Protecting teachers? Really? Here is why I am angry on Saturday morning.
A woman standing outside the gym I attend, petition in hand, approached people with the following line: “Will you sign this petition to help save our teachers?” When asked to see more information about the group funding the petition drive—called Teach Great— she reluctantly handed it to me, photographed here. I went online once inside to look up who is behind Teach Great, then I went back out to speak with the petitioner. I pointed out that she was not telling people this is primarily an initiative to overturn teacher tenure and is funded by Rex Sinquefield, a conservative lobbyist pouring money into our state congress to get this initiative passed. I stood outside observing several people signing the petition without asking to see more information. I suspect many would want to “help protect our teachers’ jobs” if the assumption is that teachers are somehow in danger of losing them. It was disheartening to see people blindly sign this petition given limited and misleading information. I told the woman she needed to add that the main purpose of the petition was to overturn tenure and to offer anyone she approached an opportunity to read the group’s bullet-pointed initiative. I also suggested that she provide people with the website address of Teach Great. Response? She turned her back to me.
There is a really interesting blog post from several years ago posted on Edutopia about the benefits and problems with tenure, some of which I posted below. I am the first to agree that ineffective teachers need to go. A serious misconception is that tenure prevents bad teachers from being fired. If an administrator has the solid evidence needed to prove a teacher is failing despite the opportunities put in place by the district for that teacher to improve—adios.
Finally, I want to add that I initially belonged to the NEA when I first started teaching. I dropped my membership two years after observing two horrendous tenured teachers file lawsuits after receiving justifiably awful evaluations. Both teachers prevailed due to their union lawyer’s efforts. That was more than 20 years ago. I know teacher unions are much more dedicated to letting bad teachers go regardless of their union affiliation as long as district procedures are followed. After reading Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System, she beautifully documented how unions like the NEA and AFT (thank you Randi Weingarten) are on the frontlines fighting the good fight to help improve the quality of our teachers and our schools. I rejoined the Missouri NEA two years ago and am proud to be a member. I should also point out that I am lucky enough to teach with dedicated, outstanding teachers. I can say the same about the teachers my daughters have been lucky enough to have over the years. Virtually all these educators are tenured.
Why We Need Tenure by Heather Wolpert-Gawron blog posted on Edutopia, December 21, 2009
• I’m grateful to tenure for protecting a very dedicated and self-sacrificing group of professionals. We teachers give our blood and sweat to helping other people’s children, even if those children are Left Behind in one way or another by their own families. We are underpaid and overworked. We are often taken advantage of and taken for granted.
• Without tenure, a 30-year teacher who has proven himself able under six school administrations can be fired under the seventh simply due to a conflict in teaching styles.
• Without tenure, the most experienced and proven educator — someone who has put in years on a school district pay scale — could be fired simply to cut costs in order to hire a newer, unproven teacher.
• Without tenure, you would not be able to read the truths or opinions from teachers in the trenches. You wouldn’t be able to read this post, for example.
• Without tenure, a teacher would be less likely to try a new book or lesson that strayed from the district vision even if that vision was flawed, or even if that supplemental material was exactly what that teacher needed to reach the kids in her classroom.
• Without tenure, we could not use criticism to improve our profession.
• Without tenure, our vulnerability might influence our choices, allowing our fear of standardized test scores to drive our curriculum, rather then adding the critical-thinking skills into our lessons that we know our students truly need.
• Without tenure, a teacher could not fight for a student’s rights, raising his voicing against his own school administration or district.
• Tenure is not so much a perk as a shield that permits us to teach through the ebb and flow of trends and fads brought in ofttimes by nomadic administrators. It gives us the ability to have an unthreatened voice to stand up against the grain. It allows us to retain our positions through our pregnancies, illness, and mourning, to stand up against lawyers pitted against us by litigious-eyed parents, or by the occasional student with lying on her tongue.
• But I also believe that teachers, regardless of their years in this profession, who still struggle to prove their effectiveness should still feel the pressure of having to improve their craft.
• The bottom line is this: Tenure should be a precious thing. There should be a process to receive it. It shouldn’t be granted just because you made it through the first two years without offending anyone. (*Five years in most school districts)
• It should exist. It needs to exist. But it should be awarded only to those who have earned such shiny plate armor.