Once again the political and uniformed parties hammer is out to drive another nail in the coffin of career teachers in an attack on teacher tenure using scare tactics and misinformation. A New York lawsuit against teacher tenure is fast becoming a popular step in the building of presidential platforms calling for educational reform. Everyone wants a scalpel in the operation of dissecting education but nobody seems to have an idea of what they’re looking for. As it is the prospect of becoming a teacher is a difficult process even for the most qualified, but the job comes with an automatic caveat. You might get hired but not into a career path but rather a 9 to 10 month temp position.
The idea of a career is one where after years of study or experience or both, you achieve a position with a company you would like to work for and stay with as you learn and grow. Once hired in most career path positions, the expectation is that you will continue to work there until you fail to meet expectations or you decide to move on to another company or position. Most would balk at the idea of being hired into a position where the job is essentially for a 10 month period with no guarantee of continued employment. In fact many schools do not make the decision to continue a teacher until the last month of the school year when they are either notified by the principal they are no longer need or (gasp) nobody says anything to you and that lets you know that you are safe for another year! Teachers whisper to each other behind their closed doors asking if anyone been called to the principal’s office! Ludicrous, unprofessional, juvenile behavior that is prevalent in many schools’ systems. Tenure gave teachers a goal to shoot for; survive three years of this type of behavior and you’ll be rewarded with a system of tenure.
Tenure was never developed to provide perverts, ineffective slackers, uneducated dolts a place to hide. The legal system did that. The legal system so tangled the arms of the educational system, already a joke of a “system” that individuals who managed to survive three years and achieve tenure and then took advantage of an ineffective management system managed to hide in plain sight. Quite frankly most educational systems can’t manage a school’s schedule no less the personnel who educate your kids. In most county central school offices there are people who really operate around the teachers: They run in fear of the parents and public at large and often operate as if the main reason they exist and the central office is even there is for its own survival, not to assist the teachers in the education of the students. Laughably, the one section of the central office established to help teachers, be their advisor, assist them in improving their teaching skills is the least effective. In one school district I worked each year the center point of our summer professional development was the same professional development we had received the year before, and the year before that! They never paid attention to the fact that the training and trainer they were using were the same we had the previous year, until by the third year even the person hired commented that it was really odd to come back and do the same thing three years in a row.
Tenure has been abused. County educational systems are often incapable of behaving professionally (check and see how many relatives are working together in the school system) because many of them have not been in a school since escaping school to work at the central office. So if we want to really work at helping students, improving student scores, encouraging children to do and give their best we need to have professional management and leadership in county central offices, or get rid of them. Start with mandating that office staff are qualified for the position and not somebody’s sister. Public revelation of the central office’s distribution of funds; not allowing special friends, relatives/favorite principals, or alma-mater schools receiving a disproportional amount of the annual budget. Implement a standard employment practice contract statewide ensuring all teachers are protected from unscrupulous hiring practices; enhance the professionalism of the system by treating teachers with mature, responsible and professional behavior that starts at the top and is reflected in the behavior of the central office. Don’t believe me? Try a completely anonymous and independent survey of teachers and ask them about how they are treated, how the central office treats them, about professional behavior. Then let’s have a mature discussion about tenure and teacher career paths.