Teacher Tenure Aces the Test
To attract the best educators, school systems are wise to continue awarding tenure. Pro or con?
Pro: Much-Needed Security
Tenure for teachers is a way to spare them the politics and injustice that capricious school boards would use to dismiss them. It wasn’t long ago that a teaching job depended on what political party you were affiliated with or who you were related to. Nontenured teachers could be summarily dismissed in order to create an opening for someone who was connected.
Critics of public education perpetuate the myth that tenure secures a job for life. Tenure simply provides the teacher with due process. Teachers can be dismissed for incompetence, misconduct, or insubordination, but only after having been given the right to defend themselves.
Another criticism leveled at tenure is that it protects mediocre teachers. Mediocre teachers could be eliminated at the very beginning of their careers, if principals and administrators would take the necessary steps of observing and counseling poor teachers prior to their gaining tenure.
Without tenure, we would not be able to attract the best and brightest to teach in our schools. Eliminating tenure could bring back past abuses by those in power who would replace older teachers with younger ones for less pay or fill teaching jobs through nepotism.
The greatest risk would be to academic freedom. It is imperative that teachers be allowed to practice their profession without undue interference from those whose interests lie only in the bottom line.
Con: A Tenuous Prospect
Teaching is the only profession that has anything like tenure. Often, once a teacher has been in a position three years, tenure is granted, and nothing short of a military junta can remove him or her from the position.
Tenure once made sense as a necessary protection from capricious administrators and trustees back in the days when contracts contained "morality clauses" that could be broadly interpreted. Dating, getting pregnant, or being seen drinking alcohol could serve as grounds for dismissal. Today, school board members are persons invested in the community who are elected in their districts. They can grant tenure because of political whims just as unfair as the old-fashioned ones that used to result in unearned dismissal.
Due to shortages, teachers sometimes have to fill spots in areas other than their usual subjects. For example, my son-in-law, a teacher whose specialties were life science and algebra, had to teach calculus for a term. He did not have tenure. Had he been strictly evaluated during that class—as a teacher up for tenure would be—there could have been major issues, since he admittedly stayed one chapter ahead of the students. Yet he was an excellent teacher in his comfort zone.
Teachers should be evaluated on an annual basis and observed regularly and judged accordingly. Tenure has become outdated in today’s academic environment.
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