No Tenure for You. Come Back One Year (or Not).

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I’ve steered clear of the following blog topic for the last three years (how time flies when you are blogging).

No, not the discussion on whether or not Seinfeld is the best TV show of all-time ( it is… BJ and the Bear comes in a close second).

Tenure.

This seems to be the hottest of all education topics.

Hotter than testing, the perceived worthlessness of administrators (I said perceived… because all of us are worth our weight in… well, in something), or the lack of parental support.The Soup Nazi (Seinfeld).

Tenure trumps them all.

Just saying the word can provoke a heated discussion (and get you beaten up in a Teacher’s Lounge near you…).

You are either for it, or against it.

It’s hard to find someone who rides the fence on this issue (much like Dancing With the Stars… some love it and some find it as enjoyable as abdominal cramps).

To me that’s the problem.

Those of us with tenure (yes, I am a proud owner (or not) of what could be construed as a lifetime teaching job) absolutely love the idea.

And what’s not to love.

Tenured teachers have jobs (very important in this day and age).  If that wasn’t enough, they (evil administrators) can’t fire those tenured teachers.

And as an added bonus, our raises are based on the number of years we have taught and has nothing to do with productivity.

It’s a little piece of heaven.

I’m not saying this is right.  I’m not saying it’s wrong.

I’m just saying it’s our system.

Then there is the anti-tenure crowd.

This is a rather large and angry group which includes pretty much everyone else in the free world (and most people in Cuba).

Anyone who doesn’t have tenure (99.999999% of all humans) believes it is the dumbest idea since New Coke (which incidentally, I enjoyed).

These people think far too many teachers who attain tenure end up going through the motions while cashing an ever increasing paycheck.

I’m not saying they are right.

I’m not saying they are wrong.

I am saying tenure is woven into the fabric of our educational system.

Some states are considering passing No Tenure Laws (way to be a leader Florida… and I’m crossing my fingers you don’t send us another Bush for The White House…).

Tenure has never seemed very American to me.

I’ve always thought our country was built on the idea that if you work hard and pay your dues (figure of speech… not Union) it’s possible to make your fortune and climb the ladder of success.

If you think like I do (and for your sake, I pray you don’t), tenure may be holding good teachers back.

They aren’t granted the opportunity to be judged financially on the great work they do.

They are lumped in with all teachers, good and bad. 

Those who work 12 hour days and those who hardly work at all.

I think that’s a shame.

Tenure doesn’t help our best and brightest.

It doesn’t promote working harder, thinking outside the box (which is the dumbest phrase since… Where’s the Beef?), or going above and beyond.

Unfortunately, it’s major purpose seems to be protecting older teachers from vindictive administrators and school boards.

This is important, but is it reason enough to keep tenure in 2010?

The title of this blog comes from The Soup Nazi.  My hero.  My mentor.  My compadre (at least he will be after I learn Spanish).

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12 Responses to “No Tenure for You. Come Back One Year (or Not).”


  1. jeff
    on Apr 12th, 2010
    @ 6:37 am

    (way to be a leader Florida… and I’m crossing my fingers you don’t send us another Bush for The White House…).

    Michael,
    I always try to weigh the consequences of my decisions. For instance, the value of a weak attempt at humor against alienating a percentage of your readers. How does that help you?

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @jeff, Weak attempt at humor?

    What can I say… I’m only here to amuse myself.

    As for the Bushes… I must admit… I voted for President George W. Bush the first time.

    While they are one of America’s great families, I just have the feeling that I’ve seen that movie before.

    No offense to Jeb.

    And just for the record, I don’t consider myself a Democrat or a Republican.


  2. Angie
    on Apr 12th, 2010
    @ 6:50 am

    My district has a “last in, first out” policy. While somewhat understandable, what if the last one in is better than the one who’s been there for 5 years? (Wow, can’t imagine that would ever happen.) As my husband says, a great question to ask is “Do you have 10 years of experience or one year of experience 10 times?”

    I agree with you.

    BTW- you will always walk a thin line when commenting on religion or politics. I posted a comment about health care (innocently enough) and started a verbal war between two friends. I guess we’re all entitled to an opinion, just not entitled to post it. :-)


  3. Pamela
    on Apr 12th, 2010
    @ 7:05 am

    I came into education from the corporate world where there is no tenure. I believe that there are so many problems in education, and tenure is on the top of my list. It brings on contentment and laziness ( I could not think of a better word). People no longer strive to do their best.. I’ve personally worked for two districts that let teachers go, prior to tenure. Teachers should be on a yearly review system. Do you job and keep it. Increase your education. Many teachers with high tenure time are still status-quo with their education when they first received tenure.


  4. Karen Marcus
    on Apr 12th, 2010
    @ 7:37 am

    In my state we have tenure. Tenure does not mean you cannot fire an incompetent teacher. It’s not easy but if someone is not measuring up then it is the responsibility of the principal to either consciously help that person improve or move for dismissal. Our standards are high where I work. But it’s not an impossible task nor should it be taken lightly. But if tenure is the only reason a poor teacher is not fired than it’s no one’s fault but the principal and those supporting the principal.


