Unions, pensions, and tenure…oh my! (part three – final thoughts)

UPDATED: Tenure varies state-by-state, district-by-district, school-by-school. I am just one person. Please keep in mind there is great variability.

Tenure is a bad word these days.

But school tenure is not like tenure awarded to college professors. When someone gets tenure at work we tell that person, “Now you can’t be fired for wearing the wrong colored shirt.”

Being “tenured” doesn’t mean you won’t lose your job. Tenure assures you some protection. I don’t know the protocol, but principals have to observe you multiple times, among other things. A teacher then can request a meeting with the principal and union representation (just another teacher who is the union rep). I don’t know what happens after that.

I knew a tenured teacher who got let go. I think the person fought it, but I don’t have all the details. From what I knew, the person was an excellent teacher. It was rumored that the principal didn’t like that person.

I know untenured teachers who were let go who were excellent too. Over two different years I saw two amazing teachers receive pink slips. Why would my school drop great teachers? It was rumored that the principal didn’t like them.

And then I know a couple tenured teachers who need to go. But they are still hanging around. It makes me wonder…

Regardless, the system of tenure needs to be revised. First, in the current system going from untenured to tenured feels like going from the dark side of the moon to the light side. Why can’t untenured teachers get some protection? Why shouldn’t tenured teachers be under scrutiny? Ideally, I think that if a tenure-like system is employed, there should be incremental steps.

All I can speak to is my own experience. Since I’ve seen both tenured and untenured teachers lose their jobs, I think the removal of staff involves decisions based less on tenured status and more the political will of the administration.

Second, let’s stop calling it “tenure” because in the media the word is trumped up to be more than it is. It’s not like what a professor earns in an university. Let’s rebrand school tenure and call it “Workplace Protection Protocol” (WPP) or something with a catchy acronym 🙂

In sum, good teachers want crappy teachers gone — it makes schools better and raises the morale of the ones who are working incredibly hard for the kids. And where do I fit in? I don’t think I’ve revealed this, but I have tenure — I earned it. But I’m still not clear what tenure really means for me as it doesn’t protect me from being hated by administration.

First in the series: Unions
Second in the series: Pensions
Another post of mine on tenure

I think I’ll tackle performance pay…later this month…

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19 Responses to Unions, pensions, and tenure…oh my! (part three – final thoughts)

  1. kell March 10, 2011 at 5:17 am #

    "Tenure" will mean nothing when our collective bargaining rights are stripped across this country. The protections you reference will be wiped away under the guise of budget balancing.

  2. Anonymous March 10, 2011 at 5:33 am #

    What about teachers who *were* wonderful teachers…but perhaps have been teaching too long & have lost their love of teaching. They have tenure & at least from what I've seen & heard in my school it is almost impossible to get rid of this teacher.

    Sadly this teacher was my teacher & I loved him – I really do think he used to be a wonderful teacher. But now it's not the case. He does not seem to be interested in really helping his students, or communicating important information to the parents, or making more of an effort than he has to at a minimum.

    So many parents are frustrated with this teacher…as I understand it has gotten worse over the last few years. But he has 36yrs at this same job – same grade – same school. He's been there longer than anyone else in the whole school. Even after numerous complaints it seems like nothing is being done at all let alone getting rid of the guy.

    Tenure is supposed to protect the teachers…but what about our kids?

  3. Marina Goldstein March 10, 2011 at 10:19 am #

    you are amazing!!!!

    Marina from Israel

  4. Katie March 10, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

    I'd be curious about your thoughts about the documentary "Waiting for Superman."

  5. Megan Z. March 10, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    Teaching tenure varies greatly from state to state. In many states and districts, it's really difficult to fire someone with or without tenure.

    From what I understand, tenure guarantees due process when a teacher is fired. That teacher must be placed on an improvement plan and given the opportunity to improve his/her instruction. The administration absolutely must dot all their Is and cross their Ts if they want to let this person go.

    Some districts are just as careful with letting go untenured teachers, even in right-to-work states like mine. I think the approach to teacher tenure varies greatly depending on the district.

