Saturday, October 16, 2010

What's Tenure?

There's this crazy notion that tenure is what keeps bad teachers in their jobs. We could get rid of these awful teachers, but they have tenure!

Tenure is a contract that protects an educator from being fired without just cause. A teacher would have to engage in some sort of serious misconduct in order to lose their job. Some claim that teachers who are burnt out and ineffective are allowed to keep their jobs because of tenure. That's technically true. Teachers can't be fired for being boring.

Are there old and boring teachers? Yes. There are always going to be bad teachers. Teaching as a profession is not exempt from people who are bad at it. There are bad doctors, bad lawyers, bad reporters, bad construction workers and all other manner of bad employees. The difference is that we are in charge of your children, so we must be perfect, right?

Becoming a teacher is much more stringent nowadays. The teachers entering the classroom now are not using teaching as a fall back career. If you are, you likely won't make it past the first year or two, which is not long enough to earn tenure. Between dealing with students, planning lessons, grading papers and all of the paperwork that goes along with a career in education, if you're not in teaching because you love teaching, you're going to burn out before tenure is an option.

The fact of the matter is that tenure is necessary. Teachers need to be able to teach without fear of being let go for no good reason. Working in a building with so many people is very political. Teachers need to know that they can express a concern to their principal or coworkers without that concern leading to the loss of their job. It's not about protecting bad teachers. It's about encouraging the good ones. A surefire way to make tenure keep bad teachers would be to get rid of tenure. If I did not feel secure in my job, I don't know that I'd continue it. And when all of the good, young teachers leave, for fear of losing their job, who is left? Losing tenure would make it easier to turn schools into "Old Boy Clubs". A principal could load his school with teachers who were his friends and yes-men.

Tenure works a lot like unions. Both protect good and bad teachers, but ultimately are the right decision for schools today.

Boring, outdated and burnt out teachers are dealt with, regardless of tenure. There are constant observations taking place in my building. It would be impossible to fool our administrators into thinking you were a better teacher than you actually are. One thing that teachers, students and parents need to understand is that education is not entertainment. Every second of every day can't be filled with fun, exciting and energetic lessons. It just can't. We make things as fun and interesting as we can, but we're there to teach, not to entertain. As soon as we all align our expectations, we won't confuse good teachers with bad teachers.

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