  5. Olwyn Hughes
    on Apr 12th, 2010
    @ 8:15 am

    We don’t have tenure per se but we do have a very strong union and teachers can not be fired without a lot of effort. This has its good and bad sides. Our salaries go up each year until we hit ten years teaching and then we stay the same unless we get a Masters or PhD.
    Our union’s take on teachers is that all teachers are equal. Their motto is “a teacher is a teacher” and all should be treated equally. We all know that not every teacher is equal in drive, professionalism, skill or passion. There are those who put in their time and others, like me, who continue to strive to improve our practice even after 17 years on the job.
    I think being financially rewarded for doing a good job would be great but how would they judge our job well done? Test scores? Emotional security of our students? Love of learning? Teaching is SO much more than test scores and yet, from my viewpoint north of your border, there seems to be a huge emphasis put on testing.
    Not an easy topic, obviously…
    BTW- BJ and the Bear…one of my all time favourite shows. I still have a stuffed bear in my classroom from that era that I named BJ. :)

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Olwyn Hughes, Someone got the BJ and the Bear reference.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!


  6. Melanie
    on Apr 13th, 2010
    @ 4:45 am

    I grew up watching BJ and the Bear. :D Good stuff!

    My husband used to be a teacher and now works in the private sector. He has always asked what teachers have against testing being considered a reflection of our ability to teach our students. In the “real world” as he calls it, people are judged by their workers test scores all the times or numbers or whatever. The world revolves around numbers and in the school system our numbers are testing numbers. However, I also feel that state testing is not the only test that should count. Especially for high school teachers, how about percentage of ACT/SAT takers that score 19 or higher or the equivalent on the SAT? or students who take and pass the AP exams. There has to be something outside of our classrooms that judges us because inside my classroom I have warped perception. I may think a student has matured emotionally, but the world doesn’t care about that. The world cares about numbers. I think we need to accept that and move on instead of trying to justify whyour students aren’t performing as well as is needed. And btw, I do know this will make some people mad. I’m not here to argue the point, just to express my opinion and remember opinions are like rear exits…everyone has one :D


  7. Laura
    on Apr 14th, 2010
    @ 6:36 am

    Well, I think the problem with using testing to evaluate the efficacy of teachers is the fact that good teachers often get saddled with the most students who have exceptionalities or are behind when they get to that teacher. If I have a bunch of kids in my class who can’t read or can’t read well, my job can’t depend on their performance on a standardized test because I’ll be unemployed quicker than you can shake a stick.

    On the other hand, if students are graded on how much progress they have made as individuals (not on the current PSSA type test, but true individual progress) it would be closer to fair, but still not perfect. I would prefer that there be some contingency in place to allow for some students to be excluded from consideration when we talk about whether or not I keep my job.

    As for tenure, let me tell you this; I had volunteered in a classroom a couple years ago. My daughter was in the classroom next door. My daughter’s teacher literally screamed at those children at least twice a day (and you know, if you get to the point where you’re screaming at a room full of five year olds, it’s time to take a step back and reflect!). She was so loud that I could make out what she said word for word through the wall. There were times she could be heard in the office. Now as a parent it broke my heart, and I was not pleased to know that my daughter was over there; and my daughter (my own kid, who’s now about to be tested for the MG program) finished up the year below reading level.

    That teacher was tenured. Theoretically she understood how to be a good teacher, she had all the book knowledge in the world. My opinion (just me) would be that she would have to take some classroom management courses and either shape up or ship out within a reasonable amount of time. Instead, she was moved to a different grade, which is probably helpful but not a solution as it’s my understanding that she is still screaming.

    Yes, tenured teachers do deserve some benefits, some security… but those who are not able to perform shouldn’t receive tenure, and tenure shouldn’t offer so much protection that incompetence is perpetuated.


  8. Tom Whitby
    on Apr 14th, 2010
    @ 7:13 am

    Thanks for binging this topic up. I have been avoiding it in my blog because everyone comes to the discussion with misinformation. Its like opposing healthcare because of the Death panels which are empowered to pass death sentences on older folks. Great image, but not reality. Two things that I can support that tenure protects: 1) guarantees an employer due process.( Not Lifetime employment) 2) Protects academic Freedom. That being said I feel the need to return to my Blog and expand this response. Thanks for the thoughts and the motivation.


  9. A Parent
    on Apr 14th, 2010
    @ 8:15 pm

    This is not a hypothetical situation.

    Teacher A is non-tenured. As part of lowering the district wide budget decreases, Teacher A is fired. But teacher A’s position was necessary. So a tenured teacher (Teacher B) is moved from another school in the district to replace Teacher A.

    Presumably, if Teacher A is not tenured and Teacher B is, Teacher A has a lower salary. So while payroll may decrease district wide, it has risen at this school.

    Either way, performance doesn’t matter in this case. Does any of this make sense?


  10. Jenny
    on Apr 18th, 2010
    @ 9:04 am

    Tenure would be nice, but honestly as a young teacher I’m not sure I’ll ever get it.

    I think tenure would be okay if it wasn’t so hard for teachers to be fired. The lead personnel guy in my district told us that a “bad” teacher would probably need multiple years of documentation in order for the district to have any chance of fighting the union and firing the teacher.

    That’s multiple years of students suffering, and that’s not fair. There needs to be a better system in place- not just for firing, but for recognizing teachers that aren’t doing well enough and offer them support and training to improve.

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