As a fantasy football enthusiast, Paul Charchian is a familiar name as a leader in that industry, and I follow him on Facebook. I don’t just do this for fantasy sports reasons, as Mr. Charchian often comes up with dialogue on other topics that is interesting, usually outside the world of sports.
And so it was that I first saw the news of California striking down the tenure law for teachers and got to be part of a lively online discussion on the pros and cons of this polarizing issue.
Tenure varies in some ways from state to state, but in Minnesota, it is basically this: A new teacher is considered probationary for the first three years of his/her career. At the end of each school year, a district can choose not to renew that person’s contract without having to give any reason. This is done often, sometimes for monetary reasons and other times because a teacher is not doing the job well.
Once a teacher is offered a contract for a fourth continuous year in a district, tenure rights kick in, and it becomes much more difficult to dismiss a teacher. Also, if a teacher has gained those rights and chooses to change districts, those same rights occur beginning in the second year in that new district.
What does that mean? If Mr. Bunn decided his junior high English teacher wasn’t doing his job well, as principal he’d have his work cut out for him to cut me loose. There is a progression of steps that must be followed, by law, and even then it’s a crap shoot.
I wasn’t surprised by the negative outburst that I initially saw online, directed at teachers, after the California story broke. We have some job security that most people would envy. We also have a job that most people wouldn’t want to do.
There is always frustration with teachers who just seem to be going through the paces. Every district likely has some teachers who are not good, and these are the ones brought to the fore when issues like tenure rights rise up in the news cycle. The reality, especially in smaller districts like ours, is that this is not as big a problem as it’s made out to be.
Teachers have an amazingly important job. As a parent, you always want an excellent teacher working with your child. Does that always happen? Of course not, but I’m convinced NRHEG has a large number of exceptional teachers. My own kids have been blessed with tremendously talented teachers all the way through; believe me, I’d be knocking on some doors if I didn’t think my kids were getting the best education possible.
Ideally, administration will work with a teacher during the three probationary years to steer them in an effective direction. I know that my style and classroom management were severely lacking when I first started, but I had some good guidance from administrators, as well as other teachers and paras. I still don’t feel like I’m perfect and am constantly looking for ways to improve what I do.
Unfortunately, there are sometimes teachers who get burned out and simply reach in the file cabinet for what they did the previous year. These are the teachers who are targeted when tenure laws are attacked, and for good reason. Even I think the laws should be tweaked to make it easier to divest a district of someone sleepwalking toward retirement.
However, there is always some fear that a teacher could be cut based on salary. A district looking to save money might cut a teacher who has been around for some time and makes a lot more than a newbie out of college. Tenure was put in place to keep that from happening, as well as keeping personality conflicts out of the equation. A teacher could be excellent in the classroom, but doesn’t get along with the principal; that’s not necessarily a good reason to lose one’s job.
The new teacher evaluation system in Minnesota will take some steps to help find ways to improve as teachers, even though it’s an incredibly complex system. Districts will now have new avenues with which to help teachers improve. We’re moving away from teaching in isolation (which happens an awful lot) to collaborating more and more to become more effective in our classrooms.
Change can be good. Drastic change like in California is a slippery slope to travel though. It’s best to chip away and create something new out of the old instead of just chucking the old. After all, isn’t that what we should do as teachers?
Word of the Week: This week’s word is sciolism, which means pretentious display of superficial knowledge, as in, “Sciolism was prevalent throughout the online discussion, as many people seemed to think they knew more than they really did.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!