Tenure Enables Quality Education
During my second year teaching, the teachers’ union, of which I was not a member, had a job action. I was advised that if I participated I could be fired because I didn’t have tenure. My political activity was denied because I had not worked long enough.
When I was a tenured teacher, I contemplated moving to a nicer environment. My friends in a small town in Oregon pointed out that all their teachers were not given tenure so that after two years the school district could dismiss the old teacher and hire a new teacher at less pay.
After sixteen years teaching high school, I switched coasts, moving back to where I grew up. I went from substitute, to teaching assistant, to tenure track teacher. Before I could get tenure, a new department chair was illegitimately put in place. Everyone without tenure ‘did not have their contract renewed’ so the department chair could replace them with inexperienced teachers connected to her friend’s university program, who would be beholden to her. I went to the union to ask if the administration could do this without teacher evaluations, but they would not back me up because I was without tenure. Needless to say, test scores plummeted. Later while teaching summer school, a former student whom I helped to earn an A in biology, begged me to teach him chemistry after he failed under that department chair’s regime.
These are just my anecdotes. Let us look at the concept of tenure. Tenure is a twentieth century idea designed to protect teachers from political control of education. It is only fair that teachers be safeguarded from administrators’ arbitrary or frivolous policies. Administrators are too far removed from the classroom to make objective decisions regarding teacher effectiveness. Only fellow teachers are capable of judging teachers. Because of the low pay that teachers get for the amount of training they need, it is worthwhile to work with poor teachers to help them improve. Teachers should not be susceptible to the whims of any political forces around them — as a biology teacher I don’t need anyone judging my teaching who disputes the fact of evolution . Many people want to use test scores to judge teachers. This does not work so well either. If test scores are to be used, “high stakes tests” are needed, so that the student is involved too. I have seen too many students ignore standardized tests because there was “nothing in it for them”. This is one of the reasons for the fluctuations of test results from year to year.
Tenure only means that a school needs just cause to fire a teacher. Why do teachers need two years to earn just cause to be fired?
Should tenure be done away with? No; it is important for the sake of education. Does tenure make it too hard to fire incompetent teachers? No; it is easy to fire incompetent teachers when there is sufficient evidence. Administrators are to blame for poor teachers getting tenure. Does tenure allow teachers to speak the truth without fear of reprimand? It helps.
To attack tenure is to attack quality education. Some people might want to attack tenure so they can reduce budgets by firing experienced teachers so they can replace them with cheaper inexperienced teachers. Other people attack tenure so that they can push their political agenda by getting rid of experienced teachers and replacing them with political stooges who spout their political line. But in the end, tenure is about educational freedom and insuring that students receive the best possible education.