To the Editor:
Gary M. Chesley’s Commentary on teacher tenure (“Now Is the Time to Redefine Teacher Tenure,” April 27, 2011) suggests that we should redefine the concept. We can begin by considering the following realities:
1. Teachers are members of four school communities: their classrooms, academic departments, schools, and district. Dr. Chesley’s definition of quality centers only on their classroom performance.
2. In Dr. Chesley’s district and most others, there are two types of schools: skill-oriented elementary schools with self-contained classroom teachers, and departmentalized “secondary” schools. Teacher function is different in each school type. Therefore, a district cannot have a single type of tenure definition, data-gathering system, or evaluation. “Secondary” schools—whether middle, junior high school, or high school—are not “schools” like elementary schools. They are buildings inhabited by tribes with different languages and credentials. They are unified by a charismatic leader and fueled by service centers called cafeterias, guidance, media, and security.
3. State boards of education should consider going to a higher education model of tenure: seven years before granting tenure. Gather data and evaluation for five years, issue a provisional report with remedial recommendations in year six, and make a final decision in year seven. Teachers would reapply for a second contract at the end of seven years.
4. Recognize the reality of “secondary” schools. Will someone tell me what is “value added” for an English or history or Spanish teacher who has 125 to 150 students, teaches in two rooms, and has three subject preparations?
Dr. Chesley and others have started a conversation. Can we begin with the premise that single entities called “teacher” and “school” do not exist except in our union contracts and board policy, which consequently prevent us from seeing and seeking reality on which to make judgments about teaching and learning?
Adjunct, Assistant Professor
New York, N.Y.
A version of this article appeared in the May 25, 2011 edition of Education Week as Tenure Must Reflect Where Teachers Work