On the Debate Concerning Teacher Tenure

California has been popping up all over my news feed because of a judge’s recent ruling that the state’s tenure laws are unconstitutional and violated civil rights.

Sigh. Here we go again.

Now, I am very pro-union. I do not try to hide that. After barely surviving my first year of teaching at a virulently anti-union charter school, I cannot even pretend to be objective. The experience left a bad taste in my mouth that I’m just now beginning to fully spit out and completely changed my character.

I used to work myself to the bone on the job. I got used to functioning on four hours of sleep during the school year (especially when I was also in grad school). Now, I still work hard but I will never, ever compromise myself or my health for the benefit of an organization that will toss me out like yesterday’s “revolutionary” educational trend.

One day I will disclose my entire teaching story more than Kim Kardashian discloses about her personal life, but right now I’m still not comfortable doing that.

Long story short though, the experience left me feeling that teachers truly need protection.

All workers need protection because it’s my personal philosophy that humans are inherently greedy for money or power. Thus, when their money or power is threatened, people can turn into machines that make the genetically mutated tracker jackers from The Hunger Games look like an insect you would want to have living in your backyard.

I’ve watched administrators transform into tracker jackers like these on more than one occasion.

Thus, the union is FAR from being a saving grace, but it’s willing to confront the Powers That Be. You see Katniss teamed up with (read: unionized) other people to survive The Hunger Games and, quite frankly, teaching in the States at times can feel like you’re participating in The Hunger Games.

It’s inherent in the profession. It’s one of the few professions that by law must cater to the entire society. As a result, we’re working with the brilliant and we’re working with the disturbingly dark.

We as teachers interact with beautiful, sweet, amazing children. There are children I’ve taught I pray my own children will be like. That being said, we also teach children struggling with mental illness, severe trauma, or other factors. Other professions can say “nope, don’t come here,” or “we don’t cater to that.” Hell, a bed and breakfast just said I couldn’t bring my nieces with me because they’re under 10.
Teachers can’t say no or choose who their “clientele” will be. We have to work with the kids and parents–who are often great but sometimes make you think what in the hell (and that’s the edited version; the profanity-laced version I save for family and friends who don’t work with me). When working with such a vast array and sometimes volatile population, we need protection. Period.
Yes, there are lazy teachers who make us all look bad. Yes, there are teachers who need to leave the profession. Yes. But we’re going to throw the baby out with the bath water?

We’re going to attack unions–again–while not attacking poverty, funding inequities amongst districts, the re-segregation of American schools, or the lack of mental health services available in some communities (I had to say an Amen when Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, made this point)? Please.

I would add that nowhere did they mention how poor communities often have a higher than average percentage of brand new teachers (which flows back to funding since new teachers are cheaper teachers), which can also affect student achievement.

As a double-minority (African-American and female) I understand when they frame this as a civil rights issue. Education is a civil rights issue. Yet it is interesting to note that tenure “was first adopted by New Jersey in 1909 to protect teachers from firings on the basis of race, pregnancy, politics or other arbitrary factors.In other words, tenure’s historical basis is in protecting civil rights. Now, more weight is given to protection against arbitrary factors for sure, but why are we acting as if being pro-tenure is being anti-students’ civil rights? It’s a false and dangerous dichotomy that is being set up.

I myself have been on the chopping block more than once because I was the last hired and, thus, would be the first fired. It hurts…especially knowing fully well you’re a better teacher than someone who has more seniority than you.

I get it.  I’ve lived it.

But it also hurts to be at an organization where unless you’re the administrator’s favored, you’ll still be on the chopping block. It hurts to be targeted for an arbitrary reason by an admin or to wonder if your decision to wear your hair in Bantu knots instead of twists or a ‘fro will be one step too far; or if your willingness to disagree at a meeting “to-see-what-you-all-think-when-really-we-already-made-the-decision-but-want-to-act-like-we-care-about-what-the-staff-thinks” is taken the wrong way.

People (myself included) need to be a little more creative and open with conversations concerning the teaching profession. Trying to dismantle one system to replace it with another that is so polar opposite is not the solution. Using arguments that willfully ignore the statistics about the number of strong teachers compared to shamefully weak teachers out there is not the solution.
One of the last lessons of the school year I gave to my kids was about irony. There’s nothing more ironic than corporations (or people who’ve made millions from corporations) funding litigation campaigns that paint teachers and teacher-based organizations as people that are harming children. Since when did corporations care for more than just money?

I think around the same time that hell froze over.

Thus,  I am giving the side eye to the businessman, David F. Welch, funding this anti-tenure campaign in California because I’m wondering what his true motives are.

And I’ll keep saying it again and again–teacher bashing needs to stop and teacher protections need to continue.

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One thought on “On the Debate Concerning Teacher Tenure

  1. Pingback: Do You Think Teachers Should Have Tenure? Vote! | (Im)Migrating with a Purpose

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