Friday, December 07, 2012

An argument for teacher tenure

(This is my latest Huffington Post blog.)

In about a month the 2013 legislative session will be upon us and the attacks on teacher tenure will begin anew.

One of the enduring myths propagated by the so-called reformers is that there are thousands upon thousands of bad teachers in this country who cannot be fired because they have been given tenure and their jobs are being protected at the expense of brilliant young teachers who could have saved education.

To back up this allegation, we always see the same anecdotal evidence trotted out. It’s either the young teacher of the year who is let go because of rules requiring that veteran teachers be retained, or it is the veteran teacher who has committed all kinds of atrocities that should disqualify him from ever setting foot in a classroom again who cannot be dislodged.

No one ever questions just how meaningless most “teacher of the year” awards are and how many times the awards have little or nothing to do with teaching ability.

And no one ever looks into the administrative failures that led to the bad teacher somehow managing to hold on to his job.

As the attacks on teacher tenure continue, you can expect to see another line used which has become familiar over the past few years- Why should teachers have protection that no other worker has?

As someone who covered board of education meetings for 22 years as a newspaper reporter before entering the teaching field, I cannot tell you how many dozens of times I saw board members elected whose sole goal was to remove a teacher who had supposedly committed some wrong against the board member’s child. Considering the importance of education in our lives, it is incredible to realize that there are those who actually decide to run for school board because their son or daughter did not receive enough playing time in a sport…and often they win.

Teachers also need protection against ambitious, my-way-or-the-highway administrators who come in with dictatorial methods and are willing to remove anyone who questions their judgment. If tenure is removed, teachers in many school districts will no longer have the ability to question changes that could have a negative impact on them and the children they serve. And as anyone who has been in education knows, it is a field in which an administrator who is trying to make a name for himself can do an incredible amount of damage in a short amount of time. In many cases, those administrators have moved on to the next step up the ladder in a year or two. With tenure, at least when they leave, there will be a solid educational framework intact. If administrators are allowed to fire whomever they want without any restrictions, when they leave, all they remain in the wake are sycophants who do not have the same level of dedication to the school or to the community.

Before we take the road toward destroying a system that has, for the most part, been beneficial to American public school systems, we need to do considerably more research, even though I am coming closer every day to being convinced that “educational research” is an oxymoron.

We have all heard the statistics about how many teachers drop out of the profession before they have even taught for five years. Why are those teachers dropping out? We are always led to believe that the teachers who decided to get out while the getting was good were the cream of the crop and the ones who have stayed in the classroom are the ones who are gaming the system to get three months off every summer and short workdays and who stop giving their all once they have achieved tenure, but doesn’t it make more sense, that the ones who have stuck it out in the classroom through all of the attacks on the profession are most likely in it because they are good at what they do and genuinely care for children?

I have no doubt an in-depth study would show that most of them who left early left because they simply did not have what it takes to be in the classroom.

It takes a special kind of person to teach children who come from broken homes and often receive their only good meals when they are at school and be expected to have those children scoring at the advanced or proficient level on meaningless standardized tests.

It takes a dedicated professional to come to the classroom every day at a time when his job is being demeaned by those who want to tear apart public education and benefit from the privatization of what remains.

Many people are not cut out for that kind of work and to paraphrase our Show-Me State president- they couldn’t stand the heat so they got out of the kitchen.

Those who have persevered deserve the protection of tenure. Tenure does not protect bad teachers; they can still be fired.  The others need to know that if they do their jobs professionally, they will be able to keep them.

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