Face-to-Face: Should teachers earn tenure as protection?

Josh Cohen

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Face-to-Face is a feature that allows two members of the Redwood Community to grill each other, argue, or simply converse about a relevant issue or event. We provide the topic, and they do the rest. This month’s participants are senior Clare Broderson and long-time P.E. teacher Michael Dibley. They discuss their different views on teacher tenure, which includes many questionable subtopics. Teacher tenure restricts the ability to fire teachers when the rationale for firing them is “just because.” This policy provides teachers with protections by making it difficult to fire teachers who earn tenure.

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Have you ever seen a teacher that should have been fired but had tenure?

Michael Dibley: Let’s just start right off the bat here. It is not my place to judge whether a teacher should be fired or not. I’m not an evaluator, I’m not an administrator, so I can’t answer that directly. Has there ever been a case in the history of education in our country where a teacher with tenure shouldn’t be teaching? I would imagine, probably, yes. I personally have not come across that situation at Redwood.

Clare Broderson: I totally have. Not as much at Redwood. I remember my eighth grade science teacher stressed the idea that he couldn’t be fired because he had tenure. Things like that, but Redwood not as much. I think that Redwood administration does put more effort into choosing good teachers from the get-go, other than nationally where I do think it is a problem.

How does having tenure affect the work performance of the teacher?

CB: From my point of view, once a teacher has tenure,

they don’t have incentive anymore to keep pushing themselves and be a better teacher. However the thing is if they stop trying, you can’t get rid of them.

MD: I feel like our school really supports teachers continuing their education and being up to date in current best practices. In our school district here, we get evaluated every three years after receiving our permanent status or tenure, and in that evaluation, the topic of “what have you done to continue to improve upon your teaching” is something that’s discussed.

CB: I know that, yes, California has the policy of having to renew the teaching license every five years, but that’s not the case in a lot of states. I’ve read a bunch of articles about teachers that are so excited to get to tenure and then once they get there they just stop trying. Also, it’s more expensive for a school to fire a tenured teacher than to just keep them on, even if they aren’t working.

Most teachers get tenure after two or three years. Is that the right amount?

CB: I don’t think so. You can tell that every new teacher is still getting used to things, earning their respect, and learning how to work with new students productively. I don’t think that comes in two or three years, it’s more like five to 10 years.

MD: I think permanent status is granted relatively early.  For me it’s more about not just the permanent status part, but the support system. I think here we are fortunate to have the resources to support new teachers and to evaluate them.

Who should decide if the teachers should receive or keep tenure?

CB: I think students should have more of a say in it than they do right now, but of course including parents and administration. I think it’s just administration right now, but they just don’t know what it’s like in the class every day with the teacher.

MD: I believe, the decision should fall upon the principal’s shoulders, but that person, should accept, take, and seek out input from everyone: students, parents, colleagues, teacher leaders.

What change would you make to tenure protections for teachers?

CB: I think that it should be hard to fire a tenure teacher because they have earned it, but not as hard as it is. I just think that it shouldn’t cost as much as it does.

MD: Certainly there are some veteran teachers out there that could benefit from a change in environment, assignment, or potentially in a profession altogether.