And here, at last, is my list of:
Reasons that I support teacher tenure:
(gathered from my own and close colleagues’ personal professional experiences)
I can advocate for students when I stand up and talk to my administration and make a complaint when they are not giving recent newcomer refugee students access to qualified teachers and curriculum. I can take this complaint to others and make my administration change course.
I can advocate for students when I write a letter to the PTO and complain about an administrator not managing students well at a dance, and thus allowing sexual harassment to occur.
I can advocate for students when I complain that it is 15 degrees hotter in my room than it is outside and that learning isn’t happening and the students need a fan.
I can advocate for students when I demand that a qualified substitute teacher get paid a full professional salary during an extended leave of absence because that substitute teacher is creating lesson plans, grading and communicating with parents and doing due diligence in her role as mandated reporter and noticing when a student is self-harming.
I can advocate for students when I consistently ask for lower class sizes so that I can give more individual attention to students and give their papers more attention.
I can advocate for students when I can take time off when I am sick and go to a doctor so that I make myself well again in order to teach.
I can advocate for students when I demand that a student be suspended from my class for a day because her behavior has disrupted other students’ learning.
I can advocate for students when students must earn the grades that they receive and I am not persuaded by political pressures to inflate the grade.
I can advocate for students when I push for authentic assessments that other teachers and I create, can use easily, have time to grade, and are not multiple choice.
I can advocate for students when I complain to my students’ parents and my principal that we do not have a librarian and that the district should pay for a full time qualified librarian.
I can advocate for students when I gather teachers’ signatures in a letter to the district requesting more transparency about the handling of discipline issues.
I can advocate for students when I ask for compensation for the extra work that teachers as club advisors, writing letters of recommendation, and otherwise supporting our students and our communities outside of class.
I can advocate for students when I sometimes simply have to say no to one more responsibility so that I don’t burn out and stop teaching.
I can advocate for students when I receive a professional salary commensurate with my Masters in Education degree, a professional salary that honors my years of experience in the classroom, and a salary that recognizes the efforts that I have made to better my practice through Professional Development workshops and participating as a leader in my school, district and professional community.
Teacher tenure has granted me and many other teachers like me to advocate continuously for students by giving us protection when we question, complain, and respond to actions and policies that affect students’ rights.
Teacher tenure has granted us the right to advocate continuously for students by giving us protection when we ask for better working conditions and compensation to do our jobs better for the benefit of our students.
However . . .
Should teacher tenure in California be modified? Yes. It should take longer for a teacher to receive tenure.
Are there bad teachers who should leave the profession? Yes. There are bad workers in every profession.
Are there good teachers who stayed in teaching because they had job protection rights? Yes. When the salary and the workload isn’t ideal, the benefit of knowing where you are going to work next year keeps a lot of great teachers in the classroom.
Are good teachers sometimes let go before they get tenure because the administrator just doesn’t like them? Yes. Oh, sadly, yes.
Do administrators have tenure? No, not in my district. In some they do. In some countries, I hear that administrators and teachers both have tenure in the same union and work together to advocate for smart educational policies. (Hint, hint, Finland?)
Are there bad administrators? Yes. And a bad administrator can break the culture and climate of an entire school.
Are there administrators that should be fired but aren’t? Yes. Oh, sadly, yes. Sometimes they are good politicians. Sometimes, they are just paid so poorly and their job is so tough that it’s just hard to attract a good one.
If California gets rid of teacher tenure, as the Vergara trial is doing, will things be better for California students? NO, NO, and NO.
The problem in California is our pitifully small amount of public funding for education. We are all arguing over who gets what and how much, with the problems of poverty laid at our door. We simply do not do enough to attract and retain the best teachers, particularly in poorer areas. The places where the quality of the teachers “seems” to be a problem is in poor urban districts. The Vergara trial happened in Los Angeles (and, I should add, the students in question did not have “bad” teachers, or even tenured teachers). In the context of LA schools, one can imagine that it is difficult to attract great competent and experienced professionals. However, I never hear parents trying to get rid of tenure in richer suburban districts like mine. It seems that the higher salaries and better working conditions are enough to attract great talent. Here, south of San Francisco, we rob San Francisco public school students of highly qualified teachers because our pay is astronomically superior (and our working conditions. I have copy machines that work. Do SF teachers all have copy machines that work? Probably not.)
Teachers in the United States work longer hours and are asked to do more than teachers in any other country with this much wealth. And we get tired. And we get sick. And we burn out. And sometimes we just have to say no. We cannot solve all of our society’s problems. But we try. We accept all kids that walk and roll through our public school doors – special ed kids, traumatized refugee kids, English language learner kids, well-fed kids, hungry kids, abused kids, entitled kids, happy and well-adjusted kids, high-pressured kids, suicidal kids – you got it – we take them all and we love them and we try to teach them.
If we, as a society, also love each of the kids born into our society, wouldn’t we decide to fund public education more equitably? Make the job more desirable? Keep job protections in place so that our teachers can use their expertise and their experience to advocate for our kids and their learning?
Please consider all of these points when thinking and talking about teacher tenure. Remember that great schools in well-educated and wealthy communities in the U.S. have teacher tenure. Remember that great schools in other countries have teacher (and administrator) tenure.
Here are some interesting articles about teacher tenure and movement to get rid of it (yes, I read too much!):
And, if you are still reading, please vote for Tom Torlakson, our current state superintendant of public education in California, who fought for our kids last year by standing up to Arne Duncan and federal policies calling for the over-testing of our students. And, please don’t vote the other guy (I call him the corporate shill) who doesn’t like teacher tenure, loves his charter schools that don’t have improved outcomes for students, and who is financed by corporate Wall Street money bent on taking over public education.
“What qualifies Tuck to run the state education department? Well, he was an investment banker. The rich and powerful like him. He has friends in Hollywood. He thinks no teacher should have tenure. He failed as leader of Green Dot. He failed running the mayor’s takeover schools. That means he is an expert on reform.”
Thank you for reading,
“Next time someone rails against the unions, remember that teachers’ working conditions are children’s learning conditions.” Diane Ravitch