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Guest Opinion: Let’s Talk About Teachers and Tenure

By Jenae Suite

If you went to Subway and the person making your sandwich wasn’t wearing gloves as they held your tomatoes with their bare hands they just sneezed on, you might get the manager to urge his employees to be more sanitary. What if the manager told your sandwich maker is known not to wear gloves and he’ll talk to her, but she’s covered by the ‘Sandwich Makers Law’ that ties his hands from enforcing the behavior. Gross right?

The same reaction should be stirred up in the pit of your stomach when you hear “teacher tenure”.

Teacher tenure was designed to protect teachers from being terminated for discriminatory reasons like in the 1920’s for being pregnant or because someone has an axe to grind. Teachers are life breathers, education givers and hope peddlers. Most teachers spend over 6 hours a day shaping the young minds of our future leaders and absolutely deserve to be protected. After a few years a teacher is eligible for tenure. Tenure states that just cause must be found for a teacher to be terminated. This helps to provide job security and prevents teachers from being fired for personal reasons. The firing process is lengthy and expensive, discouraging firing as an option.

Just like how doctors must follow an ethical code, educators have a code of ethics. Principle One on the code of ethics is to have a commitment to the student. This includes showing respect, protecting the student from harm, and striving to help the student live to their potential. Principal Two is commitment to their profession. They encourage other teachers to be professional and to promote trustworthy behavior.

Yet, just like any situation, a few bad apples can ruin the bunch. Some teachers have lost their passion. Whether they arrive to work everyday forgetting the passion they once had, or punch the clock and lose sight of their commitment to the students.

Some teachers are doing more harm than good. I know this because I have worked with students for over ten years and hear the word tenure used as an excuse why a teacher wasn’t performing at their best.

I hear tenure used as a saying to steer one away from filing a complaint. As a future social worker, it’s my duty to advocate for children.

A teacher should be a positive adult in their life that tells them they can. It’s unnerving to think there are little to no consequences for those teachers who don’t honor those things.

There are 2.3 million teachers who are tenured. If only 1% of the tenured teachers were bad, that’s still over 20,000 teachers.

Examining teacher tenure is shining a light on the teachers who need their apathy exposed. Not all, but some.

This isn’t a new debate. People have been trying to abolish tenure for years. Recently in California, thirteen school districts were sued for failing to use student test scores to evaluate teachers. The ruling showed that “There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms.”

Tenure should be tweaked to reflect rigorous evaluations by the staff, the district and students. Teachers should practice what they preach by continuing their education through seminars, learning updated techniques and dealing with behavioral issues. If teachers agree to be accountable for their conduct in the classroom on a yearly basis, then they may continue having their tenure. The ball is rolling and we need to keep it rolling towards amending teacher tenure. Because just like a sandwich maker holding your tomatoes bare handed, it is absurd of us to know there are glitches in our children’s education, yet do nothing. Talk to your local school district about what they are doing to ensure that your kids, your neighbor’s kids or your future dentist is getting the education they deserve from a teacher who still upholds their code of ethics.

Jenae Suite is a graduate student at USC studying Social Work.