Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Proposed teacher tenure constitutional amendment another attack aimed at public schools

(The following is my latest Huffington Post blog.)

I could be fired tomorrow.

That is not a prediction, (I’m keeping my fingers crossed) but a simple statement of fact. This is my thirteenth year as a classroom teacher and my ninth with the Joplin School District, but if, for some reason, school officials determined I no longer fit into their plans, I would probably have to dust off my resume.

But first, I would be entitled to a hearing because I have tenure.

That protection, which contrary to the myth being pushed by those who are looking to eliminate every last vestige of power held by teacher unions is not keeping thousands of bad teachers in classrooms across the United States, may soon be a thing of the past in the Show-Me State.

Associated Press reported Tuesday that Missourians might vote on the elimination of teacher tenure in November if an initiative petition is successful. The paperwork was filed with the secretary of state’s office by the same attorney who has served as front man for another initiative petition which would eliminate the state’s income tax and replace it with a sales tax, a soak-the-poor scheme which would benefit those who think spending tax money on people who don’t live in their neighborhood is an affront to their constitutional rights.

According to AP’s account, the constitutional amendment sought in the initiative petition would eliminate public funding for any school district that uses seniority in any fashion to determine which teachers should be fired or promoted. Decisions on salary, hiring and firing would have to be based on scores on standardized tests or as those tests are referred to in the language of those submitting the petition- “objective criteria.”

Without a doubt, the initiative’s supporters will blanket the state with advertisements spreading the message that thousands of bad teachers are employed in Missouri schools, graying drones who show up (or not), collect their paychecks year after year and do not answer to anyone because they are protected by powerful unions.

And it won’t be hard to find anecdotal evidence that there have been instances where good young teachers have been let go while older teachers were retained. The failing schools in our inner cities will be highlighted as reasons why tenure should become a thing of the past. Of course, no mention will be made that all of these failing schools are located in centers of poverty because poverty to those who have bankrolled anti-public school initiatives and lawmakers has nothing whatsoever to do with failing schools- the responsibility lies solely on teachers, and more specifically those “bad” teachers who are standing in the way of Missouri becoming an educational Shangri-La.

Supporters of the initiative will undoubtedly fail to point out that Missouri, unlike many other states with teacher tenure, does not allow tenure to be achieved until the first day of a teacher’s sixth year. And it can be longer. After I taught in a smaller school district for four years and then took a job in the Joplin school system, I had to wait an additional five years. My tenure did not become official until the first day of my 10th year as a classroom teacher.

Those who want this to pass are, for the most part, the same ones who are pushing efforts to bring in Teach for America and instructors from non-traditional areas, indicating that teacher training is unnecessary and that anyone can step into a classroom and succeed.
They also want to promote the absurd idea that experience counts for nothing and that when you reach your mid-30s or 40s, you already have one foot in the grave and can no longer serve the educational community.

Make no mistake about it, the purpose behind anti-tenure laws, the same as with so-called “parental choice” bills, is the complete and utter annihilation of a public school system which has served this country well.

In the end, all of the merit pay proposals and opening up teaching to anyone who can stand in front of a classroom is only going to increase the already high percentage of people who enter the profession and leave it within a few years. The only problem is- when the newer teachers leave to try their hand at something more lucrative (and with much less stress) this time, there will be no veteran instructors remaining to take up the slack.

At the point, the destruction of public schools will be complete.


Anonymous said...

Guess what I could be fired tomorrow also! Bad employees are bad employees and deserve mo protection. Bad teachers are bad teachers and it shouldn't matter if they are tenured.

Anonymous said...

There was a really interesting article in Wired Magazine today about Steve Jobs and how he saw the impact of teachers unions and tenure and etc. Will this link work:

Anonymous said...

I fail to understand why teachers have tenure. I don't know many people who aren't subject to being fired. They may think it's totally unfair if they are; the boss has a grude, a customer has a complaint;etc. etc. Most everyone has a boss...why should one person have protection and others not....away with tenure/

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid you sound a little bitter here. You've gone to great lengths to explain how this measure is an attack on the schools and teachers over 40. Blah, blah, blah.

Perhaps you should spend a few sentences explaining why tenure exists in the first place and how it benefits me as the parent of four Joplin school students.

Pretty much anyone in the real world (read: non-union world) could be fired tomorrow. Tough luck. Why are teachers special? If, as a teacher, you're inept, jaded or just plain mean, you should be fired tomorrow. I don't want you teaching my kids.

Randy said...

It's the nature of the job and its place in society. I have seen places where talented non-tenured teachers were removed so people could be brought in who could coach or even be an assistant coach. The guarantees of tenure prevent administrators and school board members from removing qualified veteran teachers in favor of recent college graduates who do not make as much money. Tenure puts a roadblock (though not much of one) in the way of administrators who are just passing through while building their resume and do not want teachers who have opinions (and I am not talking about teachers who would not follow the administrator's dictates, simply ones who ask questions).

The misconception about tenure is that it is keeping bad teachers in the classrooms while forcing younger, supposedly more qualified teachers out. All tenure does is give the teacher the opportunity for a hearing and due process.

It is not like the horror stories from New York where teachers cannot be fired. Over the years, and having covered hundreds of school board meetings, I have seen many times where tenured teachers have been removed, and for good cause. The process does not take years like it does in New York or some other states. It usually is completed in a matter of weeks.

When you allow school boards (and years of experience have taught me that many of those who are elected, especially on small town boards, come in with an ax to grind) carte blanche to fire whomever they want to fire, you are moving the public schools into the same arena that many bigger businesses are in- full of administrators receiving more and more money while the most highly paid workers are eliminated from time to time to make the bottom line look better.

Anyone with common sense knows that there are few classroom teachers who enter the business fully prepared for the problems they will encounter. When we make a decision to stack the deck in favor of beginning teachers and those who have no training, but have been in the business world, the military, or have taken a six-week Teach for America course, it is the children who will be shortchanged.

Anonymous said...

There are good teachers and bad ones out there. Getting rid of the tenure would make more responsible teachers. They are there for the kids and this would keep them focused!