    Throughout my illustrious career as both a high school student and high school teacher, I have only seen one teacher who was let go. This teacher definitely needed to be let go, and while this teacher was not tenured (she had come out of retirement to teach again but did not satisfactorily fulfill her duties), I'm sure she received due process.

  6. Anonymous March 10, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    unfortunately, we cannot always believe that the school boards and the administration have the children's best interests at heart. Even when election time comes, it is really had to get information about the people running for school board, even though it is one of the most important positions! Sad. Then or course, in our district, the board hired a new superintendant, and of course, they didn't really want to hear what the community had to say – they hired someone who they were pretty sure would follow their lead. again, sad.

  7. Melissa Lynn D March 10, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

    No one should have the "right" to their job. If you're doing a bad job, you should go. There's no reason any employer should have to keep employees for no reason other than they've been there a certain amount of time. If you're a good employee, you'll keep your job – why are special regulations needed for that? I know there are exceptions when personal feelings come into play when they shouldn't, but really, we're going to sacrifice our schools by keeping around crappy teachers just so the few that might be let go due to personal differences will be protected?

    My dad serves on our school board, and they had to let go of a teacher that everyone loved. Due to lack of funding and less students, they had to cut one teacher in each department, and he was the only one in his department not tenured. The other two teachers in that department, let's just say no one would've cried to see them go, but they were tenured, so the good teacher was cut instead. THAT is a BROKEN system!

  8. Anonymous March 10, 2011 at 11:02 pm #

    It does vary greatly from state to state and even school to school.

    In my district, any teacher can be fired for bad performance. Actually for untenured teachers they are legally required NOT to give a reason if you are let go. Could be the principal just doesn't like you (although luckily at my school I don't think this has happened in recent history). If the teacher is tenured it is a little more of a process to get rid of them, because it has to be documented that the teacher hasn't improved. Many times principals just don't have the time, energy, or courage to go through the process. Also principals are often on yearly contracts, so if they start the process and things don't go smoothly a superintendent could decide the principal is making trouble and get rid of them instead of the teacher. School systems are very political that way.

    When a school district has to reduce the number of teachers – that is different. "RIF"-reduction in force, is normally part of the contract so teachers are eliminated purely on number of years in the district. But at that point, you have to ask why a bad teacher was allowed to remain in the school. The premise with the RIF policy is that all the teachers still being employed are all good teachers, so experience is the unbiased way to do it.

    Chances are, in the future districts will just do the opposite: get rid of the teachers there the longest. Currently teacher salary is only dependent on the number of years we've taught (plus a bit extra for extra degrees), so they can keep two or even 3 teachers right out of college for the same price as keeping one teacher that is about to retire. Actually, in some places having a master's degree is a disadvantage because the district knows it has to pay you more than the teacher with just a bachelor's degree.

    I'm pretty sure without that in the contract and collective bargaining decisions still won't be made in the best interest of the kids – it will be in the best interests of the budget.

    I often wonder who will still want to be a teacher 10 years from now. I hope somebody is studying the trends in numbers of college students enrolled in teaching majors.

    Also if you like Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, he had a fun look at comparing news commentators speaking about how teachers are overpaid and the same commentators speaking during the bank bailout that without high salaries and bonuses nobody would want to work on Wall Street. Love irony.

  9. Anonymous March 10, 2011 at 11:04 pm #

    I had some truly terrible teachers growing up, all of whom "taught" for years. No joke, one english teacher I had in high school used to spend class times reading us email jokes or singing karaoke. The only time I really recall sitting through good classes were–conveniently enough–the days that there was a class observation scheduled.

    Things like that do make you wonder how on earth some people manage to stay employed as teachers.

    And this is not to put any blame on the school or anything like that. I had far, far more spectacular teachers than terrible teachers growing up. I still fondly remember and revere many of them. But just the same, I think it's very wrong to use class observations as a method for determining how a teacher is doing. OF COURSE a bad teacher will put on a good show on those days. I don't know what a better alternative would be though. You certainly can't take kids' words for it, because there are some truly sneaky brats out there who would lie out of spite…

  10. Wii Fit & A Bet March 11, 2011 at 2:15 am #

    ::sigh:: here is my two cents, I had a horrid horrid principal. She would go through the building and if you weren't a) young (under 28) b) blond and c) have a nice figure you were on the chopping block. If I hadn't had tenure I would have been let go because she disliked me because I didn't always say what she wanted to hear. I am always afraid when people start talking about taking away tenure and such because there are some nasty a$$ principals out there who are mean and vindictive. I personally would like some protection against superiors like her.

