You Get What You Pay For

What's wrong with tenure for public school teachers

Toward the end of the school year, I sent a letter of complaint to the principal of my daughter’s middle school regarding one of her teachers. My impression was that the teacher was ill-equipped pedagogically and had trouble with anger management, and as a result was ineffective at maintaining order in the classroom. Her primary means of discipline seemed to be shame and humiliation. She threw quizzes at the students when she returned them, and issued idle threats; once, she threatened to call every student’s parents because she didn’t like the way the class was behaving.

My daughter is a good student, and has never been a disciplinary problem. I also knew other families with children in the class were hearing similar stories from their kids, and that at least one other parent in the class had had already spoken to the principal about this teacher, and so I decided to contact him as well.

I did not do this without great deliberation on my part. I don’t believe it serves my children to shield them from bad teachers, because even if they don’t learn anything about the subject being taught, these situations present good opportunities to learn about conflict management, which will serve them throughout life. But nonetheless, I thought something was going on in this classroom that should be brought to the principal’s attention.

I received a prompt response from the principal, who promised to look into the matter. The next day I received a disappointing reply. He told me that the teacher denied all the allegations, and that he had spoke to “one very reliable student” in the class, who said she had not witnessed the teacher throwing anything in the classroom, and in short, he could do nothing about this.

And while the matter was handled professionally on both our parts, it was easy to read between the lines and see that the teacher were tenured, and the principal’s hands were tied. I have found bad teachers to be rare in the Montclair Public Schools, but once tenured, barring serious ethical violations, bad teachers are protected for the extent of their careers, and it is a shame that parents, and administrators, are powerless to do much about it.  

From my perspective, this is exactly what is wrong with the tenure system for public school teachers. I am well aware of all the arguments for and against tenure. A growing body of research suggests that classroom performance can, and should, be quantified. Good teachers give much of themselves to their work, and the results are apparent; appreciative notes are meaningful, as are teacher toasts, but nothing rewards like getting paid in accordance with your worth.

