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.


Memorizing 200 names: Part of a Teacher’s First Day

My head is throbbing, my throat’s on fire, and my limbs are numb.

The cause of these symptoms? The opening day of the school year.

While I’m beginning my 27th year as a teacher, each start of school gets more challenging.

One would think with more experience, the easier it would get; however, with each year, I learn more, and in sharing all that I know with students, it causes stress on how to fit it all in.

Plus, there are the usual tasks that require completion within the first few days such as creating spreadsheets with the rosters, typing seating charts with the correct names students wish to be called (not the ones on the rosters), collecting signed parent forms, and photocopying handouts that cover the entire school year.

Since I’m teaching an extra class this term, I have even more students than normal. I discussed this challenge with my students, one of whom asked me, “How do you memorize the names of 200 students?”

It’s funny how it takes a 15-year-old to remind me how numb I’ve become to the reality of that number.

For years now, California ranks near the bottom among states in per pupil spending and in key education factors.   However, according to the most recent National Center for Education Statistics report, the state can lay claim to one category: the highest student to teacher ratio in the country of 23 to 1.

But that number is deflated since “teacher” includes educators who are specialists. The reality is that most classrooms average in the mid-30s.

It makes sense why some parents remove their kids from public schools and go the private school route where ratios are less than half.

Whether or not class size makes a difference in the learning process is an issue that has no clear evidence to support either viewpoint.

Still, there are the raw numbers that can’t be disputed in terms of the alarming amount of work that is required of public school teachers: the ability to know 200 vs. 100 students’ names, the amount of time to evaluate 200 papers vs. 100 papers and to modify lesson plans, the cost of additional books, supplies, and equipment, the lack of mobility to move about in a room with 40 vs. 20 students, and the warmer the rooms are due to the additional body heat.

It also is difficult to call on 40 students in an hour-long class than one of 20, meaning a larger share of kids remain mute each day.

Imagine an attorney meeting with 200 clients every day. Or a physician seeing 200 patients a day. It does not happen.

If a doctor were to see one patient for only 5 minutes at a time, it would take him nearly 17 hours to get to 200 patients without any breaks. And who would think 5 minutes qualifies as a quality healthcare visit?

In a state with a large non-native English speaking population, expecting that educators with their extraordinary workload can have all their students meet the Common Core standards is quite an undertaking.

It is time for Californians to question how much longer can such overcrowding continue when schools are held to high accountability measures.

If the goal of public education is to house students, consider what we are doing a success. But if the charge of schools is to illuminate ideas in the minds of young people, to enable them to realize the potential of their abilities, deep-rooted changes must take place.