If any teachers were brave enough to watch the morning talk shows the day after the Vergara verdict, where a California judge declared teacher tenure unconstitutional, they quickly became aware that the general public and media pundits on both sides of the political aisle hate you and your stinking tenure. The only thing they hate more than a tenured teacher, is the teachers’ union which protects crappy teachers and will go to great lengths to keep the pot smokin’, child molestin’, Cheeto eatin,’ worksheet distributin’ (err…Ipads, or the Microsoft classroom “device”) teacher in the classroom. You should see the look on every panelist’s face on “Morning Joe” when they utter the words “teachers’ union.” It’s like they just walked into my classroom at the end of a 90 degree day when a bunch of sweaty fourteen year old boys who haven’t discovered deodorant stampede through the door after gym class. I’m not a big fan of “The View” but it was on in the background as I was spoon feeding my baby some Spaghettios and I had to listen to Whoopi Goldberg unleash some whoop ass on the teachers’ union and tenure. Then she asked the audience to applause if they thought teachers should not have tenure. There was a good deal of clapping. She forgot to conduct the other side of the oh-so scientific method of the talk show applause-o-meter and allow the audience to clap if they thought teachers should have tenure. Despite another school shooting in which students were killed and a teacher was injured on the same day of the Vergara verdict, talk show commentators still seemed convinced that the number one problem standing in the way of a child’s education is teacher tenure.
For the general public who have only experienced one side of the classroom, I can understand why they hate teacher tenure and don’t see the need for it. They only see tenure as protecting “bad” teachers. They don’t understand that tenure also protects good teachers. What the general public doesn’t understand is that sometimes being a good teacher makes you a bad employee. For those of you who may have clicked on this blog because of Google and you actually do believe that tenured teachers are the greatest threat to public education, if you haven’t stopped reading, allow me to elucidate the value of teacher tenure.
- First of fall, public school teachers have due process rights which is a far cry from the tenure of university professors. A bad teacher may be fired if it can be documented by the administration and they go through the legal procedure. My first principal prided herself on being able to get rid of any teacher and she did.
- If you read the About section of my blog, you’ll see I started this blog after experiencing a class size of 57 students and going to the media after witnessing my students struggle to find a seat on the floor. Would I have spoken up if I didn’t have tenure and I had to fear not having my contract renewed the following fall? Did it make me a bad teacher to care about my students’ learning conditions? No. But exposing the squalor in a respected public school certainly made me a bad employee.
- Would I be sitting here writing this blog about the realities of public education and school reform without tenure? Hell no. Will any teacher feel comfortable speaking out against excessive testing, district fraud, squandering of funds, lack of student resources, or misguided reforms without tenure? No.
- Tenure protects good but expensive teachers. If you are a principal with a tight budget and you have to choose between retaining one excellent experienced teacher or hiring two newbies for the same price, you may be forced to pick two for the price of one. If you are a principal and you desperately need a football coach but you don’t have any social studies openings, do you renew your erudite teacher’s contract who caters to a small number of gifted students needs, or do you replace such a teacher with one who can finally give your school a winning season? There’s so much more involved in school hiring and firing decisions. It is not merely based on whether or not a teacher is performing. Without tenure, excellent teachers can be kicked out of the classroom based on administrative whims.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of the Vergara verdict is that the judge actually believed Professor Chetty’s claim that one bad teacher can cost a child hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. As if that one “bad” teacher can do more damage to a poor student’s upward mobility than a childhood of abuse, being homeless, hungry, witnessing violence, lack of extracurricular opportunities or absentee parenting because their mother or father has to work three jobs to make ends meet. If they do manage to go to college, they face a future burdened with student debt and little job opportunity. Dear judge, the security of the teaching profession has lifted many poor minority children out of poverty and into the middle class. It has been a solid career option for many poor citizens who have attended college but may have lacked the connections for more high paying and prestigious careers. Without tenure, the profession becomes just another low wage at will temp job in our Walmart nation.
In the shadows of the Vergara verdict, and what has become almost a daily dose of school shootings, there’s a bizarre little news story circulating about a 34 year old woman who posed as a fifteen year old so she could go back to high school http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/texas-woman-34-posed-15-year-old-high-school-student-released-jail-article-1.1825190. Why would anyone want to go back to high school? Her answer? So she could feel loved. Despite all of the reform emphasis on test scores, failing students, failing teachers, failing schools… the one thing our public schools and our public school teachers have always succeeded best at doing is making our students feel loved.