Tenure remains one of the few benefits of teaching

Teachers and their unions collectively exhaled last week when a California appeals court overturned the Vergara ruling in 2014 which struck down teacher tenure in the state.

As a teacher who has struggled with the virtue of tenure, this was the right call to make at this time.

I, too, am frustrated that ineffective instructors remain on the job in classrooms, negatively impacting young people’s education.

Barring heinous criminal behavior, you can’t easily fire a teacher. The amount of energy and paperwork required to remove a bad one is monumental.  However, if teachers had no job protection, it would cause harm to the entire profession.

The history of tenure in public schools dates back nearly a century when women could be fired if they got pregnant or married.

Without tenure, a personality clash between a principal and a teacher might mean dismissal.

With pressure from dissatisfied parents and students, a decent teacher might lose her job.

Teaching is not that financially rewarding to justify removing the safety net of tenure.

Teachers remain the lowest paid group of professionals despite half of them holding master’s degrees.  Tenure is a kind of substitute for the lack of financial benefits other professions offer.  That is the main reason it needs to remain in place.

California educators recently received a solicitation from the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to score the new Common Core assessments.  Pay?  $20 an hour—only $5 more than the proposed $15 minimum wage.   For ETS to think that such a low sum would entice teachers is quite insulting.

Think of workers who you can hire for $20 an hour.  And if you can think of any, please email me.

Actually, if administrators did their job properly, there would be fewer incompetent instructors. After two years of formal and informal observations, enough evidence exists to determine is a teacher is good enough to stay employed.

If an administrator overlooks deficiencies, then that person now has a job for life, possibly marring children’s learning for years to come.

No, tenure is not the real problem; it’s that the teaching profession looks the other way when it comes to the one thing that truly distinguishes one teacher from another, and that is quality.

If teachers are required to work without job security, then they should be compensated significantly more money.

In most other careers, people risk losing their jobs if they don’t perform well; however, with that risk, comes rewards if they do.   Such an environment does not exist in the teaching field.

The system pays everyone the same, adjustments in salary solely based on units in college and years on the job.

For those educators who provide a minimum effort, teaching is a cushy job.  But for those who work hard and tirelessly push themselves, teaching is quite frustrating.

No matter the “I’m here for the kids” slogan, an excellent teacher feels slighted.  No bonuses, no promotions, no recognition.

Whether or not a teacher designs effective lessons, communicates well with students, properly evaluates student work and returns it in a timely manner, arrives to the workplace on time, has no bearing on the employability of that individual.

So while I am all for making it easier to fire bad teachers, what has to happen at the same time at the other end of the spectrum is that teachers should earn more money for performing at outstanding levels.

Until that day arrives (which I have been waiting for since 1989), teacher tenure must stay.

If teachers are not going to be rewarded monetarily for a job well done, then they should feel secure that their career will not be in jeopardy.


Less Writing–Now a Requirement for College Entrance

Young people who attend school today may be the least read of any previous generation.

Well, life is about to get even easier.

In a sign of the attention-deficient times, the University of California (UC) has announced a change in the personal statements previously required in applications.

No longer will high school seniors need to write up to 1,000 words responding to the following two prompts:

  • Describe the world you come from — for example, your family,

community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your

dreams and aspirations.

  • Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution

or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or

accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person

you are?

This fall, the two personal statements transforms into eight “personal insight questions” whereby applicants respond to four of the eight prompts of their choosing, with no response longer than 350 words, and the total word count not to exceed 1,400 words:

  1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.
  1. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.
  1. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
  1. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
  1. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
  1. Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you.
  1. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
  1. What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California?

(At this point, I have just written the UC maximum of 350 words.)

The impetus to change the prompts came out of a desire to “better reflect [student] voices and personalities,” according to UC spokesperson Claire Doan.

Gary A. Clark, Jr., UCLA director of admission, told me that “far too often, students would respond to the personal statement prompts with information that did not provide the kind of personal insights” that was helpful.

“An applicant might have written about an inspiring family member and would share more about the family member than themselves,” Clark said.

With the maximum word count jumping from 1,000 to 1,400, how will this impact the workload of those reviewing applications?

Clark does not believe this will be a problem, stating that admission officers are committed to reading “everything a student shares with us.”

I asked my current sophomores, who will be the second class to write to the new prompts, what they thought about the change.

While more than a quarter preferred the older personal statements, the majority liked the new questions, one calling them “more precise and to the point.”

Overall, I applaud the University of California in developing more focused questions that cover a wider range of topics to pique a student’s interest. I lament, however, the demise of a longer piece of writing, a skill that needs mastering at the college level.

Here’s hoping that in 2020 the University of California does not further downsize the four 350-word questions into 12 140-character tweets.