In a climate where massive budget cuts are forcing public school districts to lay off hundreds of teachers, it is no wonder why unions are eager to arm their teachers with the relative security of tenure. However, in a world where we use “tenure” interchangeably with “highly qualified,” are we really putting the best teachers in front of our kids?
Tenure came about in the early 19th century to protect teachers from being fired for illegitimate reasons such as race, gender, or favoritism. Women could lose their jobs for getting pregnant or wearing pants (how dare they?), and tenure provided them with protection from this unfair discrimination. Since then, tenure has morphed into a no-questions-asked policy that preserves jobs for even the lowest-performing teachers.
Experience absolutely contributes to teacher effectiveness and should be encouraged and celebrated—but are we rewarding teachers for simply showing up? Automatic tenure after a few years of teaching sends a worrisome message: Clock in, get absolute job security. Under this system, our best teachers are on the same playing field as our worst teachers. And, as outlined in The New Teacher Project’s The Irreplaceables, treating good and bad teachers the same is a great way to ensure that our public schools never improve.
The best way to keep your job should be to do a good job.
Without unquestioned job security, teachers would be forced to constantly increase their effectiveness, produce strong results, and develop themselves professionally throughout their career. It would add a competitive edge to a profession where complacency has profound negative implications for our nation’s youth. Teachers should not rely on tenure alone for job security—they should be able to point to a record of results to back up their effectiveness and value to the school team.
Schools are in the business of educating kids, not protecting the jobs of adults. The stakes are far too high to prioritize the adults in the building over the students. If the things we evaluate mirror what we value most, our current system of teacher tenure sends a clear message that we value job security more than student achievement. Instead of deferring to tenure to decide who stays and who goes, why not vamp up our teacher evaluation system? Why not provide higher quality professional development for new and veteran teachers alike? Investing in the development and support of our teachers would give everyone the opportunity to excel in their work and become highly effective. It would also put the emphasis back on student achievement where it belongs.
Tenure should be much harder to attain and much easier to lose. We should reserve this honor for the most influential and highest-performing teachers who are making the biggest impact in our public school systems. Seniority and experience are crucial for any campus, but seniority alone should not guarantee your job. Our students deserve to have the best teachers, and they need to have the best teachers if this gap is ever going to close.
It is time we seriously ask ourselves where our loyalty lies: with the adults, or with the kids? Who are public school districts meant to serve?
Don't forget to check out counterpoint to this post: "In Support of Teacher Tenure."