School & District Management Opinion

Is it Time to Trash Tenure?

By Anthony Cody — September 27, 2010 2 min read
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One of the remarkable things to emerge over the past week of education-themed discussions were the young teachers willing to discard tenure. Here are some of the comments we heard at yesterday’s Education Nation Teacher Town Hall yesterday:

Brian Williams asks, “Are teachers under attack?” A teacher in her twenties replies,

I believe teachers are under attack, and as an educator in Newark, teachers SHOULD be under attack. You should be held accountable. You don't enter the teaching field to make lucrative amounts of money. You come into the teaching field to be a good teacher and fill the minds of the students of the country. So yes, are we under attack, yes, but we should be, and you should be held accountable.

This is starting to sound a bit like the Stockholm syndrome.

Another says,

As a younger teacher, I don't understand tenure. I don't see a need for it. I have a union rep in my school, and when I felt under attack she has been there to protect me, but I don't need tenure for that. I'm going to go in and do a good job, and they'll see that I'm doing a good job, and they'll hire me again. I don't need a piece of paper to tell me that I have to be hired each year.

It is amazing the faith these people have in authority. We can all agree there are bad teachers out there who are doing a disservice to children. Are there no bad principals? Are there no circumstances under which you might want a piece of paper to grant you some rights? Is it not possible that the union rep who defended you when you were under attack relied on that piece of paper to make sure you had a fair hearing? In the absence of a contract guaranteeing you due process, there might be no way for your union rep to effectively defend you from attack.

In some parts of the country science teachers who wish to teach about evolution may find themselves under pressure from parents or administrators not to do so. There may be parents who complain when teachers hold their students accountable for their work or behavior. All these issues can result in teachers needing some protection.

In my district, schools get a certain amount of money based on how many students they serve. Experienced teachers are paid more than the novices, sometimes twice as much. Is it not possible that a principal, who is responsible for balancing the school’s tight budget, might be influenced to trade one veteran for two novices, and that this might result in some unfair treatment? My suspicion is that if these young teachers choose to stay in the profession, their attitude towards the need for due process may shift.

But one of the best comments came from another teacher, who said the following:

I have an issue with the word attack. I really feel like as a professional, I don't need to be attacked. I need to be supported. I need feedback - wonderful feedback. That's the only way we're going to grow. I think places where teachers feel safe to work, places where teachers feel their voices are heard - are great places to learn. And that's what I want for my child, and that's what I think we teachers want for all of our children in our classrooms. Passion isn't enough, criticism isn't enough - the support needs to be there.

Brian Williams: What about the people who shouldn’t be there?

My worst critics are my colleagues. These are the people that hold me accountable every day for what I do. So long as the teachers' voice is not on that panel, we are being shut out. When we get together as teachers, and we put up our norms, our standards, just like the medical field, just like in your place of work, you hold the people around you accountable. We're not scared of accountability. But the word attack is negative. The word attack doesn't suggest positive outcomes. And what we need is for OUR voices to be at that table.

She said what teachers have been saying for years. We are willing to hold ourselves to much higher standards than an annual evaluation ever could. But we need a climate of care and collaboration. The best principals understand this, and work to build it. Due process allows us to function in an environment where we are safe from unfair attacks, while we are still held accountable by our colleagues and administrators. Evaluations should be improved, so that teachers get more high quality feedback. And principals should get more support in this area, because it is hard to do this all alone. But teachers who are ready to throw away our rights to due process should think long and hard. You may not always find yourself on the sunny side of that process, and may wish you had a piece of paper between you and the unemployment line.

Update: Guess who was the ONLY teacher featured in a clip on Brian Williams’ evening news program? The young teacher who does not understand the need for tenure.

What do you think? Has tenure outlived its usefulness? Should teachers defend due process?

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