standards on the job, that worker deserves to be fired. Yet in the public school system, a very different code is in operation.
Granting lifetime tenure is not the best way to run a business. In fact, the CEO at the bank has it within his power to dismiss a worker if he doesn’t like that employee’s work. However, that same banker cannot apply that rule to his child’s teacher who is not performing to his expectations in dealing with his child’s raucous classroom behavior.
The public school teacher is a mirror. Parents see the reflection of their children when a teacher shares the truth about what he or she witnesses in the classroom. When the teacher holds up the mirror, some parents do not like what they see. Some will even deny the image and blame the teacher.
In today’s classrooms, there are a number of children who misbehave, refuse to complete work, skip class, and disrupt the atmosphere of learning. On many occasions a warranted consequence is handed out in the hope that it teaches the child accountability for his or her actions. However, there are times when parents balk at such attempts to teach culpability and a confrontation ensues.
From experience I can tell you administrators do not always support their staff. Teachers do get reprimanded. Teachers do get in trouble. Teachers, just like other employees, are held accountable for their actions. And of course, this is as it should be. Yet, could you imagine if every teacher who displeased any parent or administrator or student was fired because someone doesn’t like what he or she sees in the mirror?
Tenure is being attacked from all sides, including via the Common Core. The controversy surrounds the importance placed on state exams. A teacher’s personal evaluation score is now partially based upon what percentage of students pass this particularly difficult test. The exam itself is poorly written, ambiguous and changes every year, leaving teachers in the dark about what topics will be stressed.
This evaluation process has been conceived with the goal of showing due cause for challenging a teacher’s right to tenure. Teachers whose students do not meet a certain achievement levels when scored on the entire class grade population can be deemed ineffective.
So what about the children who defiantly choose not to learn, or miss school often? Is it fair that they count against a teacher’s evaluation, too? What about those teachers who are designated to teach only the low achieving students?
I know of many exceptional, caring teachers who have been given an ineffective score because of the population of students they have been assigned to teach. Should they be fired because of the scores of kids who have struggled with either math or reading since they began school?
Furthermore, teachers are not permitted access to former exams and given no guidelines to follow when preparing students. The secrecy is so blatant that State Education Departments have threatened serious consequences to any teacher who even attempts to note or memorize test contents. It’s not right and it is certainly not a level playing field of evaluation.
I believe that the motive for Common Core State Standards is to bolster the fight against teacher tenure by assigning unfair “ineffective” labels to teachers hampered by the system.
People think tenure for a teacher implies lifetime job security. It does not. Tenure insures that teachers receive due process. For example, if the local school board is having budget issues, they cannot simply dismiss the higher paid teachers in order to hire younger ones at half the salary. Tenure also shields them from the constant attacks against not only their teaching ability but often their character.
Are there probably teachers who we all wish had chosen a different profession? Of course, there are. I had poor teachers and I’m sure you have, too. And yes, tenure did protect them from losing their jobs. I get it. Yet to jeopardize an entire profession’s employment stability because of the very few inept, would be a catastrophic decision.
Tenure is the foundation of the education system in America. It tells the students, parents and administrators that we are here to stay and you had better get on with what we are trying to present as a solid education.
Does the pruning process hurt sometimes? You bet it does. But pruning a child requires effort, commitment, vision, and the tenacity to see the final result through. Support tenure. Protect our teachers
Dr. Lee Kronert is a math teacher and chiropractor from Porterville, New York. He is the author of Don’t Blame the Messenger, a pro-teacher novel.