The case for tenure

Imagine that you are a technician working in a large factory. Your job is to maintain and oversee around 100 individually operating machines. These machines are in various states of repair. Some operate smoothly, some barely run, but you are responsible for not only keeping them in working order, but improving them as well. Now, imagine that each of those machines has anywhere from one to six supervisors assigned to make sure it is being maintained properly. As you are required to make regular reports to these supervisors, you have, in effect, an average of 300 bosses. Most of these bosses have a realistic understanding of the capabilities of their individual machine and are interested in being partners in the upkeep, but, as in any large group of people, there are some who are unreasonable and unrealistic. Now imagine that each and every one of those 300 bosses had the ability to demand your termination from the factory. Protection from this scenario is what tenure offers to teachers working in schools today.

House Bill 162, which changes the requirement for teacher tenure from three years to five years, is being sold as a way to improve the school system by making it easier to get rid of ineffective educators. Unfortunately, the effect will be the opposite. Many people who work more traditional jobs look at teacher tenure as some kind of a shield for “bad” teachers to hide behind. There is even a perception that teachers with tenure simply can’t be fired. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of a basic labor protection practice that affords educators a modicum of security, allowing them to continue working toward the betterment of the children in their care. The fact of the matter is that teaching, while incredibly rewarding in many ways, is far more demanding, stressful, and complicated than most people think. A high percentage of educators wash out during their first three years on the job. This natural attrition weeds out most of the desk jockeys and baby-sitters who are just in it for summer vacation, and leaves dedicated, hard-working professionals who agree to take on a Herculean task. Yes, there are some teachers who are more effective than others, but what is always left out in the discussion of “bad” teachers is that even the worst teacher is someone’s favorite, and even the best teacher is someone’s least. Every teacher makes a connection to someone, and every teacher, at some point in their career, is going to get on the bad side of a student or parent. Tenure lets that teacher know that their job won’t be at stake because of a disagreement or a misunderstanding. There are plenty of procedures in place for removing teachers who can’t or won’t do their jobs. And with budgetary concerns and the misguided connection between teacher evaluations and standardized test scores, there is plenty of job insecurity in education. All tenure does is balance the equation a little.

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