Without Tenure — Everything Is Awesome!

Another brick in the wall. via failuretalent

Another brick in the wall. via failuretalent

To hear people talk about teacher tenure, you’d think that in every third classroom teachers sit around staring down students as the clock struggles to the bell. Or maybe teachers are just eating Pringles and reading the paper while children who desperately want to learn waste away in their seats. Tenure is the root of all evil. Oh yes, even teachers know there are Pros and Cons to the tenure system.

In New York State a group of seven parents has filed a lawsuit to overturn teacher tenure laws. It is tenure, they claim, that keeps their children from learning. It is tenure that creates a situation where their children aren’t reaching academic excellence. It’s tenure that is in control. These parents assume that the 90% effectiveness rate in teacher evaluations should mean that 90% of their students are rated proficient or higher in state tests. Ahhh Statistics 101, you slippery course, you.

It must be the teachers, you see. It MUST be. Because it couldn’t be fine motor skills or exposure to reading and learning at home. And it couldn’t be socio-economic status that poses particular challenges. It couldn’t be health complications for a student or a student’s family. Of course it couldn’t be anything about the parents or community that affects a child’s learning. And certainly the ability to learn wouldn’t be affected by status as an English Language Learner or having stresses outside of school. It couldn’t be any* of those things, you see.  Children come to schools and classrooms and teachers as blank slates. Students come to education as pristine sponges ready to soak in education. Everyone knows that.

So it must be the teachers who are at fault. It must be tenure that is the problem. Tenure is what must change. Remove a teacher’s protection from dismissal without due process and she’ll work harder, fall into line, do what she’s told, scramble to get class test scores up, and be better.

Sure, they’ll all be better — if what you want are teachers who never get creative or show students that science is about taking risks and not knowing the answer. You’ll get better teachers if you want to avoid the reality that exploring literature should sometimes make you uncomfortable — history too. And sure, without a guarantee of being able to defend herself, that health teacher will make sure never to say anything remotely healthful in Human Sexuality class. And the Art teacher won’t use O’Keefe or Matisse as examples due to controversy. The language teacher will make sure to stick to simple phrases and not allow students to try out creative language and combinations for fear of offending. And so on. And so forth. Everything will be Awesome.

Or, maybe I have some other ideas.

But I don’t think providing excellent teachers for all students is the end goal for those like Campbell Brown who orchestrate these tenure overturning lawsuits. It’s about getting conservative credentials – or something. And they do it on the backs of public servants, desperate parents, and children who can and will learn. But the learning won’t happen thanks to the removal of teacher tenure. It will happen despite it.


* I just want to point out that teachers know that it is all those things AND having a good – even great – teacher that affect a student’s ability to learn and retain new skills. But even the very best teaching in the world can’t erase the world and the challenges it poses. Nor should it. We chip away and smooth away and offer access the best we can in the time we have with each child. Teachers aren’t saints — there are no miracles. It’s all just really, really hard work and buckets of patience.


About That Unique* Weblog

Adjusting to car culture, dealing with leaving a career I loved, and spouting off along the way. #RESIST
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9 Responses to Without Tenure — Everything Is Awesome!

  1. Dave Astor says:

    Excellent post. The “war on teachers” is appalling, and you offered numerous reasons why educators are not to blame for the problems in America’s classrooms — problems that can’t be separated from what goes on outside classrooms.

    • Thank you, Dave! Excellent teachers absolutely make a difference. And strong supervisors who focus on teacher training and not tearing down are also key. Meaningful teacher in-service and academic opportunities as well.

  2. Natalie DeYoung says:

    This was an excellent read, especially given the recent California strike down of tenure. Great, now all the good teachers will want to teach here now that the dirty, nasty tenure is gone.

    • Thank you, Natalie. Tenure abuses *occasionally* happen, but it seems like some people believe teachers should be fired for not being perfect for THEIR child. No one teacher will be perfect for all the children that come through their classrooms. The casual nature with which others are willing to toss aside public servants and their careers is disturbing, to say the least.

  3. Pingback: Teachers’ due process rights are not the problem | Edwize

  4. V8 says:

    I agree, every school/teacher has different HW policies. If HW was a concern for the parents, they should have spoken to the school’s administration. Or could have asked the teacher for suggestions on what school related work could be done regularly at home. As I write this, I am reminded that the lawsuit is to get bad teachers out of the poor minority neighborhoods, NOT the wealthy white neighborhoods. I wonder how many of these parents read to their child every night and discuss the story, go over other basic contents: letters, colors, shapes, etc. My son learned these and more before he went to Pre-K. Literature rich environment (at home) is necessary at an early age if these children are going to be successful. Too much is being blamed on the teachers and the parents are NOT held accountable. Parent are the FIRST teachers for their children. So many of this poor kids come to school late with given HW missing or incomplete. Ms, Brown and the other wealthy supporters should be ashamed of the excuses the plaintiff have. Teachers are public enemy # 1 these days. If there are bad teacher, what is their school administration doing to help them improve. Teaching is an on going learning process.

    • I don’t believe that vilifying any of the parts of the equation — whether it’s parents, teachers, society, schools — helps raise children up to the academic achievements they need to meet. In my experience, homework was important as a supplement, but it rarely made or broke a student’s academic ability. However, quality pre-school and pre-K as well as on-going support is essential. Empowering parents to take charge of supplementing school work is so important — and one of the challenges school communities face every day.

      I absolutely agree with your comment regarding so called “bad teachers” and the school administration. The most important job of a department administrator and a principal is to be an academic leader — to guide teachers to improve, even when they are considered strong.

  5. Dee says:

    Thanks for writing about this issue. I can’t understand why teachers are constantly under attack. All those who oppose teachers should quit their jobs and teach. Go into the classroom and do what teachers can’t. Make all the changes they see fit, create a perfect classroom and the perfect student. There are so many issues in this education system and I don’t feel like tenure is one of them. I should be able to take risks, be creative and disagree without fear of getting fired. School administrators these days seem to have a problem with tenure as well because it takes time, energy and documentations to actually fire a teacher and they would rather the easy fit. Hey, you’re fired without just cause. Some admin are so horrible to their staff. Its a disgrace. They would rather see teachers fail than to uplift them. This whole education system is a failure to students and teachers who made this their career. It saddens me. It’s discouraging.

    • It certainly seems *easier* to just get rid of a teacher with flaws rather than help him or her become better, even great. However, that’s assuming a constant stream of talented and committed NEW teachers. I believe in investing in quality — long-term quality. And that is work!

      Thanks for responding.

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