Debating Teacher Tenure

As someone whose family is full of public school educators (dad, sister, brother-in-law, brother, sister-in-law), what’s happening in the field of education can be a major point of discussion when some of us get together.
While drinking my usual “too much” AM coffee and perusing Thursday’s news online, two separate links caught my eye. NPR has produced a report titled “Is Teacher Tenure Still Necessary?” CNN has posted a commentary titled “Why let senior teachers get a free pass during layoffs?
Both of these focus on tenure at the public school level, not at the college and university level. As someone who’s starting a new career as a university professor, I’ll leave that angle of the debate for another time.
But don’t depend on me to tell you all the big details in the articles. Read them for yourself. Having written that, I’ll give you one. In some states, there appears to be a move to link teacher retention to student performance.
I think this is a terrible idea.
If you read NPR’s report, you’ll see some comments at the bottom of the page echoing this sentiment. It just doesn’t make sense. There’s no way a young teacher who’s assigned a class in the Mississippi delta, or inner city Chicago, or even Alabama’s black belt — areas that have histories of poor academic performance and support (and are among many such systems across the country) — can significantly improve student performance during the two or three years it takes to gain tenure. It takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of support.
If all of this tenure debate centers on student performance, what kinds of classes do you think teachers will start requesting? Honors classes, advanced classes, college prep classes. Who’s going to get these classes? Most likely the teachers who have been around the longest. Who won’t get them? The newbies, and we’re back to where we started.
Instead of focusing on student performance, tenure considerations should focus on teacher performance. Experienced teachers should have to compete for their jobs. I’m not saying that they should be worried about losing their jobs every year, but there needs to be some understanding that if a younger teacher can come in and do the job better, the younger teacher may not necessarily be the first to be let go when it’s pink slip time.
This is my attitude as a professional, so I’m not saying that this is good for you but doesn’t apply to me. If someone starts doing my job better than I am, that’s a problem — for me.
And it should be on me to do something about it.
2 Responses to “Debating Teacher Tenure”
  1. Bekah says:

    here here! it seems an utter waste of "post a comment" space for me to simple say i agree, but i mean, i do… and "that's all i have to say 'bout that."

  2. Anonymous says:

    To the contrary, I think teachers should have to worry about losing their job. Poor performing teachers being allowed to continue to teach in schools is a travesty. As for concerns about good teachers losing their jobs if we end tenure, this should not be the case for the most part. Accountable administrators and supervisors, have no interest in firing good teachers, and accountable administrators and supervisors are in the best position to determine what teachers are good and what teachers are bad. There may be some exceptions to this, but, for the most part, good teachers will be safe. If there are rare cases where a good teacher does get fired, so be it, as this, while tragic, is far less tragic than what the present system of tenure and its no-accountability has resulted in.

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