  11. Mrs. Q March 11, 2011 at 3:49 am #

    Your comments are valid — every one of them. I don't know what the answer is. I think that tenure needs to change in its current form, but I still think good teachers need protection as they move into the later years in their profession and get more costly as their salaries increase. It's too easy to drop older, higher paid teachers for the younger, cheaper teachers.

  12. Anonymous March 11, 2011 at 3:55 am #

    I work for a private company in an at will state. I can be let go for any reason at any time. Why the hell are teachers who let's face it, in this country are glorified baby sitters with blogs, any different? I hate paying taxes to support teachers who clearly have other outside moneymaking projects such as this one.

    I think you should pay back your salary.

  13. Mrs. Q March 11, 2011 at 4:39 am #

    Yes, I'm making a killing on this blog! Enough to pay one grocery bill! This is a hobby.

  14. Mrs. Q March 11, 2011 at 4:41 am #

    "Good teachers exist in great numbers and they aren’t afraid of changing the way things are done to ensure students get the very best education in this state."
    http://www.sj-r.com/opinions/x13261230/Ken-Swanson-Teachers-show-they-ll-embrace-change via District 299 blog

  15. Steph March 11, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    I had a terrible teacher in high school who was tenured.
    He was racist, sexist and homophobic, and very blatant about it.
    The only reason he left the school was because he quit. He should've been gone way earlier.

  16. girlwithalessonplan March 11, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

    PLEASE CORRECT THIS INACCURACY: Tenured teachers CAN get "pink slips", also known as Reduction in Force or laid off, if the tenured teacher is part of the reduced sector no longer needed. If a school needs to cut its budget, tenure does NOT keep that teacher's job. The "last hire, first fire" seniority rule does NOT exempt a tenured teacher. For example, all the technology teachers in my building have tenure, if enrollment in tech goes down, the most recent hire–who has been teaching for over 5 years, granting him tenure–would be the one to go.

    PLEASE CORRECT THIS INACCURACY: Untenured teachers DO have protections, depending where they work. In my corporation, after one year, you are guaranteed a due process hearing for being punished or let go for any reason other than reduction in force.

  17. Mrs. Q March 12, 2011 at 6:54 pm #

    I have updated the post to reflect the great variability between states, districts, and schools. I am not trying to make a blanket statement as I cannot speak to tenure across the board.

  18. Samantha s October 5, 2011 at 10:21 pm #

    Tenure drives me nuts, but even more so the politics of administrators makes me crazy. My mother is a special education teacher and when her principal blatantly insulted me to my face in front of my mother (the person had just met me five minutes before) my mother (FYI not tenured) who has her doctorates and is amazing and gifted and could teach anywhere but chooses to stay with the kids she loves working with….had to hold her tongue and not say a thing because in a teachers world, one wrong slip to get on an administrators bad side can leave you incredibly vulnerable in terms of your employment.

    This is not right. Tenure or no tenure, one person (or two) should not have the right to fire a teacher because of politics. I wish there was a better way to evaluate the effectiveness of a teacher and then we could do away with tenure all together. You would keep or loose your job based on your skill and passion for teaching, not on how long you have been around or who you are friends with ( or not afraid to piss off)

  19. karmabottle January 5, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

    As a teacher I have found for the most part that if a person does his or her job well, avoids drama (personal and professional), and learns how to communicate truthfully yet respectfully (even when you disagree with a superior), he or she doesn’t have to worry about job security.

    Drawing negative attention through dramatic scenes, fiery dialogue, and frequent absences on the other hand is a sure-fire way to get administration’s eye on you. I’ve seen it time and time again from male and female teachers who have the maturity of 14-year olds when it comes to work ethics.

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