Yesterday Tom Whitby posted a well-written response to the teacher he saw at NBC's Teacher Town Hall this weekend who stood up and said she did not want tenure. In his post Mr. Whitby gives a very compelling reason for why tenure is necessary in schools but, I don't believe this account tells the whole story.
Without Tenure I never would've kept my job. It had nothing to do w/my teaching & everything to do w/my being vocal and a learning advocate.
While I understand the need for due process that teacher tenure provides and I fully support the position that we need due process to protect against the potentially wrong-headed decisions by an abusive or short-sighted administrator in my own experience the inverse has been true. Let me modify Mr. Whitby's statement to make it fit with my experience:
Tenure does not protect teacher jobs equally. It protects those who have been in their positions the longest the most. The problem is, our nation's teacher workforce is unbalanced. There are a lot of teachers who are from the "boomer" generation who are nearing retirement, are mostly wonderful teachers, whose experience is a great resource for our schools and for younger teachers, but who cost more because of union-negotiated steps and lanes. Whats more, many of these teachers would like to retire (and many could by rule of 90 that many states have) but they can't because of the cost of health care. So, each year (until they reach 65) their employment costs school districts more money. The tenure provision coupled with the seniority and teacher pay structure in a time when schools are tightening their belts means that cuts always happen first at the bottom of the seniority list and first among the highest-payed employees who do not possess tenure who work in areas not considered "core" subjects.
WithoutBecause of Tenure I never would'vehave been able to kept my job for more than three years. It hadhas nothing to do w/my teaching & everythingnothing to do w/my being vocal and a learning advocate(of which I am both), it has to do with budgets and unequal protection.
I think this graph illustrates the issue. These stats were from 2004 so you can shift the lines to the right by six years to estimate what the teacher workforce looks like today:
In the past seven years I have been on the receiving end of budget cuts three times and four times my classroom was directly affected by those on the receiving end in adjacent programs at the schools where I have worked. After ten years experience as a teacher and now with my Master's degree I have been told by many school administrators in interviews that the place they would have to place me on the pay scale if they hire me would be cost-inhibitive. I have also sat in on interviews for candidates for other teaching positions where when a teacher with 10-15 years of experience comes in with high mobility on their resume the others on the panel have expressed this mobility raises red flag for them. That is a hard thing to hear when I know my resume reflects this same level of mobility. That is two strikes, one more and I am out.
The real truth about tenure is, given this imbalance in the age distribution of the teacher workforce, and given that not all teachers are granted due process, and given that schools are being forced to deal with less means that tenure only protects the jobs of teachers at the top of the seniority list. The other inconvenient truth about tenure is because of this imbalance and because of the weight at the top these "protection" measures have in fact caused a condition that has allowed programs like Teach For America to flourish. Teach For America fills the need for cheap teachers by foregoing traditional teacher training and recruiting Ivy League graduates to give two years of their time, before embarking on their high-paying careers, teaching in our country's public schools. Instead of a career commitment to education, TFA teachers receive only a five-week crash course in how to teach. It is not that that TFA teachers are filling jobs that no one wants, there are plenty of teachers out there who would love to take these positions but whose qualifications make them too expensive.
I would like to be able to lend my support behind the fight to keep tenure but I can't. I need to be able to feed my family. I would prefer to work toward eliminating the need for things like tenure in schools. It is why I so fervently support and advocate for teacher-run schools and teacher professional partnerships.