The Truth About Tenure

Posted: 2011/04/11 in Classroom Teacher, Education, Education Reform, High School, Students

Granting tenure is just about automatic. After three years at a school (or two years depending on the school district) the vast majority of teachers receive tenure — meaning that their school/district must go through due process to remove them.

The reason teachers almost always receive tenure is simple —  it’s not like there are another 50 teachers out there vying for the job. If a new teacher is at all competent, is the principal going to risk having a job opening and perhaps getting someone worse? This is especially true if it’s a math, science or special ed teacher. There’s always a shortage in those areas. Lose a math teacher and the school may not be able to find another qualified credentialed teacher to cover those classes.

Unless you acknowledge this reality, you can’t make sense of the real issues around teacher tenure and benefits.

In an earlier post I raised a fundamental question: If you could fire 100,000 California teachers tomorrow, who would you get to watch all those classrooms day after tomorrow? Some politicians would have us believe there are swarms of highly skilled first year teachers out there begging for jobs.

Maybe there’s arrogance on the part of the anti-teacher forces because current budget cutbacks mean teacher layoffs. But the recent attacks have made teaching less attractive as a career choice (2003 = 90,000 people in California teacher education programs; 2011 = 45,000). This means fewer trained teachers in the future. And unless you foresee 200-plus students per classroom there will be a need for more teachers. We all agree on the importance of great teachers. But unless you have a pool of enough qualified teachers, how picky can schools be?

With current attacks on tenure, benefits and pensions, why would an energetic, ambitious young person in college today choose teaching as a career? That isn’t a rhetorical question. It’s one that needs to be answered.

So here’s the next question for politicians who say they want to improve our schools: How will you make teaching an attractive career choice for bright, capable people?


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