Every other year, I get a call from kids at one of the local high schools. We’re trying to save our teacher from being fired, can you help us by writing about it in the paper?
I make no promises that I’ll save a teacher, but I offer up an unbiased look at the case being made by the kids, and the case being made by the school district. Nine time out of ten, the case is simple: they don’t have any money, and the non-tenured teacher is going bye bye.
So I wasn’t surprised when I opened up a link to a Huffington Post piece begging the Los Angeles Unified School District to save a teacher from budget cuts. The way John Koch describes her, this woman could walk on water. But she’s losing out on her job because of seniority.
I can’t vouch for this woman’s savior-like abilities (I confess I was a little surprised this guy was willing to go out on a limb for a woman he met once). What I can say is the American school system has one of the most warped senses of placing value on employees out there. Based entirely on length of time in the system, tenure does nothing to guarantee the people protected have any greater skills or work ethic than those who have joined the team after them. They might have been good once, but there’s no guarantee that they will stay good.
Instead, it provides job security to people in arguably one of the most important professions on earth. It makes screw-ups harder to fire. And these are screw-ups working with our kids. It’s a place we can ill afford to have people who aren’t GOOD at their jobs.
There are millions of talented teachers out there, and millions who deserve to be kept around. But as a product of a school system where tenure was valued heavily, and where the same teacher who taught my father is still reading students the test on Thursdays to practice for the test they’ll take on Fridays (ensuring his high student success rate based on bogus methods), I can attest to the many who should have been scooted out the door years ago. And in any other profession, they would have.
Do you have the security to give up on innovation after five years at your job? To spend six months working on the same report (homework) that should have been handed back to the person (or student) who gave it to you to look over in the first place?
Where else is value placed on quantity (years in) over quality?
The good teachers will tell you it’s the kids who keep their nose to the grindstone, it’s their dedication to education. That they age like a fine wine because they care about their jobs. For many, it’s true, but if you’re doing so well, why do you even need that extra level of protection? Your merit is proven by the quality of your work.