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mandy July 15, 2011 at 11:27 PM
AMEN! Thank you for posting. Too many people when you suggest doing away with tenure or limiting it think you are "anti-teacher".
Latifah July 16, 2011 at 03:51 PM
There were and are other options available to the principal in this type of situation, including facilitating a meeting with you and the teacher. Tenure was not enacted as a shield for ineffectual teaching, nor should it be used as an excuse for an administrator to not address a problem in a classroom.
Kristin July 17, 2011 at 03:13 AM
There is a wide leap here to blaming tenure for the "disappointing" response. It seems like it's more about the principal's style of management. I suggest that you write or speak directly to the teacher to voice your concerns. The details shared deal only with the discipline style of the teacher, but you mention pedagogical concerns as well. Were those shared with the principal? Also, if you are truly disappointed with the way in which your complaint was handled, take it to the superintendent.
profwilliams July 17, 2011 at 12:47 PM
Kristin speaks the truth!! I read this and rather than think, the principal or even better- tenure- was the issue, I think you need to better, and more forcefully advocated for your child. You cannot expect this to be addressed with a simple email exchange. Sometimes, it takes a phone call, or better yet, a meeting to resolve issues. And if you are still unhappy with the result, as Kristin suggests, take it to the superintendent. But tenure? I'm more inclined to say this is an example of why some believe we need classes for parents in how best to advocate for their children. (I say this with no snark intended.) Finally, if your are really unhappy-- move the kid. Why wait for the teacher/principal/super to deal with this? If your child is having a hard time and you believe they are not at fault-- get them out!
Don July 17, 2011 at 01:23 PM
Ever wonder why we see these endless articles attacking teachers, etc.? Its a secretive national campaign, a corporate-agenda-war against the people. ALECs agenda..exposed http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed Weakening Worker and Consumer Rights, weakening the rights of Injured Americans, Privatizing Schools and Higher Education, enslaving us to Health Inc., Big Pharma Inc., and eliminating spending on Social Welfare, ending Environment, Energy, Dinenfranchising Democracy, Voting, and Federal Relations. Favoring the rich,, burdening working people under more unblanced Tax & Budget bills. Diverting our attention from the real criminality with Guns, Prisons, Crime and Immigration bills. (Not to be confused with Alex, the loving, intelligent parrot)
joe fischer July 17, 2011 at 01:50 PM
Tenure is needed. Not even taking into account the political issues, all teachers reaching a certain level on the pay scale will be let go. This action will stop quality young professionals from even thinking of entering the teaching profession. The major fact that you are missing in your article is that tenure teacher can be disciplined and fired. It may take a year or two for the process, but it can be done. It sound to me that the principal is at fault in this situation. I am a teacher, who has work as an administrator and have found that the principal has the power to hire, fire and discipline. If this is not being done, then the principal should be evaluated. There is a process that works great in NJ, but only works when all parties involved complete their professional duties. One of the major problems that I have found over my career is that some principals who have worked side by side with teachers in their building are ineffective because they can not separate themselves from their friends. In conclusion, if the principal does not evaluate effectively the whole educational process fails!!
joe fischer July 17, 2011 at 05:36 PM
Don, what is your point, I was talking about the need for tenure in a school district.
joe fischer July 17, 2011 at 05:41 PM
Well either pay teachers or build more jails and pay prison guards. Your choice!
Don July 17, 2011 at 08:48 PM
"There is a process that works great in NJ, but only works when all parties involved complete their professional duties." Why is public education under attack? I don't know. But I can make some guesses. Its clear that it IS under attack, as is American families ability to find anything even remotely approximating real healthcare in the US. "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power." -- Benito Mussolini Now this piece may be genuine. It probably is, But there clearly is a huge, powerful, very professionally orchestrated push to eliminate public education as part of a broader national campaign to make the country and the world safe for corporatism. Basically, its a war on the middle class. This might be an explanation of it: http://alecexposed.org here is another article on the same subject: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/miles-mogulescu/alec-states-unions_b_832428.html
Educrat July 18, 2011 at 01:21 AM
There seem to be 3 issues at stake here: tenure, LIFO (natl issues) and the Black Tax (local issue) The teacher in question is tenured and was bumped from the K5 level to the middle school level (LIFO). Making matters worse is she was hired b/c of the districts AffirmAction/Quotas policy (Black Tax) As BOE Admins often say, to live in M/UM, you have to pay the Black Tax. This means all the smug Montclairians who poke fun of people in Millburn or Livingston ("I don't live in a lily white community, Mtc. has diversity)...well there is a price to pay for that smugness....Namely in this community specific portions of this community demand a certain % of jobs. And as a result, a difficult job (education) becomes even more difficult due to AA/quota hires. Have fun!
little e July 18, 2011 at 02:14 PM
Hey Educat, if you're going to bring ignorant racist theory into this, at least get the terms right. Black Tax refers to the need for African Americans to work twice as hard as their Caucasian counterparts for the same outcome. You don't know why the teacher was hired, but thanks for negating her education and qualifications based on her skin color. You assumed that she was hired because of her skin color. "...a difficult job beomes even more difficult dut to AA/quota hires." What? There are good teachers of all racial backgrounds.
Don July 18, 2011 at 04:28 PM
Of course, if we privatize and the education services multinationals (like the firm Gov. Christie used to lobby for) bring in cheap workers under GATS Mode Four not only will ever changing back become impossible because of the treaty, those teachers will have no tenure whatsoever and indeed, will have to teach straight out of the bookl or risk being terminated and sent home. Education will be a commodity just like any other commoditized service.. Read some of the European websites on this issue, they are much more aware of its implications than Americans are.. Even in charter schools, which i see as the wedge designed to break unions.. they are a temporary phenomenon, sort of the bait in the bait and switch.. I am sure even there the staff are increasingly picked for not making waves. 5 second Google search - not references..: http://www.educatejournal.org/index.php?journal=educate&page=article&op=viewPDFInterstitial&path[]=160&path[]=189 http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/serv_e/education_e/education_e.htm http://www.google.com/search?q=gats+commoditized+education+services and so on...
Don July 18, 2011 at 04:41 PM
Look, I am not black but this trivialization of the issues surrounding affirmative action bothers me. The fact remains that we have an urban underclass, and the majority of people in that trap are black. And its incredibly hard to get out of. one of the biggest reasons is because society has written these entire communities off, just as its starting to write many older, (formerly) middle class communities off, - however, the process has been going on far longer. yes, there are a lot of problems, schools only being one, but its one we can change.. because their schools are crap. It has to stop, deal with it. Would you be more comfortable with affirmative action if it was based on SES of parents (or parent) and not race? (that is the sigle biggest predictor of success in life in the US now..) I think that would be more appropriate as now, most of the people who benefit from it come from affluent black families, not the underclass.. in other words, they dont really need that level of help any more.. so its not doing whats its supposed to - its not helping the poor and oppressed.. (who rarely even make it into let alone, graduate, college.. they dont have the money..)
Don July 18, 2011 at 04:46 PM
Again, I am not black but I suspect the differential is even more than that, for example, if someone has a black sounding name their chances of getting called back for a job interview declines by some very large margin.. more than half.. And of course, last hired first fired.. something which I dont think is at all good.. OTOH, there should be a way to fine tune that affirmative action so it will still be usable by the people who I think need it the most MOST OF WHOM ARE BLACK.. and also be usable by white and other racial people WHO GREW UP IN POVERTY.. in other words : the often discussed "first generation students" who have so much trouble finishing college.. (HINT, ITS THE MONEY...)
Don July 18, 2011 at 04:50 PM
If qualified black teachers are available, you better believe administrators will want to hire them. They would be crazy not to. Why do you think so many people voted for Obama? Because he is worth his weight in gold for his value in restoring one important shred of legitimacy to the government and Presidency that it had long ago lost.. even if his health care program is a joke and he's basically a tool of the drug, insurance and financial companies and their looting of America.


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