Teacher tenure is a controversial topic among students and teachers alike. Students often worry that tenure puts a bigger emphasis on the length of time a teacher has spent at a school rather than his or her ability to create a valuable experience for students. In contrast, tenure allows teachers to teach topics that may spark complaints or disagreement among students or parents, without the fear of being fired.
The idea of teacher tenure began in the late 1800s, in response to parents’ attempts to influence the subject matter taught in school. While tenure was created to protect teachers from angry members of the community who disapproved of subject matter taught in schools, it also protected them from being fired based on characteristics such as gender or race. Professors originally received the benefits of tenure. However Time notes that in the 1920s, “when female teachers could be fired for getting married or getting pregnant or (gasp) wearing pants” all teachers gained the right to have a tenure.
In primary and secondary schools, teachers are typically tenured after two to five years, with laws varying from state to state, upon evaluation of their performance. Once a teacher receives tenure, it is much more difficult for the school to fire him or her. According to certificationmap.com, teachers who are tenured cannot be fired based on discrimination or to replace them with teachers who will be payed less, or “for teaching new or controversial ideas.”
Sophomore Rohan Chilukuri expressed his view in favor tenure by comparing the United States’ policy to countries without it: “Today, many countries, and top U.S. allies, such as China, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, monitor free speech and education. This is done in order for the leaders of these countries to stay in power and control the population. Teachers with tenure cannot be fired for teaching facts and science in schools. Teacher tenure allows for education to be free from propaganda and manipulation by external forces.”
Chilukuri believes that tenure protects schools from being forced to submit to the hand of the government. While in many cases tenure is viewed as a means to protect teachers from the school itself or community members, it is also possible for the government to have an influence on education.
Junior Lauren McLaughlin, however, had an opposite view: “For my entire 8th grade year, I was subject to the confusing, chaotic, and unorganized teaching of (unnamed teacher). (unnamed class) was a nightmare, not only for me, but also for the dozens of other struggling students. Yet despite meeting after meeting with the principal, this teacher who should have been fired kept his job. He had tenure. I believe that a teacher’s time working at a school, for this reason, should not affect the decision of whether or not to fire him.”
McLaughlin echoes several other students who understand what it is like to have an ineffective teacher but feel seemingly powerless to change the situation.
While students offer important insight onto the subject of tenure, teachers also have a unique perspective.
AP English and Composition and English III teacher Shannon Kirkpatrick is in the middle of her second year teaching at M-A. Kirkpatrick, who is not currently tenured, explains that she cannot fully commit to supporting or condemning tenure. She understands how a teacher could stop trying to improve his or her teaching after being at a school for several years, and how his or her lack of effort would be damaging to students’ educations. However, she also believes that if she were a tenured teacher “I could push you guys out a little bit on a limb because I would be safe to do that and challenge you guys intellectually even if people didn’t necessarily agree with all of the ideas.”
When asked whether or not her status as a non-tenured teacher affects the way she teaches, Kirkpatrick responded, “It hasn’t so far. Every now and then I’ll be like, hmm should we do that article? But I’m like ‘learning is so important’ so it hasn’t actually affected anything that I’ve done. I suppose if somebody called up and complained then I would think twice about it, but nobody has yet so I’ve just been going along the way I normally would.”
Lisa Otsuka, AP Literature, Psychology, and Russian Literature teacher, has been teaching at M-A for 25 years, and is tenured. Otsuka agrees with Kirkpatrick, that it is difficult to choose one side over the other. She explained, “There needs to be some protection in place for teachers. Experienced teachers cost the district more money and…experienced teachers are so valuable. I am certainly a much better teacher than I was when I first started over twenty years ago. I am always learning.”
However, Otsuka also understand the faults in the system of tenure. “It is very difficult for a school to fire an ineffective teacher. Teachers should have to perform like any other employees. It is not fair to students when a teacher is ineffective. There often seems to be no correlation between job performance and pay.”
Finally, Otsuka stated that being tenured does not affect the way she teaches or how much effort she puts into teaching. She stated, “I made the decision years ago to stay in this profession because I feel a sense of purpose and it brings me joy.”
At M-A we must begin a discussion among teachers and students regarding tenure. While there exist some very opinionated views upon the matter, it is essential that we remember the original purpose of tenure. By protecting the rights of teachers, we can ensure that students receive a well-rounded, thought-provoking education. However, it is important that we do not sacrifice the quality of education students receive by excusing teachers who sit back and stop caring about performing well as a teacher. There remains a distinction between protecting teachers’ rights to teach certain material and protecting their rights to stop teaching effectively. We do not have to choose between protecting teachers and strengthening education.