Friday, November 6, 2009

The Tenure Thing

The press and BloomKlein, assuming that they are two different things, have managed to sell the public a bill of goods on tenure. The majority of citizens, including many of the more recent contributors to this blog, seem to actually believe that tenure is a guarantee of a job for life. I'm not an expert, but I know the basic facts, so let me set the record straight.

A recent poster said: "...my impression is that the tenure process is as follows. You teach for some number of years. You put together a few slightly more polished lessons that the principal will observe (that you know about ahead of time), and then unless the principal can find a specific reason not to give you tenure, he is all but required to do so."

Nothing could be further from the truth. Teachers are hired as probationary employees, and remain as such for at least three years before being granted or denied tenure (I know some principals have figured out how to stretch that to four years, but since I'm not sure how they do it, I'll skip over that). An administrator can observe a teacher as many times as he or she pleases without giving any warning. They can ask to see your lesson plans whenever they wish. And they can terminate your employment at any time and for any reason (or no reason at all) for that entire probationary period.

So, in other words, a principal has the opportunity to interview many candidates, but chooses one. He can then take three years to decide whether that teacher has what it takes. If the principal says no, that's that. But if the principal says yes, tenure is granted. At that point, it becomes more difficult to fire that teacher. Shouldn't it be? It's crazy to believe that teachers work hard for three years, fool the admins, and then put their feet up on their desks for the rest of their careers.

It can, and does, occasionally happen that a teacher burns out or is granted tenure by a nincompoop principal. In such cases, charges may be filed against the teacher. That's where tenure kicks in. Tenure doesn't guarantee that a teacher can't be fired at all; it guarantees that a teacher will be granted due process when charges are filed against him. It only makes sense that a teacher who has proven his or her worth for three (or thirty) years should be given an opportunity to put up a defense against charges.

Some ask why teachers need tenure when business people have no such protections. One reason is that if I'm an accountant, for example, and I get fired, I can apply for a job with the company's competitors or any other company that needs an accountant. In NYC, there are thousands of business that hire accountants. But there is only ONE public school system, and if you are fired from one school you are prevented from working in ANY of them. So you're not just out of a job, you're out of the profession entirely unless you choose to relocate to another city or state. Would good teachers want to work in a system where they could be fired at will and forced to uproot their entire families because of the whim of a principal? Another reason is nepotism. Without tenure and seniority, an admin could replace you with his nephew or because he likes pretty young grads more than gnarled veterans. Tenure protects whistle blowers and teachers who hold unpopular beliefs. Yes, it even protects teachers who write articles in the Daily News that may honk off an admin or two, or the teacher who rebuts that article on a Facebook page.

Yes, it can take a long time to resolve charges against teachers, but that is the fault of the system, and NOT the UFT contract. The Klein administration has filled the rubber rooms to the breaking point without hiring enough mediators to hear all the cases. I know of one guy who was (unjustly in my view) brought up on charges of incompetence and languished in the rubber room for two years. If he was lucky, he would get a day before the mediator once a month. As a result, his hearing dragged on and on for what seemed like forever. His real crime against the DOE is that he was a union rep who stood up for teachers. Even with tenure, he was eventually forced to resign or be fired.

I'm not an expert on 3020A hearings, but both Norm and Chaz have many informative posts about them. When you read them, you'll understand why tenure is needed.

5 comments:

Miss Eyre said...

Thanks for this reasoned and thoughtful defense of tenure. When used properly, tenure does--and should--protect the BEST teachers.

Chaz said...

Mr. Talk:

Great article as usual.

First, the Principal can extend the teacher's tenure year by extending probation by giving him a "D" for his or her third year.

Second, as for the 3020-a process and the "rubber room". Under Joel Klein the reassigned teachers have increased sevenfold from the pre-Klein historical norm. Further, once 3020-a charges are filed against the teacher, the DOE will never admit they made a mistake and withdraw the charges. If only 10% of the teachers are terminated by the arbitrators, how real are these charges?

Miss Eyre said...

Maybe you should write something about how the public seems to conflate the ATR teachers and the "rubber room" teachers, too. While I agree that part of the problem with the "rubber room" situation is that these teachers are idle, the ATRs certainly are not. The distinction needs to be made.

Farro said...

What I still don't understand is why do only teachers that have been around for three years get due process? Is that suggesting that somehow, those who have not been teaching for as much time do not deserve it? Still seems fundamentally unfair to me.

And the tenure thing does create a problem with lazy principals who just approve teachers who then go to other schools with more active principals.

TFT said...

Then there are the activist principals who may not like you and write up, with embellishment, anything they want about you.

Then they put it in your file. They do this a couple times, then you get fired, tenured or not.

It happens to those who go against administration; in these NCLB days, confronting administration seems more necessary than ever, and more dangerous than ever!