As a teacher, the past week has been quite a whirlwind and it has nothing to do with my life in the classroom. Oprah, Hollywood and the National Broadcasting Company have all converged over the past seven days to shine a light on one of the most important issues of our time: education. It's a bit surreal to turn on the news and hear people talking about your job but over the past few days that scenario has been a reality. Hearing and seeing the way that many people have been reacting towards teachers has been both eye opening, confusing and upsetting. It seems that just because we have all been in a classroom as a student, it gives us carte blanche to speak about teachers. Most people who haven't been in a classroom in 25 years are now experts on how education should work. I find this amusing because although I've been to the dentist 50 times in my life, I don't tell the good doctor how to fill a tooth. As you can tell, all of this coverage has stirred up many emotions among myself and my colleagues. However, the one topic that has stirred up the most emotion in yours truly is the new dirty word on the lips of many New Yorkers (and Americans) TENURE.
If you were to just watch the news, with their talking heads and "man on the street" interviews you would think that tenure only exists to keep bad teachers in their jobs when in fact, this couldn't be farther from the truth. Now let me be clear, there are teachers who, through their practice or their behavior, have more than proven that they do not deserve to have their job. Does our current system protect these teachers? Perhaps. However, there seems to be a side of this argument that people either choose to ignore or are just completely misinformed about (I'm looking at you Waiting for Superman)and that is: tenure does not guarantee a "job for life". The only thing that our tenure system guarantees is due process for a teacher facing the prospect of losing his or her livelihood (and yes, I said livelihood and not "job" because for many of us, this is our LIVES.) Due process, what an absolutely crazy idea to have in the United States huh? Teaching is not a fly-by-night profession that you can just walk in and out of-or at least it shouldn't be. For many, including myself, working with students is more than a job, it's a commitment that takes up nearly all of our time between planning, grading and worrying about our kids, the least we should get is a chance to have our case heard.
If you're not sure where you stand on the issue of tenure (and even think if you do know where you stand on it) you should ask yourself the following: Would I want to walk into work one day and be told that I have no job? And when I asked why, to not be given a reason AND to have no recourse about it. If you answered "no" to this question then you, my friend, are in favor of tenure for teachers. NO ONE is saying that teachers who do their job poorly or hurt children in anyway should keep their jobs. As a teacher, I would love to have that dead weight gone so that my students could have a better learning experience and I don't have to hear how big of a "have a job for life" jerk I am from John Q. Public on Eyewitness News. But the reality is, without tenure, in the current "high stakes" world of education, an administrator could dismiss a teacher for whatever reason they decide. I know this, because this scenario plays itself out in our schools today. The group that seems to be forgotten in this "tenure is evil" argument are non-tenured teachers (those who have been teaching for less than three years.) You see, at any time, any one of the thousands of new teachers in our city can lose their job, not be told why, and do absolutely nothing about it.
I know this because this recently happened to a teacher in New York City, a teacher who I happen to be very close with. At the end of this teacher's second year, the principal informed them that they would not be returning to the school and since they were not tenured, this teacher had no recourse....ZERO. Without tenure, teachers could lose their jobs at any time for any reason.This should not happen to anyone, and especially not someone who has dedicated their life to working with children. When this teacher informed his students that he would not be returning, there were many tears shed on both sides. The kids didn't understand and unfortunately neither did the teacher. Were the best interests of those students served by their administration that day? If you asked them, I bet they would have a pretty clear answer. If we care about the well being of students, we not only need to think about getting rid of the dead weight but also keeping the good ones who love their kids and are loved right back.
All we want is the ability to have our story heard and let the chips fall where they may. I know that's all that my friend wanted, but he, along with many others, was never given the chance.