Last Tuesday, I became a tenured teacher. My new friend Carrie from Carrie on the Cheap congratulated me, but confessed she doesn’t exactly know what “tenure” means. And actually, it means different things in different school districts. In general, tenure is “awarded” to teachers who have successfully completed a period of probation; in my case, the probationary period was two years. So basically, I’ve done pretty well for the past two years. Achieving tenure means that you have pretty substantial job security. It becomes very, very difficult for a principal to fire a teacher if he or she is tenured. Firing a tenured teacher requires a hearing with the school board and superintendent that is very similar to a court hearing, and, from what I’ve heard, usually the teacher prevails. The tenure system as we know it today was established for public school teachers in the early 20th century when teacher hiring and firing was very political, especially in cities dominated by powerful political machines. Tenure was supposed to protect senior teachers from arbitrary firing because they didn’t get behind a certain political agenda.
I’m sure that the teacher tenure system was originally crafted with good intentions. However, in my opinion, it should be done away with. In education, there is a real generation divide about this issue. Most teachers my age agree with abolishing tenure; most veteran teachers feel that tenure is a “right” that shouldn’t be tampered with. I won’t bore you with a long diatribe about what is wrong with tenure, but I will fill you in on my two major points of contention with it:
1. You only have to do an average job to get tenure in most school districts. In fact, in a lot of cases, tenure is just given to teachers after X amount of years, rather than being an earned privilege.
2. Tenure encourages incompetence. Basically, you only have to work hard and do a decent job for two or three years, then you can slack off for the rest of your career. If you know you’re not going to be fired, why put in the extra effort to create outstanding lessons? To stay after school to help struggling students? To get involved in the community and after school activities? For a socially important job like teaching, I don’t think it’s acceptable to slack for even a day, let alone your whole career. And it should also be said that a lot of people go in to teaching because they know that they only have to work hard for a few years. As someone who loves teaching and busts her ass every day to bring my A-game for my students, I am personally offended that I am working with people who patently abuse the tenure system.
So even though I disagree with tenure, I have it. It doesn’t mean a whole lot to me because it doesn’t affect how I do my job, but that’s how I know my job is secure. But in other careers, how do you know? Or do you never really know? Are you always on edge? Or are there intangible signals that you pick up on? And how has the economy shifted your perception of job security?