Teacher tenure needs to be looked at

December 11, 2008 — by Uttara Sivaram

The concept of teacher tenure might imply a decade-long wait before an instructor is hired for life. Fortunately for these instructors, the similarity between “tenure track” and “ten-year track” is simply a coincidence.

Teachers in California have a two-year long probationary period during which they must prove their competence and capacity as good teachers before becoming officially tenured at a school. In general, tenure offers many benefits, allowing more freedom in teaching techniques and classroom atmospheres, which is healthy for both the teacher and student.

In addition, tenure is an incentive for people to pursue a career in teaching. If they do well during their probationary period, they have a more secure job until retirement. However, this system has its flaws, for teachers sometimes become prematurely tenured before they themselves are ready.

Teacher tenure often means a guaranteed lifelong job, should nothing absolutely catastrophic happen on the instructor’s watch. This is a weighty privilege indeed, and there is no doubt that countless teachers deserve this kind of stability; the price, however, should be higher. Two years is by no means enough time to establish a thorough understanding of a teacher—in fact, it usually takes two years to make sure the teacher has any competence at all.

It doesn’t help that tenures are, in addition to being lifelong, extremely tricky to deal with. In unfortunate situations, a teacher who has been tenured for a while after a mere two years of being on probation can have the tendency to become a little bit too comfortable with their freedom and unresponsive to the needs of their students. And if the teacher finally steps over the line, it is protocol for the administration to notify school board to assemble and call a hearing in the interest of the teacher’s right to due process, at which both the teacher and administration pose their arguments around a clear and defined standard of a school teacher’s responsibilities to the school and its students.

If the teacher is guilty, then issues about the instructor’s teaching license arise, and another couple of days are spent in discussion. Firing a tenured teacher is not impossible, but it’s clearly tedious, not to mention expensive, work. If this situation was present at Saratoga High, the hiring of lawyers would not only take cost a lot but it would also cut into administrators’ schedule, wasting up to two weeks documenting their case, waiting for the verdict, and prepping the lawyers about the instructor’s entire teaching period at the school.

On the other hand, the administration has an additional, and perhaps an even more intimidating problem to worry about—parents. If students start to continually complain about a lack of understanding because their teacher is hanging on a line that their tenure throws them—e-mails start to flood inboxes and the voices of concerned parents start to fill up the office’s message machine. It is expected of the school to take some action in favor of their students. But the teacher didn’t commit a felony, nor did they vandalize the band room, so nothing can be done. The students remain unhappy in class, parents continue to chew their fingernails at the sight of their struggling kid and the relieved administrators put away their box of tricks they call the tenure.

In order to keep the high standard of excellence Saratoga maintains in the teaching department, inflexible and premature tenure policies should be changed so that only the best continue to teach in Saratoga and elsewhere. Those who may be less qualified will not be allowed tenure right off the bat, and as a result, they may leave to find their calling in some other profession.

It is important to realize, however, that teacher tenure is mostly for the benefit of the educational system, not for job security. The reformation of tenure policies are even more essential for more rural areas, where students may not have the motivation, support, or the resources that students in schools like Saratoga High are equipped with. These less-privileged students need teachers who have proven themselves capable of teaching all different types of learning styles.

President-elect Obama, on his railroad track to change, agrees that educational reform does indeed include the tweaking of tenure policy. His plan is to substantially increase teacher benefits while weakening tenure to make it easier to fire teachers. The benefits would re-net the teachers put off by their weakened tenures and would help conserve the school’s budget. However, weakening tenure potentially invites possible situations of firing teachers on a whim. So dissect Obama’s strategy for tenure, and provide more teacher benefits while increasing the difficulty level for tenureship.

It’s about time the tenure probationary period was hiked up to five or six years. After proving that they can successfully handle a classroom and continually have at least 60 percent of what they taught committed to their students’ memory, teachers deserve some breathing space in the work area. This way, the students are happy, the teachers are (somewhat) happy, and the administrators, along with their inboxes and message machines, are the happiest of all.

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