Teacher tenure has been an area of debate for quite some time in Massachusetts. Let’s look at how tenure can help our state provide better education for our students.
- Tenure prevents teachers from being fired for inappropriate reasons.
Prior to tenure, teachers were often fired for personal, political, or other non-teaching related reasons. Female educators were let go for getting pregnant, wearing pants, or being seen at the wrong establishments too late at night. Other educators were fired for teaching controversial subjects such as evolution or for disagreeing with the school board or administration. Today, tenure provides educators with the protection needed to take risks with new materials or learning methods, question decisions made by administration, or speak out about problems facing their district without fear of reprisal.
- Tenure protects teachers from false accusations.
Although we can wish it wasn’t so, by working so closely with young people, teachers place themselves in situations that can be abused by students and parents with their own agendas. Although rare, examples of students manipulating teachers to get them fired (or reprimanded) do exist. Additionally, parents trying to protect their children often blame teachers for perceived wrongs before they hear both sides of the situation. Tenure offers teachers protection from a situation where a district might be tempted to fire a teacher facing an expensive legal battle rather than investigate the matter and work with them through the lengthy legal process.
- Tenure allows teachers to become better educators
The concern of being fired if the principal decides to observe you on a day when a lesson goes poorly or the students decide to act up causes a lot of anxiety for new teachers. With no idea when the principal or department supervisor might be popping in to watch your class, teachers working toward tenure often fall back on lessons that the know work at least moderately well rather than branching out and trying something new. By giving qualified educators the knowledge that their job is secure as long as they continue to do it well, it removes that anxiety and allows them to focus on providing excellent educational experiences for their students.
- Properly used, tenure creates an environment where teachers are encouraged to improve.
One of the biggest complaints supporters of tenure make is that the problems facing tenure are often due to administrators not using their evaluation system appropriately. Currently, almost 99% of tenured teachers evaluated receive “satisfactory” ratings. This means that when a district wants to dismiss an under-performing education, it has to explain how the poorly performing teacher received “satisfactory” ratings for so long. This is one of the main causes for the expensive and lengthy legal battles. Tenure supporters state that if principals and administrators would evaluate all educators more reasonably, then teachers who are not doing their job would have the opportunity to improve (and would have more feedback on what exactly they needed to do to improve) and, if they did not, it would be far easier to dismiss them.
- Tenure protects good teachers from being fired for being too expensive
Education budgets are big news in many states. Many state governments are slashing funding drastically as money for education becomes increasingly difficult to find. With this in mind, schools around the country are being forced to make tough choices about what they will cut from their budgets to stay “in the black.” Without tenure, suddenly a 20-year veteran teacher at the top of the pay scale becomes a luxury that some districts might choose to do away with. When you can hire two teachers at the lowest salary for less than one teacher at the highest salary, many school districts might be forced to choose quantity over quality. Tenure protects teachers who have honed their skills over the years and truly are master-level educators worth every penny of their salaries.