Tuesday, June 10, 2014

NYT's: A Retired Educator's Thoughts on California Judge's Tenure Ruling

Teachers union
Teachers union (Photo credit: kevin dooley)
The New York Times carried an article today talking about the California judges ruling that "teacher tenure laws deprive students of their right to an education under the state Constitution." I have some thoughts on the subject.

I have lived on both sides of the fence. I was a classroom teacher that belonged to our union and my husband was a teacher turned a high school principal and a district personnel director. The question of tenure came up over and over during our careers. Ny husband found that walking the line between finding and keeping very good teachers while working to get rid of those that failed would drive most men/woman to drink. It was very frustrating. But it is also true that before tenure was initiated in Oregon, school boards and administrators abused their power to fire at will so they could hire better coaches or rid themselves of people that cost them too much of their budget. Abuse of power versus inability to replace bad teachers turned out to be a hotly contested argument.

Early in my husband's career he was working in Hermiston, Oregon when all of the 
teachers-coaches were fired in one fell swoop. A collection of men that saw themselves as powerful, gathered in the back of a local grocery store and decided that all of those coaches needed to just go away and they did. The school board colluded with the men and supported their decision. On a Monday morning an English teacher, art instructor, math teacher, etc., lost their jobs in the classroom because the baseball, basketball, football and track teams were not quite good enough. It was mid 1960s.

In this particular case the teachers sued the school district and supported those fired teacher for a year as the suit was resolved. They could not work during that year. It was difficult for the district teachers to make a sacrifice in their income but they felt strongly enough about the issue to give up what they must. We were young and had small children and trust me, that year was not easy for us.

The teachers won and now in the state of Oregon a coach's contract is separate from his teaching contract. In fact, today many coaches are not teachers at all.

There were school districts in the state of Oregon that simply got rid of anyone that was too experienced because they cost them more than they wanted to pay. They would pay a beginning teacher a lot but the pay scale did not go anywhere. Even with tenure, reaching a point in that school district where you could move up the pay scale even a little was very difficult. Before the teacher was awarded tenure they would be dismissed. The decisions made in cases like this were at times capricious and unfair.

We also saw cases after tenure became a law in the state where even mentally ill teachers were very hard to dismiss. In some cases it would take years. In the mean time students were in those teachers classrooms. I have been in a classroom as a substitute where the teacher was using the same material they created when they were a student teacher 15 year before. The students were disinterested and out of control. Plans of assistance and mentoring usually did not work because teachers are not made in college or in the principal's office...teaching is a talent or a gift. You cannot fix something that is not broken but is simply the wrong tool.

People shy away from education even when that is what they should be doing because it is a very hard job. Even though teachers are paid to work certain hours, I can assure you that most teachers work unpaid hours every day of the school year. 

So you can see that it is not easy to find a way to be fair and reasonable. One would hope that the people in control of the educational system would be honorable. Taxpayers and money can make those people do some bad things. Very like companies that fire people just as they were getting ready to cash in their retirement, security for teachers would simply go away.

We don't want bad teachers that "deprived children of their constitutional right to an education". On the other hand we do not want public employees like educators to be left to hang in the wind. I have been there and trust me, it is not a happy place to be. 

It is just a thought!


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  1. You're right that teaching is a gift. I don't have it; fortunately I figured that out before I invested too much time. I was blessed by excellent teachers and suffered through the bad ones. The tenure issue is a toughie.

    1. Linda, I think you are probably a marvelous teacher. The thing we need to understand that teachers have a place in the business world or other public service jobs too. You, I think, are a prime example.


  2. The teachers who are fretting at my old school are the bad ones. The ones who sit at their desks and berate the students they don't like a coddle the students they do. I, personally, think contracts should be year to year. I don't think pay will be as much of an issue because having a quality school is now important. I think it will force good teachers to look around- for their best price.
    I also do not think teachers should be paid for number of years- but performance. That is possible with beginning and end of year tests.
    That is what private schools often have probation, then tests.
    After thirty years as a teacher, I have seen a number of practices. Tenure is not one of my top choices to keep (neither are sports in schools).

    1. The answers for your concerns are too long to answer here simply. I will just talk about your suggestion that teachers should be paid for "performance". This is the experience I had. Banjo can speak to all of these issues as readily as I.

      In a school that I know of teachers were paid for "performance". Those evaluating the teacher back at time did not use test scores but instead gave rewards for innovative practices in the classroom. Sound wonderful right? Well it just didn't work. Teacher began hoarding their good ideas and innovations, did not share with those around them and the collaborate went flying out the window. I even heard of teachers locking classroom so that fellow teachers could not see what they were doing.

      Good people do bad things when they are set against each other and the atmosphere is all about winning.

  3. In my 40 years of teaching, I've been in both private and public schools. Teaching issues were no sweat when I was young and unattached. However, when I got married and had kids, a need for job security, health care, and a reasonable wage became a much greater priority - especially during those years when my wife stayed home with the kids. Thus, I disagree with Janette's statement that only the "bad" teachers care about job security.
    On another note, when I worked in the private school, I discovered that another teacher with exactly the same background as me in years of experience and degrees was being paid significantly less than me. What was the one difference (know that we were both considered "superstars" by the school community)? She was a woman!
    As far as the tenure issue, the fact of the matter is that there are many more classrooms to fill than there are talented teachers with a willingness to put up with all that teaching requires. Thus we get a fair share of "mediocre" teachers and a few "bad" teachers (who get much more attention than the numbers justify). In too many cases, sadly, it's a matter of filling the classrooms with whomever you can. I support tenure, but I also support more training for those administrators who are entrusted with granting it - and, at times, with doing the record-keeping that allows tenure to be revoked, if needed. Fairness is a two-way street.

    1. Banjo,

      Your comment is well thought out and very clear. I was taken by the idea that administrators should be better trained to better evaluate a teacher's worthiness for tenure. That is a good idea and one that should be promoted.

      Getting rid of tenure is like throwing out the baby with the bath water. All teachers do not deserve to be punished because their administrators or the system has failed them. It is as simple as that.

      Thank you for taking the time to stop by.



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